Three Fronts On Worker Rights
by Bill Onasch, webmaster,
kclabor.org

Worker rights are under attack throughout most of the world. But there are three fronts that stand out right now:

* The battle against the youth employment law in France

* The judicial imposition of jail time and draconian fines against New York transit workers.

* The mass demonstrations by "illegal" immigrants in the United States

A Battle Won In France
After weeks of mass demonstrations and strikes the French government has had to give up on the recently passed CPE (First Job Contract) that would have removed workers under age 26 from legal protection against employer discharge without cause.

This fight was initiated by student youth, who both marched in the streets and shut down campuses through sit-down tactics. The government first tried to quell this through brutal police attacks. But that only ignited wider struggles as the unions and working class parties adopted the youth struggle as their own. As millions showed determination to destabilize society as long as it took the conservative government had to back down.

The ruling class offensive in France is far from over but this is an inspiring battle won that others would do well to learn from and emulate.

Taking Prisoners in New York
Last December New York transit workers defied their state’s undemocratic Taylor Law and went on strike for three days before the leadership directed them to return to work while negotiations resumed. There was later tentative agreement on a give-back contract that was narrowly defeated by the ranks—and that is now being voted on a second time.

In the meantime, a boss stooge in black robes has imposed a ten day jail sentence on TWU Local 100 president, Roger Toussaint; levied personal fines against Toussaint and two other officers; and a three million dollar fine against the union. It’s possible the union may have its dues check-off permanently revoked. And, under the Taylor Law, each individual striker was docked two days pay for each day of the strike.

I am no fan of Roger Toussaint, who evolved from a promising rank-and-file oppositionist into a heavy handed and incompetent bureaucrat. But he’s not being jailed and fined for failing to be an effective worker leader—he’s collateral damage in a merciless boss/government assault on the union.

I have confidence that TWU members will eventually get the kind of leadership they deserve. Right now, we should rally around the leadership they have. The entire labor movement should condemn these fresh attacks on Toussaint and the TWU.

An Impressive First Show Of Force
With an election coming up this Fall, the bosses’ politicians started playing their usual hard cop-soft cop routine around scapegoat immigrant workers. The House passed a bill to build a "Berlin Wall" along the Mexican border that would also criminalize not only immigrants without proper papers but anyone who might help them as well. The more moderate Senate started building a consensus around just expelling the most recent immigrants while offering hope of legal residence, possibly leading to citizenship, to those who properly register, pay a fine and learn English. With little likelihood of reconciliation between the two august bodies the politicians could all blame one another during the congressional campaigns for the failure to deal with the immigrant crisis.

Unexpectedly, the immigrant workers intruded in this charade. There have been a number of mass demonstrations, partial strikes, and school walk outs. Far from recoiling in fear they have asserted their dignity and determination.

This is an inspiring initial mobilization. We have not seen the last of such action. But forces that have moved in to try to take leadership of this semi-spontaneous outpouring will attempt to divert what they view as a runaway train into a siding far short of the destination of dignity and security for immigrant workers.

The April 10 action in Kansas City was the largest demonstration of any kind I have seen in this city. It exuded a feeling of empowerment. But the speakers platform was almost totally dominated by clergy, elected officials, and Hispanic businessmen. Applause was solicited for the Kansas City Police Department—an official sponsor of the event. There were even greetings from Kansas congressman Dennis Moore—one of the infamous CAFTA 15 Democrats—who voted for the Republican immigration bill that passed the House. There was only one union speaker.

Those that took over the platform cannot be counted on to defend the class and rights interests of immigrant workers. While some are well-meaning allies others will try to manipulate this movement to wheel and deal with the Establishment. Most of them urged support for the bipartisan Senate deal.

Immigrant workers will find ways to organize around their class interests. The rest of us have an obligation to support those efforts and to oppose any and all legislation that would penalize workers in any way. The principle of working class solidarity is not subject to compromise.

April 11, 2006