Subject: [SocialistWorker.org] Bus drivers and riders unite
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======== BUS DRIVERS AND RIDERS UNITE ========================================
June 4, 2012
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The Transit Riders Union (TRU) joined the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
Local 587 at a "Rider-Driver Solidarity Event" at Seattle's Labor Temple on
The Metro bus system faced a severe crisis last summer when cuts of 17
percent of the bus service were threatened. After a campaign by TRU members
and participation by thousands of upset riders, the County Council raised
car-tab taxes to cover the shortfall and no cuts were necessary. But this was
only a temporary solution to the crisis--the funding runs out at the end of
2013--and it placed most of the burden on poor and working people. Counties
near Seattle have taken even more severe cuts, with 44 percent in Pierce
County, which covers Tacoma, and 38 percent in Snohomish County, which covers
Speakers included ATU Local 587 President Paul Bachtel, who expressed
enthusiastic support and the solidarity of interests between riders and
drivers. " Your riding conditions are our driving conditions," said one ATU
member, as others explained the threat of privatization and the need for
consistent funding for the bus service.
Here SocialistWorker.org prints the speeches of two Transit Riders Union
organizers, Scott Myers and Katie Wilson.
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-------- SCOTT MYERS ---------------------------------------------------------
A NEW day is dawning: a dark day. Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered the
era of austerity.
What is austerity? To put it briefly, the corporate aristocracy that now
rules this great nation has a new plan. This aristocracy is not trying to fix
the economic mess it created by stimulus measures, by creating jobs or by
sane economic development. Instead, they attempt keep up their profits by
taking them directly out of our hides.
Everywhere, we see wage freezes and speed-ups. Our hours are being cut or we
are laid off en masse. In the name of "budget crises," they cut or privatize
our social services, our schools, our health care. They gamble our pensions
and Social Security away on the stock market. And lately, we have seen the ax
of austerity fall on public transit.
To get us to swallow this bitter pill of austerity, our profit-hungry
economic physicians have a strategy. No, it's not a spoonful of sugar. Their
strategy is much harsher. You've probably heard of it. It's called divide and
conquer. And it is a very effective strategy.
To give an example of how effective it is: when I have been out in the
streets and at the bus stops, organizing for the TRU, I have had bus riders
tell me: "If those damn drivers weren't paid so much, we wouldn't have this
I have also to talked to many bus drivers, and I've heard some of them say,
"If all the riders would just pay their fares, we wouldn't have this
problem!" This is divide and conquer at work, my friends.
Where do they get this kind of misinformation? From the ATU's newsletter? I
don't think so! They get it from the TV, from the newspaper, from the radio,
from the internet--in a words, from the mass media. Yes, the financial elite
has a firm control on the so-called free press in this country, or at least
they can outspend us in getting their side of the story out to the masses.
What can we do about this? How can we overcome this seemingly overwhelming
media power of our corporate overlords? Are we doomed to defeat? No we're
not. I say to you, we have a greater power at our fingertips! This is the
power of solidarity.
Upward of 300,000 people board Metro every day--imagine what we could
accomplish, if we reached out to one another, if we stood together. That is
solidarity. And let's not forget, without the drivers not a single wheel
would roll. And there is power right there.
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THE POWER of solidarity is not new. It is tried and true. It is what allowed
the unions to rise up in the first place, in the 1930s. It is what allowed
ordinary working people, against overwhelming odds to win decent working
conditions, decent pay and, most importantly, to win respect. To not be
treated like slaves.
Today we seem to have forgotten how to wield this power. Well, I say we did
it before, we can do it again! It's not just in their propaganda that the 1
percenters ply their divide-and-conquer strategy. They do it with public
policy as well.
Take the car-tab fee. This was good, right? I mean, it staved off deep cuts
for another two years, right?
In my view, it constitutes a dubious victory. It is better than nothing. But
a flat fee like that puts a disproportionate burden on middle- and low-income
working people, as opposed to the rich capitalists.
What is $20 to someone like Bill Gates? Or Paul Allen? Or Jeff Bezos? With
billions of dollars at their command, $20 means very little. But to someone
who needs their car to get to a job that pays the minimum wage, $20 is a lot
When you are in debt, when the bank owns you for the rest of your life, $20
is a lot of money. To the middle class, or what's left of it, $20 is a burden
too. They are already taxed left and right, and they don't want to have to
bear the brunt of paying for public transit. And they shouldn't have to.
So, we have a policy that puts the burden on middle- and low-income workers.
And while these are busy fighting one another, no one bothers to ask why
there is no option to tax the rich. Again, divide and conquer.
But working people can't pay for it anymore. The money just isn't there.
According to the latest Census, almost half of the population of this country
now falls into the low-income category! For the first time since the Second
World War, this constitutes a greater proportion than the middle-income
I am part of this low-income category. Many transit riders are. We're not
exactly starving, thanks the social safety net, or at least what's left of
it. But what kind of future do we have?
We have no choice but to pursue progressive options, to thrust the tax burden
back upon the financial robber barons. American society produces more wealth
than it ever has. But the top 10 percent have concentrated 80 percent of
society's wealth into their hands. It's high time we started to take some of
that back. And the way to do that is with progressive taxation.
Can we win such a battle? It won't be easy. I don't believe for a second that
the profit hogs will give up even a tiny portion their billions without a
fight. But again, the key here is solidarity. We are many; they are few.
Unless the many stand together and back each other up, our numbers count for
nothing. If we fail to band together to meet this threat of austerity, the
consequences will be dire of all of us.
For drivers, your livelihood is at stake. For riders and would-be riders, we
will lose service, and our fares and taxes go up, even as our incomes go
down. And society as a whole will become less free and less mobile, and will
remain trapped in environmentally destructive car- and petroleum-dependence.
Our standard of living is under attack, and it has been for decades. Those
who thought themselves secure are now under the same threat as the
precariously employed. A decent job, a house, a debt-free college
education--these things are fast becoming the privilege of a minority of the
working population. My generation doesn't dare to hope for these things. We
are, by and large unemployed, underemployed and underpaid.
But the prospect of solidarity gives me hope. With solidarity can we fight
off this threat, and build a future worth living, for our generations and
beyond. It's my fervent hope that the Transit Riders Union will grow into an
effective instrument for fighting off this menace of austerity.
But I am fully aware that we will never accomplish this without the support
and solidarity of the Transit Operators and their Union. For this reason, I
thank you all for coming to this Rider-Driver Solidarity Event and
participating in this first step toward the fulfillment of these hopes
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-------- KATIE WILSON --------------------------------------------------------
CLEARLY THERE'S a lot wrong with public transit today, in King County and
throughout the U.S. There's a lot wrong with how public transit is funded and
how decisions about public transit are made.
At first glance, some of this looks like irrationality: Why are we cutting
service when demand for transit is rising, when ridership is going up? Why
are we cutting service when we know that cars are killing our cities and the
earth, when we know that a massive expansion of public transit is needed to
provide an alternative?
Some of what's wrong looks like injustice: why are we raising fares right
when people are struggling to make ends meet? And why is the development of
new transit infrastructure, such as light rail, so often pushing people out
of their neighborhoods rather than serving their needs?
When we see stupidity and injustice rule the day, it's easy to feel hopeless
and confused. Who is making these decisions? Why? But hopelessness and
confusion don't get us any closer to fixing the problem. I want to talk about
what I believe has to be done, and then about what the Transit Riders Union
is planning to do, in order to start fixing the problem.
The first thing we have to do is understand what is going on, why bad
decisions are made. It's not a simple lack of awareness--it's not just that
our legislators haven't heard what we have to say, or aren't aware of our
The problem is that in our society, things don't happen because they are good
ideas, or because they're right or fair. No, things happen, generally,
because they are profitable for someone. And right now the corporate class
that overwhelmingly has the money also overwhelmingly has the power--the
power to influence politicians, the power to push public policy their way.
If we keep this in mind, all the irrationality and injustice we see around us
begins to make more sense. The decisions being made about public transit
might be stupid and unjust from a human point of view, but from the point of
view of short-term profit, they make a whole lot of sense.
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WHY IS there money for new transit infrastructure, like light rail and
streetcars, but not enough money for the day-to-day operations of our
existing Metro bus system? Of course all the specific budget details are
complex, but I think there's a basic answer to this question.
The answer is, there's money for new development because someone profits from
it. The engineering firms and the construction companies, the property owners
and the developers--they all have an interest in building new infrastructure,
betting on rising property values and raising up expensive condos near the
These are the powerful corporate lobbies that say yes, let's use public money
to finance this kind of development. But where are the corporate lobbies that
say, let's put public money into Metro's operations? There aren't any. Why
not? Because no one directly profits from that. That money just goes to pay
the wages of bus drivers and mechanics--and from the capitalist point of
view, that's a waste.
Let's go further. Why are we cutting public transit when we should be
expanding it, and raising fares when we should be making transit affordable
for everyone? Because over the past 50 years the corporate class has
succeeded in shifting the burden of funding public goods away from themselves
and on to the declining "middle class," onto workers and onto the poor--so
now when we are out of work, and when our wages are stagnating or falling,
there isn't enough money in the public coffers to fund the vital services we
The "1 percent" is basically saying to us: "We'll take our short-term profits
now, thank you very much, and if you want public goods like transit, you'll
just have to pay for that yourselves." Of course they benefit from public
transit too, but they're not thinking about the big picture or the long-term.
They're acting like profit-driven corporations are supposed to act--they are
thinking about their stock options or their next quarterly statements.
Today's corporate elite doesn't have faith in the future. As far as they're
concerned, the ship is going down and they're going to grab what they can
while the getting is good. And if we let them, they will take the rest of us
down with them.
Understanding all this, what can we do? First of all, we can put aside our
helpless frustration at all the stupidity and injustice that surrounds
us--and then we can begin to figure out how to organize, how to build a force
that can overcome the irresponsible shortsighted profit motive that now runs
People power can triumph over money power--we can take back our lives--but
only if we organize. The Transit Riders Union wants to organize. But we
aren't big enough yet to do very much at the state level to change
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WE REALLY don't have the power to vote our legislators out of office if they
don't do what we want them to. In principle, We the People, the voters,
collectively have that power, of course--but in practice we don't yet know
how to act together, and too many of us are told what to think and how to
vote by the mass media, and too many of us are with good reason cynical about
So first we have to build up our forces. We have to build to the point where
we can go to Olympia representing such a formidable base that our elected
officials will have to sit up and take notice, and they'll be more afraid of
crossing us, their constituents, than of crossing their corporate donors or
their party line.
How can we build up our forces? As the Transit Riders Union, we are going to
begin at the local level, in our own city and our own county. We intend to
fight for progressive revenue for transit, money that can fund better service
and more service and more affordable service, right here, using whatever
legislative tools we have at our disposal.
We know that these tools are inadequate--we know that the transit funding
problem does not ultimately have a local solution--but by using these tools
to the best of our ability, we'll build up an organized force that can then
take on bigger things.
So what's our plan? Our research team has been hard at work researching
several progressive taxes, taxes on big business, that King County may
already have the authority to levy. We plan to propose an ordinance that
would direct the revenue from these taxes toward the improvements we'd like
to see in Metro, including a low-income fare program: the survey of bus
riders we conducted last year showed overwhelming support for a low-income
We'll work with the County Council as far as possible to pass our
legislation, and then, if necessary, next year we'll do a signature drive to
get it on the ballot as an initiative. That's one part of our campaign plan.
We are also investigating what it would take to require all businesses above
a certain size to provide a transit subsidy for their employees, through
Metro's "business choice" program--imagine if Seattle's workers, including
low-wage service workers who often rely on the bus, received ORCA cards from
their employers loaded with $20 each month. That would add to Metro's
revenue, increase public transit use, and provide an important benefit for
people struggling to pay their bills.
These are the campaign ideas we have been researching, and by early this
summer, we hope to have a definite plan in place, so that we can build a
coalition and recruit members and organize riders around it.
We know that these ideas are ambitious, and that campaigns like these will
require an immense amount of work on our part, as well as the support of a
wide variety of people and organizations in King County--including Metro
drivers. But we believe the time is right to try for something big, and we
are committed to doing what it takes. I hope you will join us!
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