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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If There is a Strike, 32BJ Must Have a Plan to Win! (Statement of the League for the Revolutionary Party)


League for the Revolutionary Party
Bulletin No. 3 (32BJ contract struggle)

December 28, 2011


This bulletin was produced by revolutionary socialist workers who support the organization called the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP). As our name indicates, the LRP believes that the working class needs its own revolutionary political party that fights against capitalism and for the goal of replacing the system of exploitation with socialism. The LRP includes members of 32BJ and other unions in New York.

The 32BJ struggle is very important. We hope to join together with other workers who agree on basic elements of a fighting strategy to win this struggle, regardless of other political differences. We also believe that in the course of struggles in the unions and in other arenas, over time more workers will come to reject the capitalist system and the capitalist parties in favor of building a revolutionary party (see for more about the LRP.)

Real Estate Bosses Are on the Attack –

If There is a Strike,
32BJ Must Have a Plan to Win!

The commercial real estate and cleaning company bosses show no sign of backing off their demands for big cuts in their next contract with Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. They are trying to slash workers’ wages, healthcare and pension benefits – and many other important working conditions and rights on the job. This is an outrageous attack on the cleaners, porters and other workers who keep their buildings running and provide indispensable services around the clock. These are the sorts of attacks by capitalists that are making working-class people everywhere furious.

These attacks will have terrible effects on the lives of 32BJ members and must be stopped. That is why it looks like the union’s 22,000 commercial building workers will have to go on strike. Unless the bosses suddenly have a change of heart, there will be no other way to stop their attacks other than by 32BJ members coming together and declaring a strike.

But, given the state of the labor movement and the record of 32BJ leaders in particular, many workers have concerns about going on strike. Workers do not want another strike that is sold out and defeated like 32BJ’s 1996 strike was under former President Gus Bevona. In fact, there is reason to be concerned that unless 32BJ workers push for a more powerful strike strategy, the current 32BJ leadership under Mike Fishman might lead another strike to defeat.

The Fishman leadership has failed to organize workers against the bosses’ day-to-day harassment in the workplace and have not seriously resisted the wave of layoffs that began with the outbreak of the economic crisis. The top-down, undemocratic and unaccountable way our union is run leaves Fishman & Co. free to make deals with the bosses. That is why we socialist workers, who include members of 32BJ and other unions in the city and are grouped together in the League for the Revolutionary Party, are putting forward a plan for 32BJ members to control their strike and mobilize the greatest possible active support from all workers against the bosses, so that 32BJ can win.

A Plan to Strike and Win

1. Target the Rich and Powerful Bosses! Send a Clear Message to the Whole Working Class!

Like everywhere, many workers in New York are paid very low wages and get no benefits. Regarding 32BJ, the hypocritical bosses are trying to spread the lie that 32BJ members are so well paid in comparison that they don’t deserve a decent contract! The truth is that 32BJ members have better wages and benefits than non-union workers doing similar jobs only because union struggles in the past won those improvements. The union-busting aims of the real estate bosses – their desire to squeeze Local 32BJ workers economically and mistreat and disrespect workers in general – are not going to benefit anyone but the bosses. In fact, getting a union job such as with 32BJ has been one precious way in this racist and exploitative society that Black, Latino and immigrant workers in particular have been able to get out of poverty. But these opportunities are constantly being attacked. That’s why defending Local 32BJ is an important way to help unite and defend the whole working class against layoffs and cutbacks and poverty. By defending wages and benefits, a 32BJ therefore deserves the support of the rest of the working-class and poor people of this city.
32BJ workers can gain great popular support for a strike by targeting the most well-known and despised capitalist property owners who are obviously looking to profit off of the current attacks on workers. Thus, a 32BJ strike could start with picket lines targeting the most well known and despised face of the real estate bosses – Donald Trump. Trump is widely hated for his racist, anti-immigrant attitudes, including bigoted attacks on President Obama, and for his arrogant flaunting of his power and wealth. Picket lines by striking workers and their supporters that shut down Trump’s corporate headquarters – Trump Tower, with its golded entrance – could easily win the sympathy of the working class and many struggling middle-class people too. That would make it much harder for the Mayor and the police to justify moves against strikers on picket lines.

Wall Street’s financial tycoons drove the economy into crisis only to get bailed out of bankruptcy with trillions of taxpayers’ dollars. Ever since, the capitalist class has demanded cuts in jobs, wages, and social services to make the workers and poor people foot the bill for the crisis. Working people want to take a stand and fight back against this injustice, especially when they see an opportunity to do so that makes sense – like a 32BJ strike.

If workers shut down a place like Trump Tower, they could build on this by shutting down other symbols of the Wall Street powers that are behind the attacks on 32BJ workers and the rest of the working class. 32BJ pickets that shut down Goldman Sachs’ headquarters downtown, the Bank of America headquarters on 42nd Street and Citibank/Citigroup headquarters around the corner from Trump’s in midtown would be very popular with workers. Winning working-class support for our picket lines would make it easier to succeed in shutting down other important buildings that 32BJ workers are concentrated in, like Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the MetLife Building.

2. A Strike Must Not Be Just a Walkout! Build Mass Picket Lines To Keep Out the Scabs – Shut Buildings Down!

Clearly if workers strike, the bosses’ operations can’t be allowed to go on uninterrupted. To avoid this, a policy of mass picket lines to keep out any scabs will be necessary from the start. In building picket lines, 32BJ workers do not need to stand alone. In October, when Mayor Bloomberg first sent the police to evict “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, the AFL-CIO unions sent urgent text messages, e-mails and tweets to all their members calling on them to rush downtown. By 6 a.m., thousands of union members had gathered at the park, forcing Bloomberg and the police to back off at that time.

32BJ needs to call on other unions, as well as “Occupy Wall Street” and other protesters, to join in on picket lines in order to make them bigger. On December 16, the Occupy Wall Street Labor Outreach Committee voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to mobilize for 32BJ picket lines in the event of a strike. This is just the start of what we need. Workers have to demand that Fishman and other 32BJ leaders prepare the best possible showing for the strike by reaching out to all possible organizations and workers in advance. In this way, on the first day of a strike workers can start with picket lines of thousands shutting down buildings like Trump Tower as we described above – and surely aiming to include the biggest buildings in the city like Rockefeller Center, the Empire State and MetLife. Also, our union leadership must demand that other unions order their members not to cross our picket lines, and our union must call on all other workers to do the same.

32BJ workers who understand the importance of this approach are going to have to push hard to make this happen. So far, all the signs from the 32BJ leadership suggest that their plan, if they call a strike, is to just pull workers off the job and have them stand outside on powerless pickets that do not try to shut buildings down. But if buildings continue to function, the bosses won’t feel pressure to agree to our demands. As veterans of 32BJ’s 1996 strike can testify, picket lines that don’t stop strike-breaking scabs will only encourage the bosses to stick to their demands and leave us out in the cold winter weather.

3. No Compromise on Basic Demands!

The union leaders have said that they will not let the bosses push back our pay, benefits and rights on the job. Militant workers must hold them to this. If 32BJ goes on strike, there should be no return to work until there is an agreement that includes:
  • No Wage Cuts! We must reject any demand by the bosses to cut our wages. The cost of living is currently rising at an official rate of 3%. Anything less than a 3% yearly raise is in reality a big pay cut and should be rejected. In fact, as President Fishman pointed out at the strike-vote meeting at the Sheraton, the cost of living is rising much faster than this, with food prices up 22%, MetroCards up 37% and the cost of other basic items rising quickly too. But the bosses are demanding that the current, weak cost-of-living clause in the 32BJ contract be removed. With even worse inflation expected in the coming years, workers should not accept the removal of our cost-of-living clause. In fact, all workers should fight to have wages rise automatically with the rising cost of living.
  • No Increased Workload! Many cleaners can remember when they had to clean 2,500 square feet an hour, but now cleaners are expected to clean 4,000 square feet an hour – 32,000 square feet each 8-hour shift! Workers are exhausted and developing all sorts of health problems from this overwork. But the bosses want to remove the 4,000 square feet guideline so that they can demand an unlimited amount of work and have the right to fire anybody who can’t keep up. Obviously, workers must reject any change to the contract that will allow the bosses to demand more work.
  • No Cuts to Holidays, Vacation and Sick Days!
  • No Second-Class Workers – No New Tier System! The bosses want to create a new tier of workers doing the same work for lower wages and benefits. We should oppose any attempt to extend the current tier system and look to get rid of it entirely!
  • Hands Off Our Healthcare! No Increased Costs for Healthcare or Cuts in Benefits! Fully Fund and Guarantee Our Pensions!
  • No Layoffs or Job Cuts!
  • Bosses’ Hands Off 32BJ’s Political Action Fund!

4. Elected Strike Leaders and Mass Meetings!

The Fishman leadership claims to have appointed Contract Action Teams (CATs) in every building and strike captains responsible for groups of 20-40 buildings representing 300-400 workers. President Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer Hector Figueroa and the rest of these officials have a record of opposing workers’ right to elect fellow workers who they know and trust to be part of the union leadership, rather than having them appointed from the top. CAT Team members, Strike Captains and Shop Stewards should be elected and accountable to the membership.

Most 32BJ workers never see any paid union staff and receive no support in their struggle during the life of a contract. They only hear from the union when the leaders want them to come to a rally once every few years, but the union leaders generally ignore and disrespect the workers. Thus, the union officials want to control who is chosen for these positions so that they can keep the rest of the rank and file submissive to any bad deal that they may want to push through. This has happened in the past. So workers will have to look for opportunities to change the current way that the union leaders have set things up for the strike, and to demand more information and much more say in how the strike is going to be run.

If we strike, there should be regular mass meetings of 32BJ workers to receive reports on the strike’s progress, debate how to strengthen our struggle and vote on the way forward.

The current set-up threatens to leave workers in the dark and powerless over the course of the struggle, which is very similar to what happened during the 1996 strike run by former President Gus Bevona. He kept workers isolated from each other, as well as from other unions and workers and eventually forced workers to accept a demoralizing defeat after more than a month on strike. This time workers should demand that they are kept informed and are able to have their say at every step of the struggle. In the course of fighting for a militant strategy to win the strike and to ensure that the bosses aren’t allowed to push workers back further, 32BJ members can also take big steps forward in achieving democracy and accountability in this Local.

5. Appeal for the Solidarity of New York’s Unions! Win the Support of Workers Everywhere!

32BJ commercial building workers are part of a Local which also includes our brothers and sisters in the residential sector. It would seem to be common sense for the 32BJ leadership to mobilize the entire Local behind a struggle by any sector of the Local. As well, since 32BJ is an important part of the SEIU, our leadership must demand that all of SEIU back our fight. This would include appealing to the healthcare workers of 1199 and to other members of SEIU in the area to join our picket lines and demonstrations. Similarly, 32BJ should call on all the other city unions, including their umbrella organization the Central Labor Council, to mobilize their members in great numbers to win this battle.

Importantly, New York’s subway and bus workers in TWU Local 100 have a contract that expires shortly after 32BJ’s. If we are forced to strike, they in particular should be encouraged to join our picket lines. United in action, 32BJ and transit workers – and others – could win an amazing victory and turn around the class struggle in New York!

The Question of Leadership

President Fishman and the other 32BJ leaders, like many other union leaders, see no alternative to the capitalist system, which drives the misery of low-wage jobs and unemployment, imperialist wars, and growing poverty in the U.S. and worse poverty around the world. That is behind the union leaders’ sell outs. Because they support the capitalist system, they have a tendency to betray workers’ interests which clash with the capitalist bosses’ interests. Moreover, many union officials make six-figure salaries – dollars taken out of workers’ dues. No wonder these bureaucrats are committed to tying workers to capitalism.

Like many capitalists, Fishman & Co. are big supporters of the Democratic Party, as is the whole SEIU. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, has repeatedly confirmed that it is no friend of the working class. In the states and on the Federal level, the Democrats have joined the Republicans in bailing out banks and corporations with trillions of taxpayers’ dollars. They have initiated and gone along with big budget cuts that hurt the working class and the poor the most. Senator Schumer and Governor Cuomo are big backers of Wall Street, a dominant capitalist force in New York politics. President Obama has overseen a great escalation in the deportation of immigrant workers. These are just some examples of the injustices perpetrated by the pro-capitalist Democratic Party, along with the Republican Party.

The privileged positions of the union leaders stem from their role as negotiators or brokers between the bosses and the workers. In this role, they have done a good job of pacifying many workers for the past few decades, which has helped out the bosses enormously. This is going to change and the working class is going to see that when united, our class has tremendous power. When more workers reach this understanding, they will also see that building a revolutionary party to lead the struggles of the workers and the poor forward to socialist revolution is not a dream but is possible and necessary.

Right now though, obviously the majority of workers don’t agree with the revolutionary socialist perspective. However, that is not an obstacle to building a united defense against the bosses. In fact, that is why we make proposals for united action, where workers of different political persuasions can join together against the attacks coming from the RAB. But for this to happen rank and file workers who agree with the ideas in this bulletin have to band together and start demanding that President Fishman and other union officials adopt the kinds of tactics that are necessary to make the strongest united action possible.

At the same time, workers who already see the need for revolutionary goals have to come together to build the revolutionary political party. The longer the working class is saddled with pro-capitalist leaders like the union officials and the politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, the harder life will be for all of us. We encourage every worker interested in our ideas to contact us. There isn’t any time to waste!