The ruling class of Boston has tried everything to bust the school bus drivers union, United Steelworkers Local 8751. They brought in the global union-busting behemoth corporation Veolia in 2013. Veolia locked out the workers in October of that year and then fired four of the union leaders in November. The courts are now being used to go after the union’s grievance chair and founder, Steve Kirschbaum.
Along with the war against this political, social union is another war — on its contract. The wages, rights and benefits the union won over 40 years are the envy of the industry.
For over a year, a campaign waged to rehire the four has attracted significant national support from labor, Palestinian solidarity activists and others.
The last week in February saw perhaps the most devious tactic of Boston’s 1% against Local 8751. At the bargaining table, the city proposed a deal: Forget about the four and we will make significant improvements in the contract.
The bargaining committee had none of it. Negotiators for the union made it clear that no agreement would be possible unless the four came back to work.
That is solidarity in action. And the scope of issues brought by the union bargaining team was wider than the situation of Local 8751. Bargaining committee members brought the Black Lives Matter struggle into negotiations. At the bargaining table, Andre Francois, the union’s recording secretary — and one of the fired four — assailed the mayor’s representatives for the mayor’s firing of a city worker who blocked traffic on I-93 in support of the uprising against racism and police brutality.
This is in keeping with the tradition of this union — which has always been to see contract justice and the struggle against racism as part of the same struggle. That’s why the Boston school bus drivers union was the first AFL-CIO local to formally endorse and make a donation to the Black Lives Matter movement. Boston Black Lives Matter and the school bus drivers union also collaborated on a protest of the mayor’s address in January.
Boston’s Mass Mobilization Against Police Violence sent a representative to a Team Solidarity meeting convened by the school bus drivers. School bus drivers attended the first court appearance of the protesters who blockaded I-93; an I-93 protester attended the last court appearance of Steve Kirschbaum on Feb. 2.
All this adds up to the bosses’ worst nightmare: increasing classwide solidarity that will be necessary not only for winning against the city and Veolia’s attempts to bust this union, but for pushing back the mayor’s plans to close schools and kick seventh graders off school buses.
The actual contract has not gone to a vote. However, in the negotiating session, the message to the bosses was loud and clear. “No contract, no work” is chanted by the workers at many of the daily yard meetings.
Veolia was brought in to tame the school bus drivers union. At this point it is facing the exact opposite: a fighting, aroused, militant union that is ready to fight.