Successful Fare Strike on New York Subways

Successful Fare Strike on New York Subways

This morning tens of thousands rode the New York City subways for free in a Fare Strike organized by Occupy Wall Street in coordination with rank-and-file transit workers.

Fare Strikes are one of the most effective ways for transit system employees to fight in solidarity with working class riders without stranding them in heavily transit-dependent cities like New York. And it hits the bosses where it hurts the most, at the fare box. Some comrades attempted an indefinite Fare Strike in San Francisco in 2005 with mixed results, although revenues went down in the tens of thousands of dollars during the first two days -- despite the hike in fares and it being the first week of school. These kinds of social strikes work, so hopefully the Occupy Movement will find other ways to take the class war on the offensive by making more social services free, while fighting in solidarity with the rank-and-file in the affected sector.

All Power to the NYC Subway Fare Strike!

Occupy Wall Street wrote:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 — 10:30 AM

Rank and File Initiative
rankandfileinitiative [at] gmail.com
Twitter: #farestrike

This morning before rush hour, teams of activists, many from Occupy Wall Street, in conjunction with rank and file workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union, opened up more than 20 stations across the city for free entry. As of 10:30 AM, the majority remain open. No property was damaged. Teams have chained open service gates and taped up turnstiles in a coordinated response to escalating service cuts, fare hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers’ working conditions and livelihoods — and the profiteering of the super-rich by way of a system they’ve rigged in their favor.

For the last several years, riders of public transit have been under attack. The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely stalled.

Working people of all occupations, colors and backgrounds are expected to sacrifice to cover the budget cut by paying more for less service. But here’s the real cause of the problem: the rich are massively profiting from our transit system. Despite the fact that buses and subways are supposed to be a public service, the government and the MTA have turned the system backwards—into a virtual ATM for the super-rich. Instead of using our tax money to properly fund transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of public funds for over twenty years; the MTA must resort to bonds (loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs. The MTA is legally required to funnel tax dollars and fares away from transportation costs and towards interest on these bonds, called "debt service." This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker’s pockets.

This much is clear: the MTA’s priorities are all out of whack. This fare strike is a means for workers and riders to fight for shared interests together — but this is just a first step. All of us — the 99% — have an interest in full-service public transportation system that treats its ridership and employees with dignity.

The MTA is a shared, public service — fund it with tax revenues.
Eliminate free money for bondholders at the expense of taxpayers.
End the assault on worker's livelihoods
.

Posted By

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2012 05:16

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  • This fare strike is a means for workers and riders to fight for shared interests together — but this is just a first step. All of us — the 99% — have an interest in full-service public transportation system that treats its ridership and employees with dignity.

    Occupy Wall Street

Attached files

Comments

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2012 05:48

The Fare Strike tactic is spreading around the world:

bricolage
Mar 29 2012 11:15

I thought this was a very good action and a definite step up from what OWS has been doing previously. I did have two questions though that I can't seem to find out (any might not be able to):
- The statement mentions 'activists, many from Occupy Wall Street, in conjunction with rank and file workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union', however does anyone know what the split between these two groups was?
- Where were the stations that this was done? I ask because there's obviously a massive difference between doing this in Bed-Stuy to doing it in the Lower East Side or whatever.

Marx-Trek
Mar 29 2012 12:14

Can't wait to see some updates, what wonderful news to wake up to and have coffee with! Solidarity!

LuckyJimJD
Mar 29 2012 14:40
Quote:
does anyone know what the split between these two groups was?

Are you asking what's the distinction between TWU and ATU?

TWU Local 100 represents most of the NY City subway workers, and MTA bus drivers and maintenance workers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

ATU also represents MTA bus drivers and mechanics, mostly in Staten Island & Queens. They also represent paratransit and school bus drivers.

Joseph Kay
Mar 29 2012 14:50

I think they're asking what the split was between Occupy activists and transport workers, though that may not be the best thing to disclose on a public forum...

Juan Conatz
Mar 29 2012 15:07

Where do you get 'split' from in the text?

Alasdair
Mar 29 2012 15:12

By split I think they mean the breakdown between Occupy and Union people, as in what proportion of the activists were from each group.

bricolage
Mar 29 2012 15:52

Ok sorry that wasn't very clear.
I was trying work out whether it was mainly comprised of OWS activists or of subway workers. I was mainly interested in whether there was anyone posting here who has been involved with the occupy stuff in New York and knew more about this and what the general reception of TWU/ATU staff was. I agree that it's not too good to give exact details on the internet and I wasn't trying to get anyone ratted out, more that I've seen stuff like this before where 'in conjunction with rank and file workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union' can just mean say a token individual used to represent a whole. Anyway I'm sure this is just a hangup of my OWS prejudices, like I said this all seems pretty cool..

Hieronymous
Mar 29 2012 19:13

From The Village Voice:

A group calling itself the "Rank and File Initiative" claimed credit yesterday for opening up more than 20 subway stations throughout the city for free entry.

Chaining open emergency gates at stations on the F, L, R, Q, 3, and 6 lines during rush hour yesterday morning, the anonymous activists posted signs designed to resemble MTA service-change announcements that read "Free Entry, No Fare. Please Enter Through The Service Gate."

A press release claiming credit for the action said it was carried out by activists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, as well as by rank-and-file members of Transit Workers Union Local 100, which is currently in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The release cites Albany's chronic underfunding of public transit, which has led the MTA to borrow heavily just to maintain its operating budget -- debt which must be serviced in part with transit fares that have gone up 50 percent over the last decade.

"This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay," the press statement reads. "More than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker's pockets."

Last night we spoke with a representative of the Rank And File Initiative, who wished to remain anonymous. He told us that teams set out in the early hours of yesterday morning, disguising their identities, to lock open gates at roughly 25 stations.

"It was three or four people to each station, so you can do the math of how many people were directly involved," he said. Not every team was successful -- one dispatched to a Bronx subway station had to abort their mission -- "But everyone came safely back without getting caught, which was our first priority."

The source stressed that MTA station agents were not aware of the action, and no MTA employees were involved in actually locking the gates open. But that's not to say that Transit Workers Union members weren't involved.

​"We've been planning this for months -- Occupy people, other activists, and union members," the source said. "Union members were central to the planning. They told us the best places to go, they talked to their colleagues about what was going to happen, and not to be freaked out when we came in, and they gave the final green-light for the mission in the morning."

Transport Workers Union Local 100 leadership denied knowledge of the action, and the Rank And File Initiative source confirmed that they were not notified. Relations between TWU 100 members and their leadership have long been strained, dating back to 2005 when union members, historically fairly radical, felt their leaders rolled over in a standoff with the MTA.

"There are a lot of angry and afraid union members who wish they could do more, but they're held back by the leadership," the source said. "We listened in on a conference call with [TWU President John] Samuelson and the shop stewards, and they were all telling Samuelson the union needed to be doing more. He got so mad he was muting out whole parts of the conversation, until it was just him talking on the line."

Yesterday's wildcat action -- carried out by union members without the knowledge or coordination of their leadership -- violated both the Taylor Law and the Taft-Hartley Act.

It suggests that TWU 100 leaders may be losing control of their members, and also may lend some credence to claims by Occupy Wall Street organizers that labor's rank and file will take part in the upcoming May 1st "Day Without the 99 Percent" action, despite skeptical statements from some union leaders.

The tactic isn't without precedent. San Francisco saw a fare strike in 2005, and the Spanish Indignados, to whom Occupy Wall Street protesters have often looked for inspiration, have been running their own fare strike, Yo No Pago, since early this year.

The source said his group's inspiration for yesterdays action came on November 17 of last year. During that day of action for Occupy Wall Street, someone -- quite possibly members of Occupy's Direct Action Working Group -- locked open doors at four stations.

"We wanted to do something like that, but scale it up," the source said.

Going forward, the coalition is unlikely to repeat the fare strike tactic, the source said, though it will conduct other sorts of actions. The group also plans to release how-to guides to help anyone else who might want to stage a fair strike in New York subways.

"It's a great tactic, because it aligns the interests of transit workers with the interests of the working classes throughout New York," he said. "That's important, because whenever transit workers get hit, it's bad news for everyone else who rides the subway too . You see fare hikes and service cuts. It makes sense to make common cause."

Joseph Kay
Mar 29 2012 19:41

I think this kind of thing is really interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it's a form of 'strike' which hits the bosses whilst aligning workers and service users interests. Second, together with the anti-evictions stuff it seems to mark a clear move by (at least some in) OWS into class conflict. I think it makes sense to downplay workers' involvement in unlawful actions in public, but we can infer from the absence of uproar in the coming days the sentiments of the rank and file (as opposed to the leadership, who will presumably condemn/distance themselves from the action).

Chilli Sauce
Mar 29 2012 19:44

This is fucking great! It's also helping to alleviate some of my OWS prejudices...

Do we know if there's been any repercussions for transit workers, either from mgmt or the union?

Any other mainstream media coverage folks could link me to?

S. Artesian
Mar 29 2012 20:05

Outstanding. Brings to mind the "auto-reduction" actions in Italy years ago.

petey
Mar 30 2012 20:45
Quote:
the F, L, R, Q, 3, and 6 lines

all heavily used. the lex (6 and the express versions 4 and 5) is the most heavily ridden line in the country.

ps - i really like that general-strike-in-the-form-of-an-MTA-announcement poster

Marx-Trek
Mar 30 2012 20:48

I think that nyc would have an amazing time doing something similar to the Scandinavian free-rider campaign, planka.nu.

no.25
Mar 31 2012 21:15
Gothamist.com wrote:
The blowback from Wednesday's OWS-affiliated Fare Strike—in which people chained open subway entrances in roughly 20 stations—has begun. And it appears that in addition to the local fuzz and the MTA, the feds are sniffing around, too!

Quickly after the incident hit the news, the NYPD let it be known that it was investigating the incident. And while no arrests have been made, they have definitely been talking to workers who may have been involved in the stunt. According to the Post, "A clerk and a cleaner at the Beverly Road station in Brooklyn — one of the spots of the citywide protest — were questioned by MTA brass for two hours," and another agent was also questioned. But an inter-Occupy e-mail we obtained says the stunt made it all the way to the F.B.I. Here's the e-mail, with identifying information taken out (emphasis ours):

Hello Everybody, I know this "fare strike" is really exciting and the action went off fairly well but I want to offer some words of caution... In case you don't know who I am, I work for TWU Local 100. It's unclear how much rank and filers actual participated in this. From what I've pieced together from several sources (and it's hard to get the full story) OWS activists got phone numbers for station booths (probably from [redacted], a retiree from the union) and called in and posed as turnstile maintainers and did the action. Most of you probably don't know this, but those station agents are getting hounded by management and have had house visits from the FBI. These station agents are now at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods! They will surely be disciplined, hopefully there isn't legal repercussions as well. The gothamist article makes this seem like the union was involved, but officers and the union hall didn't know about this, which is a good thing because they don't need to know, and don't want to know because it protects the union legally. Building a real fare strike like in Greece or Spain takes a movement and mass public support (and consciousness raising) and can't be accomplished by a publicity stunt. There are also other ways to get the same message across without risking people's jobs. For example, the Young Communist League several years ago used to do actions in Harlem where they bought unlimited metro cards and swiped people in for free all throughout morning rush hour. People recognized that as affectively [sic] not paying the fare and it also doesn't put workers' jobs at risk; it also gained public support for the organization.

This is just a little food for thought. I just don't want people to get swept away in the excitement of all the direct action and not realize they may also be pulling other people into their shit, and those other people are going to catch the fire, not them. If it happens that station agents lose their jobs because of this I can guarantee it will hurt the relationship between TWU and OWS. That's not what either group wants. Let's not just toot our own horns and get wrapped up in the ultra-leftist emotions but also think about this strategically and seriously. That being said, let's create a broad discussion about how to build a public movement for a fare strike and not just the clandestine "propaganda as deed" actions that make anarchist avtivists feel good about themselves.

Comradely,
[redacted]

The FBI has not yet responded to our e-mail regarding their interest in the action. Meanwhile, the way the stunt was pulled off was much more interesting than we'd expected. Sucks for those unsuspecting station agents though.

Pftt at Feds and 'ultra-leftist emotions.' Anyone suppose that if MTA workers were to lose their jobs over this that it would be a catalyst for more direct action from fellow workers with the additional support of Occupy? I could only hope so...

flaneur
Mar 31 2012 21:13
S. Artesian wrote:
Outstanding. Brings to mind the "auto-reduction" actions in Italy years ago.

I was reminded more of Reclaim the Streets linking up with RMT members for tube parties and the like. There's obvious scope to do this in London and elsewhere in this country.

Ellar
Mar 31 2012 21:51

how would you do this in London given the kind of barriers we have that can't be chained open?

flaneur
Mar 31 2012 22:01

Of all the obstacles (boom boom) to fare disruption/strikes in London, I'm sure how to keep the barriers open is the least of anyone's worries.

Ellar
Mar 31 2012 22:06

but surely its a practical thing to consider? To know whether it can actually realistically be physically done before working out more difficult stuff?

radicalgraffiti
Mar 31 2012 22:29

don't they generally have a gate to one side of the barriers you walk through?

Jim Clarke
Mar 31 2012 22:52

It's been discussed on here before but a fare strike isn't really that easy to do in London. The barriers mean that they could be opened at one location and closed at another quite easily and most service users have prepaid season tickets so it wouldn't cause that much economic damage. All of that said you can keep the barriers open by putting stickers over the sensors which are behind little clear squares on the side behind the barriers themselves.

S. Artesian
Apr 1 2012 00:12
no.25 wrote:
Gothamist.com wrote:
The blowback from Wednesday's OWS-affiliated Fare Strike—in which people chained open subway entrances in roughly 20 stations—has begun. And it appears that in addition to the local fuzz and the MTA, the feds are sniffing around,

These station agents are now at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods! They will surely be disciplined, hopefully there isn't legal repercussions as well. The gothamist article makes this seem like the union was involved, but officers and the union hall didn't know about this, which is a good thing because they don't need to know, and don't want to know because it protects the union legally. Building a real fare strike like in Greece or Spain takes a movement and mass public support (and consciousness raising) and can't be accomplished by a publicity stunt. There are also other ways to get the same message across without risking people's jobs. For example, the Young Communist League several years ago used to do actions in Harlem where they bought unlimited metro cards and swiped people in for free all throughout morning rush hour. People recognized that as affectively [sic] not paying the fare and it also doesn't put workers' jobs at risk; it also gained public support for the organization.

This is just a little food for thought. I just don't want people to get swept away in the excitement of all the direct action and not realize they may also be pulling other people into their shit, and those other people are going to catch the fire, not them. If it happens that station agents lose their jobs because of this I can guarantee it will hurt the relationship between TWU and OWS. That's not what either group wants. Let's not just toot our own horns and get wrapped up in the ultra-leftist emotions but also think about this strategically and seriously. That being said, let's create a broad discussion about how to build a public movement for a fare strike and not just the clandestine "propaganda as deed" actions that make anarchist avtivists feel good about themselves.

Comradely,
[redacted]

The FBI has not yet responded to our e-mail regarding their interest in the action. Meanwhile, the way the stunt was pulled off was much more interesting than we'd expected. Sucks for those unsuspecting station agents though.

Pftt at Feds and 'ultra-leftist emotions.' Anyone suppose that if MTA workers were to lose their jobs over this that it would be a catalyst for more direct action from fellow workers with the additional support of Occupy? I could only hope so...

Right, heaven forbid the union actually defend their station agents, or make cancellation of the MTA debt and dramatic reduction of fares a contractual issue.

flaneur
Apr 1 2012 01:03

The issue of some stations being open and some not applied to the New York strike too though, only 20 were open. As for most user's have weekly or monthly payment on their cards, is there any stats on Oyster usage. Still, I would guess a sizeable amount of folk only use prepay so it'd be a wee bit of help. Some days I spend more than a fiver just going from one place to another.

communal_pie
Apr 1 2012 01:45

Nearly every station in London has NY-style 'service gates', the minority that don't will have the baggage gate, which can be opened with extreme ease by any worker with a staff-only oyster.

communal_pie
Apr 1 2012 01:47

Also, theres no reason why it wouldn't still cause a big amount of economic damage, a lot of people with oyster don't necessarily buy a season ticket because it's much easier to top-up etc.

jef costello
Apr 2 2012 16:50

Some kind of sticker over the sensor or disabling the gate would work, at least temporarily, but as you need to swipe to get out, and get fined if you dont, then I'm not sure if it would work.

petey
Apr 2 2012 18:00

generally positive reaction from mainstream/consumerist site:

Quote:
Albany has indeed left the MTA high and dry, and the debt bomb continues to tick. At some point, as bond underwriters continue to profit, straphangers will be left paying an ever-higher share of debt. Some projects should be funded via debt, but most should not.

http://secondavenuesagas.com/2012/04/02/occupy-wall-streets-farestrike-stunt-draws-ire/#comments

Schwarz
Apr 4 2012 12:11

Organizer: New York City Fare Strike Continues Trend of Militant Self-Organization
- J.A. Meyerson

Quote:
During Wednesday morning rush hour, signs hung in at least eight New York subway stations, inviting straphangers to ride for free. In Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, service gates were chained open and turnstiles taped up "in a coordinated response," according to a press release from the Rank and File Initiative, which took credit for the action, "to escalating service cuts, fare hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers' working conditions and livelihoods - and the profiteering of the super-rich by way of a system they've rigged in their favor."

Truthout spoke with an organizer of the Rank and File Initiative with intimate knowledge of the planning and a desire to remain anonymous. "Dave" told Truthout that the Rank and File Initiative was a loose group of "working class people, many rank and file union members, some who work for unions, some marginal or precariously employed workers and some students" that came together through Occupy Wall Street. The action took place with cooperation from a number of rank-and-file members of Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 without the approbation of the union's executive leadership. Since January 15, TWU members have been working without a contract.

In addition to contract negotiations, the action was intended to draw attention to what the press release called "the real cause of the problem" - the fact that the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) maintains its operating budget with heavy Wall Street borrowing, with the associated debt passed on to subway riders in the form of fare hikes - up 50 percent over the last decade. According to the press release, "This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the MetroCards we buy and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018, more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker's pockets."

Dave indicated that TWU's "very militant rank and file" was initially "optimistic that the executive leadership of the union would like this tactic of a fare strike, but they were very swiftly disabused of that notion." A fare strike, being an industrial action, would violate the Taylor Law, which governs public-sector unions in New York State. The idea received "a lot of support from the workers, but they had little confidence that the union would have their backs." And so the decision was made: "We're going to have to force the issue ourselves." TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen denied knowledge of the action to The Daily News.

Some TWU workers are still being docked pay for penalties incurred under the Taylor Law's provisions during the union's 2005 strike. In addition to providing "a great opportunity for the press to pillory the workers and make them look horrible and greedy," Dave says that strike also "did very damaging things for the morale in the union." Determined not to repeat that course, the TWU members organizing the fare strike looked for common cause with the public. Where a strike like 2005's was a good excuse for the rich to pit working-class people against one another, a fare strike "united the interest of the working class that rides the subway with the working class within the union."

Teams of activists totaling about 60 coordinated with transit workers who, says Dave, "have tons of logistical and informational assets" to create Wednesday's clandestine action "which was basically to force a fare strike." The Rank and File Initiative wanted to make it so that "tens of thousands of New Yorkers could get in for free, see the propaganda about the contract, and also see propaganda about the May Day General Strike that's coming up." Working together "with people on the inside, we planned this, made teams, set up a whole logistical and communications structure with info security, and then we got the go-ahead from the rank and file last night, and we completed it with their support, and now we are in a holding pattern."

Since the 2008 Wall Street crash, attacks on public unions have accelerated in scope and frequency, most dramatically in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker's austerity budget last year provoked a massive occupation of the state capital. For labor militants like Dave, the occupation "was a beautiful moment," but also a lost opportunity for "self-organization among rank and file militants to push something like a general strike." Like the TWU strike, general strikes are illegal. However, as Dave notes, "the ultimate power of the working class is to withhold our labor."

Rank-and-file militants seem to have become more willing to withhold labor, however, since the start of Occupy Wall Street. In December, occupiers worked with militant dockworkers on the West Coast, without the approbation of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), creating what Dave calls a "complex and sometimes iffy relationship" between the union and occupiers. Twice, Occupy Oakland was successful in shutting down the port there. Dave thinks this "scared the shit out of the West Coast dock owners and states." It certainly isn't the type of labor action Americans are used to seeing. "They're defending themselves," insists Dave, but he acknowledges it's a "kind of movement toward the offensive," which he "[hopes] that this action" - the fare strike - "can in some way contribute to."

It takes some gumption to take the welfare state's disparaging synecdoche - a "free ride" - and literally provide one to tens of thousands, but Dave isn't satisfied. "I don't even like these clandestine actions," he admits. "Nothing amazing is going to happen in this country, nothing beautiful is going to come out of Occupy, if it's a series of small affinity groups of working class activists doing clandestine actions at night. That's just not how things pop off."

For Dave and other Rank and File Initiative contributors, the subway action goes slightly deeper than the surface conflicts. It was about calling into question the idea of transportation as a privilege. "It's really not about this action, per se, but the tens of thousands of people that actually experienced a free ride, who saw what it was like to have public transportation, at least for one morning. We hope that was a powerful experience." Some people might not feel entitled to a free ride. "In a real way," counters Dave, "that subway system is already ours. It was built by the sweat of workers and other tax-payers."

There is another way in which people should feel entitled to the subway, contends Dave. "This city couldn't run the way it runs right now," he says. "You couldn't have the low wages that you have right now in the service industry, you could have the shitty dilapidated apartments in the outer boroughs, you couldn't have people living on the edge of subsistence," without the relatively inexpensive public transportation system. "It basically subsidizes business," Dave says of the MTA, "because in a way it allows workers to live more cheaply and allows the actual cost of labor to be lower than it otherwise would be in the city."

When on St. Patrick's Day, the New York Police Department raided, beat and battered Occupy Wall Street and carted a busload off to jail, it had the MTA send over one of its buses - and driving it, one of TWU's bus drivers. The transit workers were not happy about this.

Dave assures Truthout we can expect to hear more from the Rank and File Initiative in the future.

no.25
Apr 6 2012 03:56

Union Leader Won’t Disown Occupy for Fare-Beating

Quote:
Reprinted with permission from the Chief

By SARAH DORSEY | Posted: Monday, April 2, 2012 5:00 pm

John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said March 29 he was “not in any way critical” of the illegal actions of Occupy Wall Street members and dissidents in his own union who, without his knowledge, chained open gates at numerous subway stations a day earlier during the morning rush hour, giving straphangers a free ride.

By April 2, however, the union leader added, “They could’ve taken more precautions to make sure [Subway Station Agents] weren’t put in harm’s way.”

The protesters, who said anonymous Local 100 and Amalgamated Transit Union members calling themselves the “Rank and File Initiative” told them which stations to target and tipped off their co-workers so they didn’t interfere, said they were angry at the lack of funding for transit.

‘Money into Bankers’ Pockets’

“Instead of using our tax money to properly fund transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of public funds for over twenty years,” the activists said in a press release. “The MTA must resort to bonds (loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs,” they added, calling the agency “a virtual ATM for the super-rich.”

They pointed out that the MTA spends more than $2 billion a year to pay off its debt.

“This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay,” they concluded.

Local 100 was the first New York local to officially endorse Occupy Wall Street last fall, and has held several rallies with the movement; Mr. Samuelsen spoke at Zuccotti Park when his members marched there after a November contract rally.

When asked if last Wednesday’s actions made him think twice about working with Occupy Wall Street, he initially said not at all.

“If these types of actions...bring attention to the injustices that have been doled out to New York State working families, then so be it,” he said.

‘On the Same Page’

While union officials had no prior knowledge of the protests, “we are on the same page with the Occupy movement when it comes to recognizing the facts that the banks are getting rich off of New York’s transit system,” he said, adding that “if it’s true that members of my union are participating in the protests, that’s their business; this is America. They’re not doing it as a member of Local 100.”

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz declined to comment on Mr. Samuelsen’s response, but said, “We take Wednesday’s theft-of-service activity very seriously and we are working with the NYPD on ways to prevent it from happening again. If and when an employee is implicated, we will respond appropriately.”

A One-Time Stunt?

The protesters, who created realistic-looking MTA-style fliers that read, “Free Entry—No Fares Collected” told a Village Voice reporter the events had been planned months in advance, and that they were unlikely to repeat the same tactic in the future, though they’d hold other actions.

Ken Margolies, a labor specialist on the extension faculty at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said that although the protests took place during contract negotiations, it was unlikely the union would be punished under the Taylor Law for the actions of a few anonymous members.

“They’d have to show that this was being done with the union’s knowledge and that the union could stop it and didn’t,” he said. “It would be hard to enforce. They’d have to show that this was really a ruse.”

Mr. Margolies said these kinds of wildcat actions were often “unnerving” for management during negotiations.

“It could be a form of pressure on the MTA to settle because to the extent that they think this might spread, they will be looking for ways to prevent it,” he said. “If you know the union is doing this, you can get them to stop. But if there’s an elusive group that you can’t identify...it’s a real wildcard for them.”

A California Precedent?

He pointed to a December Occupy protest that shut down the port of Oakland, California during International Longshore Workers Union contract negotiations; the union said the action, which it didn’t back, was a ‘critical element’ in getting a favorable pact settled.

But conditions in Oakland were much different than they are for a public-sector union in New York right now, where a strong Governor successfully pressured two state-employee unions into accepting three years of wage freezes last year and is now pushing the MTA to follow suit. Local 100 is also bound by the Taylor Law, which limits its options by imposing hefty fines on public-sector unions and their members that strike.

Caiman del Barrio
Apr 6 2012 09:30

Only just got round to reading up on this and it is truly inspiring.

I'd also like to back up other folks maintaining that this sort of thing is possible in a London context. Let's not miss the wood for the trees here, the point is that unlawful activity is possible en masse on a vague sliding scale (ie the greater the numbers, the greater the possibility)...