NYC school bus strike ends, struggle continues

New York — After a month-long strike during the coldest days of winter, the executive board of the school bus drivers and matrons’ union voted on Feb. 15 to end Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181’s work stoppage.

The walkout was originally forced on the union by the mayor’s decision to do away with the workers’ seniority list. In an economic downturn, in the dead of winter, circumstances were unfavorable for a strike.

In addition to Bloomberg’s media control, the bankers who are ordering this and other austerity measures were solidly behind this attack on union jobs. The corporate-controlled media for the most part refused to let the workers have any voice in the matter.

However, the 8,800 workers rose to the challenge, keeping the citywide picket lines going around the clock. The union’s Feb. 10 demonstration showed the determination and militancy of workers who were up against a billionaire mayor who controls a large part of the corporate media.

The voice the corporate media wanted to silence is a workforce of mostly women, people of color and immigrants who take care of schoolchildren on a daily basis — and who are struggling to survive the high cost of living imposed by a billionaire mayor.

The fight is not over. And even the media’s non-coverage of most important aspects of the strike couldn’t hide a fact that the strike revealed: how much the 150,000 special needs and general education students rely on bus drivers and matrons — and consequently how vicious Bloomberg’s attack on the union’s job security is.

Newspaper editorials are reporting the end of the strike as a victory for the mayor. It may, in fact, make him the poster child for the heartless face of austerity.

Alliance between workers and community

More important, the strike forged an alliance between the union and the community — especially groups like Parents to Improve School Transportation — that can form a basis for the next phase of the struggle.

Certainly the workers were not able to find any reliable allies among the Democratic candidates for mayor who urged them to return to work. The only true allies were in the community — among people who shared the union’s goal of job protection as the basis for safe student transportation.

Parents supporting job security — and denouncing inadequate “alternatives” to the one sure way to get their children to school — gave out leaflets at schools, protested at the Metropolitan Transit Authority board meeting, testified at a City Council hearing and brought picket signs to the union-busting bid openings held by the Department of Education on Feb. 12.

These parents brought valentines to strike bases on Feb. 14, spoke at press conferences and rallies, and helped bring a solidarity caravan of 50 Boston school bus drivers to Bloomberg’s neighborhood and to the Bronx picket lines to challenge the notion that no other city has an Employee Protection Plan or EPP.

“There is mutual support between the people who need the service — school transportation — and the people who provide the service,” said Sara Catalinotto, a co-founder of PIST.

Classwide alliances like this will be increasingly necessary if people are to prevail against bank-mandated austerity attacks.

Accidents on non-union buses

In the last week of the strike, two nonunion school buses on two separate occasions were involved in accidents — one of which injured 14 people, 11 of them children.

That particular accident, which took place on Feb. 12 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, happened on the very same day that 67 new companies bid for school bus contracts that would no longer have Employment Protection Provisions.

The local news media reported widely on the bids, but ignored the day’s accident — as well as another accident two days later. It was up to grassroots advocacy groups like PIST to address the issue.

“This is just one of many reasons why ‘replacement’ bus crews are rejected by parents,” said Catalinotto in a press release issued by PIST.

PIST and other parent groups are not letting this issue go away. Catalinotto said they are discussing ways to challenge what they consider the authorities’ disregard for the civil rights and safety of school bus children, made apparent by the attitude of the current mayor.  “Bloomberg and the DOE brag that some $40 million was saved during the strike, but one-third of students with disabilities missed many days of school, while nonunion buses got into accidents,” said Catalinotto.

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