Nov. 9 — Solidarity Day for the Boston School Bus Union 5 drew hundreds of drivers from Steelworkers Local 8751, in addition to supporters from near and far today. An immediate measure of its success could be seen on the nightly television news. For the first time since Oct. 8, when the union was illegally locked out by Veolia Transportation, the workers’ side of the story was finally revealed.
The day of solidarity started off with a rally at the Freeport Bus Yard on Hoyt Street for a boisterous crowd that kept increasing before it took off on a march to occupy the street in front of Veolia’s corporate offices. More than 800 marchers walked, danced and raised their fists surrounding a mobile, truck-mounted sound system pumping out Haitian resistance music interspersed with chants of “Union! Union!”
The excitement rose perceptively when the Haitian and African-American Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle contingent loudly drove into the middle of the people’s assembly. After listening to more solidarity speeches, the still-spirited throng once again took over Dorchester Avenue on the way back to the Hoyt Street site, where drummers and chanters kept up their rhythmic sounds and were the last to leave.
The Nov. 9 rally, plus three other rallies at the Freeport Bus Yards on Oct. 23, 28 and 31 — each one attended by hundreds of drivers — as well as almost daily meetings of worker-organizers and a well-attended press conference on Nov. 8, combined to finally break through the wall of lies by the mainstream media. After a full month of misrepresenting the confrontation at Veolia Transportation as a “wildcat strike,” newspaper and television news on Nov. 10 used the word “lockout” instead.
The first three speakers at the rally — Bishop Felipe Teixeira OFSJC, well-respected former City Councilor Chuck Turner and longtime City Councilor Charles Yancey — made the basic facts clear: Since July, Veolia has refused to follow numerous terms of the labor contract with the union, as required by law. When workers en masse demanded a meeting on Oct. 8 to settle pay, safety and other issues, the company refused and instead forced the workers out and locked the gates. The company’s actions left tens of thousands of students without bus transportation.
Since then the company, which is hated worldwide for its environmentally dangerous and anti-labor policies, fired four leaders of USW Local 8751: Grievance Chair Stevan Kirschbaum, Vice President Steve Gillis, Recording Secretary Andre Francois and Steward Garry Murchison. Steward Richard Lynch, the fifth suspended leader, was given a reprimand and told to return to work, raising questions about disparate treatment by the company. Some 864 workers were given disciplinary letters of warning this week. All five Veolia-targeted labor leaders chaired and spoke during the rally.
From the makeshift pickup truck stage next to Veolia’s bus yards, Yancey said, “For elected officials including the mayor to condemn our school bus drivers without having the whole story — I think that is contemptuous.” He ended with: “We must unify all workers in the city of Boston, must unify and support our school bus drivers and our school bus monitors at this time, because if Veolia is successful at busting this union, then who is next?”
Yancey filed a hearing order on Nov. 4 at the Boston City Council, calling for an investigation into Veolia’s labor practices in the city of Boston (see accompanying article).
Labor and community support
Julio De La Cruz spoke for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2222 Business Manager Myles Calvey. The Verizon workers’ union is hosting the Labor Committee to Defend the School Bus Union 5 in its offices. De La Cruz pledged his union’s continued support “shoulder to shoulder” until the unjustly fired labor leaders are returned to work.
Maria Gianformaggio Gentile and Vinny Brutaro spoke for Amalgamated Transport Union Local 1181-1061, which made an extraordinary commitment of solidarity by organizing a busload of labor and community activists from New York City to attend the rally because “we’re all in this together.”
Sandra McIntosh, representing the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, of which the Black Educators Association of Massachusetts is an integral part, announced an important community speakout and press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 13 “to get the truth out” at St. Katherine Drexel Church, 517 Blue Hill Road, in the African-American community of Roxbury. That meeting is the next step in broadening necessary solidarity from the city’s parents, especially in communities of color, to stop union busting by Veolia and city officials.
Charles Clemons, of TOUCH 106.1 FM community radio, promised his continued solidarity with the bus drivers’ struggle. Jean Claude Simon, a Haitian community activist, explained Local 8751’s importance to the Black community.
Popular word of the day: “VeoLIAR”
The energetic crowd marched to a second rally in front of the locked gates of the hated Veolia company’s executive offices.
Milagros Cancel and Sara Catalinotto spoke for New York City’s Parents to Improve School Transportation, a strong ally of ATU 1181. The word “VeoLIAR,” featured on Catalinotto’s picket sign, was repeated often throughout the day from the stage.
Ed Childs spoke representing UNITE HERE Local 26. Brockton school bus drivers in Teamsters Local 25 expressed their support, describing Local 8751 as “family.”
Seattle activist Susan Koppleman of Life Source spoke of Veolia’s criminal and profitable destruction of Palestine’s water infrastructure.
Imani Henry, a student during the battle to desegregate Boston’s schools in 1974, expressed his thanks to the drivers who protected students of color from the violence of racist thugs.
Larry Holmes, representing the People’s Power Assembly of New York City, spoke, as did Sharon Black from the Baltimore People’s Assembly. They described solidarity actions for the School Bus Union 5 in New York; Baltimore; Buffalo, N.Y.; Raleigh, N.C.; and San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.
This writer reported on a solidarity statement issued by the Colombian Sinaltrainal union and their current hunger strike against the Nestle Corporation.
Chantel Casimir, Kyett Woody Baptiste, Lela Roseboro and other members of Local 8751 gave impassioned speeches in defense of their union leaders. They represent just some of the rank-and-file leaders who must be given credit for keeping the pressure on Veolia, city officials and the propaganda arms of the ruling class, otherwise known as the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and network television news.
WW photos: Liz Green, Joseph Piette, G. Dunkel