Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Defend Erek Slater ATU Shop Steward Fired by CTA

Defend Erek Slater

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Being a transit driver in an urban setting is an extremely dangerous ands stressful job. I recall getting on a bus to go in to Oakland. Along the way, the driver, a woman operator had to deal with kids smoking weed on the bus, an argument that broke out, and at one stop a drunk guy getting on and making all sorts of sexual remarks to her. When I got off I said to her, “Sister you earn every penny you earn and in fact are grossly underpaid.”

It is good to see Erek Slater, who I have know for some time, defending and fighting vigorously for his co-workers. As a former steward for many years I know what it’s like. His job, not as a driver, but as a worker representative is in the pits fighting the bosses on the shop floor. It is where the “rubber meets the road.” It is a great feeling as well when one’s co-workers speak in one’s defense.

Erek is being singled out because he is vigorously defending a public service and those that perform this public service.  Teachers and transit drivers face very similar situations in urban areas and areas of high unemployment and poverty. All the by-products of this crisis of capitalism are brought in to the classroom and are brought on to the bus, train or other service. Teachers are blamed for the crisis in public education.

In Chicago the butcher and former misnamed Israeli Defense Force (IDF) member Rahm Emanuel is savaging the public school system, an assault that overwhelmingly hits the poor communities and communities of color. Erek is linking the struggle of transit operators to teachers, this is his crime; this is what terrifies the Rahm and the powers behind the CTA.If worker's don't defend those on the front lines we will end up with no unions at all.

On this blog there are numerous articles about the transitstrike of the train operators here in the SF Bay Area a few years ago (BART).  In that struggle, the train operators as usual found themselves on their own.  The bus drivers also in the ATU could have gone out with them and many thought they should, instead, the union tops basically had them help break the strike by picking up riders. The city workers in SEIU who have been savaged over the years also could have struck and even water utility workers and other public sector unions could have banded together and shut this area down. We have over 100,000 workers affiliated to our labor council but there is never any attempt to mobilize this potential power by the union hierarchy.

This potential power could have been used to link with the communities in which we live and work in fighting for more jobs, increased public transit, more teachers, smaller class sizes and other important social issues that would bring us together.

Instead, as is usually the case, the ATU leadership at the highest levels and most of them (and SEIU and AFSCME) kept the train operators isolated from this potential power and little was gained. In fact, there is now an attempt to ban the train operators from striking.

It is because Erek recognizes that all workers and our communities are under assault by the same forces and the need to join together to fight them that he is being attacked. Does “An injury to one means an injury to all” not mean something?

In Chicago alone, the Chicago Federation of Labor has some 300 locals and hundreds of thousand of workers affiliated to it. The labor hierarchy is busy getting Hilary Clinton in to the White House when it should be calling for mass support leading to mass direct actions responses when activists on the shop floor like Erek and the brothers and sisters with him are facing attacks. Bernie Sanders, if he were to speak on this at all would call for such nebulous solutions as “fairness” “working it out” etc. as if it is a squabble between siblings.

No, we cannot rely on Wall Street politicians and their parties to defend our interests as workers. We can only rely on ourselves our unity and militant action. The employers don’t fear the present labor hierarchy that they have built a relationship with based on labor peace. We cannot avoid a struggle within organized labor’s leadership to remove them and their disastrous concessionary policies.

Many years ago I got a resolution passed in my Afscme District Council 57 for a Public Sector Alliance. This is a good first step, not simply an alliance to get more Democrats in to office but to build and strengthen us as pubic sector workers.  Rank and file workers must step to the plate and come to the defense of fighters like Erek otherwise why would someone take on such a role other than opportunists who use the union to get promoted.  But we must do more, we must build opposition caucuses within our local unions and in the wider movement in general to remove the present pro-management crowd and replace them and their policies with workers and leaders willing to fight for their members as hard as the bosses’ representatives fight for them.

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