Capitalism on trial in Boston

Andre Francois, left, and Steve Kirschbaum (with bullhorn) at Sept. 15 rally. Both were illegally fired by Veolia.Photo: Howard Rotman

Andre Francois, left, and Steve Kirschbaum (with bullhorn) at Sept. 15 rally. Both were illegally fired by Veolia.
Photo: Howard Rotman

The grievance chair and founder of the Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union will be in court on Nov. 24, facing trumped-up charges brought by the Boston-area district attorney’s office on behalf of notorious union-buster Veolia Corporation.

Steve Kirschbaum, a 40-year member of United Steelworkers Local 8751, is facing charges related to an action held in a bus yard after a pro-union rally on June 30, the day the union contract with Veolia expired. Union members and supporters gathered in a Veolia office that day to continue the rally and hear updates on contract negotiations.

Because there were so many people present at the rally, there are dozens of witnesses who can attest to the fact that the ridiculous charges remaining against Kirschbaum — assault with a deadly weapon and trespassing — are false. Many have already signed sworn affidavits for the defense to that effect.

While Kirschbaum is facing the trumped-up charges, it is the courts that are on trial here — and, by extension, capitalism. That this case was even able to make it to trial reveals the true role of the courts under the for-profit system: it’s part of the bosses’ first line of defense against the workers.

At the pre-trial hearing, Kirsch­baum’s defense team produced a falsified repair order it had gotten from Veolia. This work order purported to be for the repair of the door that was apparently damaged when the building was broken into — but the date on the work order was June 30, the same date the incident, which happened in the evening, was alleged to have occurred.

Kirschbaum’s lawyers also read the exact language from the union contract that stipulated union officers were granted “unlimited access to the company property” — language which alone should have torpedoed the trespassing charge (especially since the breaking-and-entering charge had already been dismissed by the judge).

Veolia using court in union struggle

Other evidence makes it clear that the courts are being used by Veolia in its labor struggle with the union. The evidence includes an affidavit from a mechanic stating there was no damage to the breakroom door, as well as a video of a June 30 conversation between Kirschbaum and a police officer after the meeting in the drivers’ breakroom, in which absolutely no mention was made of any assault.

The case against Kirschbaum is so weak that the judge dismissed two of the four charges originally brought by Veolia — which included daytime breaking and entering and malicious destruction of property — as well as a motion to bar the union leader from the Veolia premises altogether. For the judge to have dismissed all the charges would have signaled to Boston’s bourgeoisie that this court could not be relied upon as a tool against the workers.

The patent absurdity and political nature of the case are evident. What is the “dangerous weapon” Kirschbaum is said to have used? A table — allegedly pushed against someone.

Even Veolia doesn’t deny that the breakroom was used by dozens of people for the after-rally meeting. Then why is Kirschbaum being singled out for criminal charges?

Defense lawyer John Pavlos noted the presence of Veolia General Manager Alex Roman at the Oct. 6 pre-trial hearing. Pavlos asserted that the charges against Kirschbaum were an attempt to “take this man [Kirschbaum] out of negotiations at a critical time in this contract struggle.”

In times of strikes and intensified struggle, workers learn they can’t rely upon the courts, the police, the media or any of the other pillars of capitalism for justice. In St. Louis, Mo., Michael Brown was shot in broad daylight on Aug. 9, and charges still haven’t been filed against Darren Wilson, the cop who killed him. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has already been caught falsifying the contents of Brown’s autopsy, in an attempt to make it appear to corroborate Wilson’s story.

The Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union fight, which includes the struggle for contract justice and the reinstatement of four of its wrongfully terminated leaders, is entering a new phase. Whether labor allies and supporters start organizing for the union now will be critical in determining if it is successful.