December 16, 2004 -- Midwest Unrest is pleased to declare a partial victory, just one day after our call for a fare strike had begun.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) had been threatening the implementation of their "Doomsday" (aka "Gridlock") budget, beginning January 2nd 2005. It would have included a 20% cut to services and the termination of 1,250 jobs. After repeated delays, a final decision to pass the budget was to be made at their monthly board meeting on December 16th 2004. Earlier this fall, the CTA passed a proposal to double paratransit fares for the disabled.
The CTA has continually blamed their budget crisis on a lack of funding from the state. Midwest Unrest, among other groups in town, have instead been holding the CTA responsible. The CTA's priorities are those of business and of the Chicago political machine, not of the working class people who ride it every day. It continues to spend millions from its "capital funds" on things like a new office building, and the new "Circle Line". This at the same time that it is proposing massive service cuts and layoffs because of a lack of "operational funds". When the Regional Transportation Authority suggested that he should use capital funds to cover the deficit in the operational budget, CTA President Frank Kruesi replied "You cannot count on transferring capital money to operating accounts when the state is not taking action to assure the capital money will be there". This does not mean that he cannot relocate capital funds to maintain the current level of service; it means that he is making a clear choice to prioritize capital projects over regular, much-needed, service.
After months of organizing with CTA workers and riders all over the Chicagoland area, December 15th kicked off our campaign of organized fare evasion. The idea was to not pay and not collect fares, in order to put economic pressure on the CTA. Thousands of people rode the bus and "L" for free on just the first day, demanding that the CTA scrap all service cuts, job terminations and fare hikes.
Then at Thursday's board meeting, one day after the fare strike began, the CTA delayed the service cuts and job terminations for another 6 months, when they will be reviewed again. This was at the request of state legislators who have suggested that money will now be made available during the spring session. Furthermore, the decision to double paratransit fares in January, which had already been passed and had been part of both the "Gridlock" and "Regional Mobility" budgets, was reversed.
While the battle is not over, we are very encouraged by these decisions. We have won an extra six months of employment, the current transit service and the current paratransit fares. This is also another six months to organize. In this effort we will not forget how the lobbying campaign, backed by the CTA's front group Keep Chicagoland Moving, received no response from state legislators. We will remember that it was only once the many groups and individuals in town who held the CTA responsible, organized together, uniting workers and riders, and committed to hitting the CTA where it hurts, that mayor Daley suddenly struck some sort of deal with legislators in Springfield. Our efforts over the next six months will continue along these lines.
This is not just an issue for Chicago residents. Public transit is being slashed and restructured in many cities in the US and around the world. The strategies of the transit bureaucrats mirror each other: playing transit riders and workers off against each other, redirecting questions about transit funding away from the transit agencies themselves and onto the state level, diverting the anger against the service cuts and job losses into lobbying and election campaigns. Just as their strategies are replicated in different cities across the globe, we hope that ours can be too. We would like to exchange ideas and experiences with people who have done or are interested in doing similar direct action campaigns around public transit. We also would love to hear from people who live in Chicago and want to get involved.