20 March 2015

Stevan Kirschbaum Acquitted

Reinstate Boston School Bus Union Leaders Now!

On March 5, a jury took just ten minutes to acquit Boston school bus union leader Stevan Kirschbaum, who had been slapped with frame-up charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and trespassing as part of an anti-union vendetta. The verdict was a victory for the besieged drivers represented by United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8751, many of whom are Haitian, Cape Verdean or Latino, as well as for labor more broadly. Veolia Transportation (now called Transdev) has been waging a vicious union-busting campaign against this workforce since July 2013, when the Boston school district handed over operations of the school bus fleet to the company.

The conflict between the union and the company flared up on 8 October 2013. With Veolia routinely flouting work rules, arbitrarily reassigning routes and shortchanging drivers on their paychecks, the drivers demanded to talk to management before boarding their buses that day. Management responded by locking out the drivers, who then set up pickets at the bus yards in protest. Bus service resumed the next day as Veolia met with Local 8751 representatives. Meanwhile, the company vindictively suspended five union leaders for having supposedly led a “wildcat strike.” Four were then fired: grievance committee chairman Kirschbaum as well as local vice president Steve Gillis, recording secretary Andre Francois and steward Garry Murchison. (For more, see “Boston Job Action: No Reprisals Against School Bus Drivers!” WV No. 1033, 1 November 2013.)

The attack against Local 8751 was supported by the Boston city rulers and their kept media, with Democratic mayor Thomas Menino vowing to “make sure this illegal behavior has consequences.” Menino especially screamed for the heads of Kirschbaum and Gillis, who are supported by the reformist Workers World Party (WWP), red-baiting them as a “rogue element” and “rabble rousers who cause trouble.” These comments were echoed at the time by Martin J. Walsh, a supposed “friend of labor” Democrat who succeeded Menino at City Hall. Such virulent reaction to the mere whiff of labor struggle underscores that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, represent the interests of the capitalist exploiters. Small wonder Walsh “has done nothing to defend the drivers, despite labor’s backing of his election,” as the WWP laments in its article “Boston Union Under Siege” (workers.org, 26 February).

Veolia and the city bosses took their vendetta against Kirschbaum one step further last June 30, the day the drivers’ contract expired. When union members went to their break room for a contract briefing, management tried to block the doorway with a table. The charges that were fabricated against Kirschbaum were for having allegedly pushed the table against the legs of a manager.

Bus drivers and their allies repeatedly packed the courtroom to demonstrate solidarity, and Local 8751 organized weekly bus yard rallies. The defeat of the frame-up gives impetus to the campaign to reinstate the four fired union leaders, whose case is currently being heard by an arbitrator. To help beat back the union-busters, the labor movement must stand behind the drivers and demand that Kirschbaum, Gillis, Francois and Murchison get their jobs back. An injury to one is an injury to all!

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1064, 20 March 2015)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.