Since late last winter, several months after Occupy Boston was evicted from Dewey Square, the streets of Boston have been alive with the sounds of resistance to austerity and the continued attacks on working people. Much of the resistance began when the MBTA announced they would be increasing fares and cutting service to cover a $159 million dollar budget shortfall. Residents all over Greater Boston responded with demonstrations and raucous public hearings where they confronted MBTA management, crowded town halls and blocked streets. The demonstrators pointed out that these cuts and fare hikes would disproportionately affect working people, disabled, elderly and students — those who had already lost so much as a result of the financial crisis.
After months of public hearings decrying the service cuts and fare hikes, Occupy MBTA, with the support of many groups including the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the Boston IWW called for a national day of action in support of mass transit on April 4th, declaring it a human right. The day coincided with the day the MBTA would be proposing the new hikes and cuts to lawmakers at the Statehouse and the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination who was killed while he was supporting striking public sanitation workers. As a result of the public outcry, the MBTA was forced to scale back the cuts and fare hikes but still maintained that they were broke and that further fare hikes and service cuts would be needed in the future. Occupy MBTA set up an encampment outside the statehouse as a result, drawing attention to the fact that the MBTA’s crushing debt was a result mostly of its debt servicing to major banks. The mini occupation raised key issues that weren’t being talked about in the media and kept street protest alive during the buildup to the May Day general strike.
May Day and Beyond
In Boston groups planned many actions for the May Day general strike. These included an Occupy Boston planned street party in the morning in the middle of Boston’s financial district and an anti-capitalist march that made a stop by Capital Properties at 31 St. James St. to rally in support of unionized janitors who were having their jobs outsourced to a non-union contractor. The march continued to a rally at City Hall hosted by the Boston May Day Committee. Later in the day there were several mass marches and rallies through East Boston and surrounding communities, and finally an evening funeral procession for the death of capitalism. Despite driving rain, hundreds still turned out for May Day festivities, especially in East Boston where immigrant communities have been mobilizing in large numbers since 2006. And while many of these protests were barely covered by much of the major media outlets or when they were they were discussed in terms of low turnout, May Day proved that people were still willing to hit the streets in support of the 99%. The day also provided opportunities for activists to connect with others engaged in struggles around Greater Boston.
After May Day the struggles have continued. There have been many actions in support of the janitors at Capital Properties attempting to defend the unionized janitors’ jobs. These actions have been supported by many local IWW members. Similarly, unionized library workers at Harvard have also been continually mobilizing to save their jobs including an action at the Harvard commencement. These actions have been organized and led by local Wobs as well. IWW members were also out supporting a City Life/Vida Urbana eviction blockade where at least one Wob was detained by police.
Tying it all together: Boston against Austerity
Although in the United States we rarely hear about austerity, on Saturday June 16th all of these issues were brought together in a march against austerity. As the call for the protest explains:
Across the world, the rich are using “austerity measures” to pass the cost of the recession onto the working class. In Boston, austerity means rampant layoffs, benefit reductions, rent and tuition hikes, evictions, transit hikes and service cuts, and the replacement of good union jobs with underpaid workers and subcontractors.
The march could not have come at a more important time. The Fed had just released a report showing that Americans had lost an average of 40% of their wealth since 2007. This was followed shortly thereafter by a report about the state of mass transit. The report highlights the role of interest default swaps in burdening mass transit systems. One article citing the report explains that, “12 different major cities are paying a total of $529 million in interest rate swaps to Wall Street banks,” including Boston’s T, which has highest debt burden of any mass transit system in the country. The article points out that “every dollar the T collects in fares goes to pay down the debt.” This is all while the MBTA continues to see record ridership.
Anti-austerity marchers’ first stop then was across from Dewey Square at South Station – one of the largest transportation hubs in Boston. Speakers pointed out that the private corporation that manages the commuter rail has evaded having to pay millions of dollars it owed the MBTA through corrupt public/private revolving door deals. The group then marched to Bank of America to protest their role in the financial meltdown. As the group marched through the streets of the financial district, it displayed an increasing level of militancy, which the cops could do nothing to damper. After Bank of America, the group stopped at Downtown Crossing to do some soapboxing, including a Fellow Worker who pointed out that austerity hits poor women of color especially hard. After soapboxing to large crowds there, the group headed to the Statehouse where a member of the teachers union and a Northeastern University student spoke about how teachers and universities are being affected by austerity measures. Finally, the march headed down the hill to the Park Street Station. There several Fellow Workers spoke eloquently about how fare increases are essentially wage cuts for workers and that after months of protest the MBTA still chose to pass their bank-induced debt burden onto the backs of T riders. At this point speakers declared that the only action that would bring about the change we desire is direct action. They declared that in protest of the fare hikes they would be organizing a fare strike beginning with a mass fare evasion. Marchers at this point began chanting “They say fare hike. We say fare strike!” and headed down into the Park Street Station to participate in the mass fare evasion, which between 50-100 people participated in. As the group boarded trains they explained to T riders that “we are calling for a fare strike beginning July 1st – the day the fare hike goes in to effect.” The riders I spoke with seemed mostly supportive of the fare evasion and strike. Finally the march ended at Copley Square to meet with a later Egypt solidarity protest.
Despite much of the media refusing to cover these actions as they try to de-emphasize street action and instead focus on the elections, in Boston at least, the movement is alive and well. In fact, the Boston IWW itself has seen increased activity, more interest in organizing and continuous growth in membership. Hopefully more militant protests and direct action will become more common in the streets of Boston especially as the fare strike spreads.
(Note: This is by no means meant to be exhaustive. These are just the actions and groups that I am most familiar with. I am sure there are other great things going on around Boston that I am not familiar with and would urge others to share if they are aware of ongoing actions and campaigns.)