Mobilize Labor to Fight NYC’s Congestion Tolls!

New York’s Democratic Governor Hochul has proposed another regressive tax on the working class through congestion pricing in Manhattan. Commuters will be charged $15 to drive on the island below 60th street. This measure alone will generate $1 billion dollars a year, sucked mostly from workers’ pockets for the simple act of going to work. As per a 2017 report, 305,000 workers commute every day to Manhattan via car. Government officials promise the money will be used to improve services on mass transportation.

We reject the idea that workers should be forced to pay for a decaying transportation system. The banks alone in this country are sitting on $3.3 trillion in uninvested assets. The money is there to pay for a robust transit system in every single city. Why rob Peter to pay Paul, while Caesar sits in the lap of luxury? This is one of the clever ways the ruling class divides the working class, by pitting sections against each other. White against Black, men against women, and in this case, motorists against public transit users.

Unfortunately, layers of the trade union leadership have fallen for this, including Transit Workers Union President John Samuelson, who once supported congestion pricing. We can agree with President Samuelson that transit needs to be better funded, but we do not think it should be done at the expense of a layer of the working class. Samuelson has since withdrawn his support on the grounds that not enough is being done to increase services, which is surely true.

John Samuelson | Transit Workers Union, New York
We can agree with President Samuelson that transit needs to be better funded, but we do not think it should be done at the expense of a layer of the working class. / Image: Jason Kuffer, Flickr

Liberals have praised congestion pricing as a great solution and mouthpieces like economist Peter Coy, who wrote an op-ed column for the New York Times, typical in its smug triteness, welcomes the congestion pricing. He points out with stunning insight that the streets in Manhattan are too crowded. We must ask: who will these less crowded streets benefit? It can only benefit the wealthy who are unbothered by a $15 fee for driving on refreshingly emptier streets. A large part of the population that lives in Manhattan below 60th Street are among the richest 10% in the nation. The workers are to shoulder the cost for transit, while the rich enjoy empty lanes and fast taxis or limousines! This all stands to reason for the liberal pundits.

The United Federation of Teachers has sued the state as a means to stop this legislation, but this matter won’t be settled in the courts where the capitalists wrote the rules and hold all the cards. Bolder tactics are necessary. The UFT should lead the charge by uniting the working class under the slogan: an injury to one is an injury to all! Demonstrations and strikes should be on the agenda, not legal battles. This would make the ruling class think twice!

It’s clear that the anarchic planning of our cities in the pursuit of profit doesn’t work. So how would communists deal with traffic and congestion problems?

Firstly, a workers’ government would expropriate the banks and big transportation services, including the auto manufacturers, taxi monopolies, ride-share companies, and the railways. Transportation would be fully funded and all of this would be integrated as part of a planned economy, and run under democratic workers’ control. We would also immediately end all regressive taxes, which fall mainly on the working class, including the sales tax and bridge/highway tolling. Under a rational plan, our cities will finally be habitable and navigable. We can fight for all of this through broad class struggle and a united working class, not with the narrow tactics employed by the current trade union leadership.

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