Occupiers, Other Activists, and Union Members Chain Open NYC Subway Stations for "Fare Strike"
Yesterday morning a number of New York City commuters were surprised to find that the entrances to some subway stations were chained open, with what looked like official signs from the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority announcing "free entry."
But the signs weren't posted by the MTA. Yesterday a group called the Rank and File Initiative released a press release announcing that it had joined forces with trasportation union members to open up nearly two dozen subway stations in the city as part of a "fare strike." The press release reads:
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.
Nick Pinto of the Village Voice's Runnin' Scared blog spoke with an anonymous member of the Rank and File Initiative:
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."
"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."
There's some confusion as to the extend of the unions' involvement. According to Pinto's post, TWU's leaders were not aware of the action:
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."