On Wednesday, April 4th, the day that the MBTA Board is expected to hand the Massachusetts Legislature its proposal for a “balanced budget,” T-riders, community members, and Occupy activists will descend on the Statehouse to say “No!” to its toxic offering of fare hikes, service cuts, and worker layoffs. We will occupy the steps of the so-called People’s House to demand comprehensive, affordable, and sustainable public transportation that works for the 99% across our city and our state.
Over the past two and a half months, at the MBTA’s official hearings, the people of this city—by the thousands—have expressed concern and outrage over the planned hikes and cuts. Seniors, youth, disabled persons, and workers have stood together and testified to the harm that cuts and hikes would cause in their lives and their communities. The support and solidarity that people from all over Boston have offered one another at these hearings has been truly moving.
Several groups such as the T-Riders Union (TRU) have offered creative solutions that would enable the T to balance its budget without the toxic brew of cuts and hikes. Yet all indications so far are that these proposals are not being taken seriously by the MBTA. Big business has had the Board’s ear, however. And since business interests have opposed many service cuts (as bad for local commerce) it seems increasingly likely that the final plan will rely above all on major fare increases, costing each rider hundreds of additional dollars per year. Such a plan will amount to a back-door tax on workers going to work, a tax on students getting to school, and a tax on seniors and disabled persons who need to get to doctors’ appointments or to run errands. It’s not enough that the 1% profit off of our labor at work, they now want to make us pay more to get to work in the first place!
Our April 4th “People’s Assembly,” beginning at 3pm at the Statehouse and extending into the evening, will build from the belief that this arrangement is wrong and unnecessary. Our starting point is the belief that when the political establishment proves inept at representing the people’s needs, the people must take direct action to defend their interests.
This Assembly is part of a growing National Day of Action to Defend Public Transportation that has already spread from Boston to Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities across the US.
Transportation issues are generally presented to us by politicians and the mainstream media as “local issues,” just as local budgets are presented as in perpetual fiscal “crisis.” However, the current fiscal crisis facing mass transit agencies across the country has national and systemic causes. When we look beyond the narrow frame of the MBTA budget, much of the mainstream discussion stands revealed as a total farce. It’s built on a lie: that there “is no money available.”
There is plenty of money. We just need to go and get it.
For example, each year the US government wastes close to a trillion dollars (that’s one thousand billion!) on wars and other military spending. Such military spending necessarily means that legitimate public needs like public transportation (as well as healthcare and education) go neglected. There is a direct line to be drawn from the great sucking sound of the Pentagon budget, to the screeching breaks of trains that have not been replaced since the 1960s, when US bombs rained down mercilessly on Vietnam (rather than, say, on Iraq or Afghanistan).
Beyond government war spending, we can look at the financial holdings of the 1%: the millionaires and billionaires, the capitalist elite that owns the corporations and that rules our society. The richest 1% of Americans currently own more than 35.6% of total wealth. Worldwide, the top 1% owns over 40% of all wealth, and controls more than that (when you figure that one only needs to own merely 51% of a company to dictate its operations). The top 5% of households now own 63.5% of all wealth in the US, while the bottom 80% of households altogether owns a mere 12.8%, with many owning nothing at all. Many or even most T and bus-riders fall into the latter category, barely scraping by, while a few have more than they could ever need.
At last count, Massachusetts alone was home to between 50,000 and 100,000 millionaires, with plenty of billionaires to boot. Yet the tax contributions of these rich individuals and corporations have steadily fallen, leaving the public treasuries in a state of fiscal emergency. Imagine how easily a seriously enforced Robin Hood tax could net the needed funds not just to wipe out the T’s projected annual deficit of $160 million, but to erase the T’s entire $8 billion debt and even to transform public transportation into a free service available and accessible to all. Let’s say, just for starters, we take 1% of the wealth back from the millionaires and billionaires. That revenue alone could wipe out the T’s budget “crisis” overnight.
The fact that even such modest proposals are absent from the mainstream political scene, dismissed or ignored as “unrealistic,” testifies to how deeply corrupt and indifferent the current system is to the people’s needs. It’s basic math, and yet such a simple action appears as “impossible” within a system that is built to work for the 1%.
This super-wealthy 1% has seen its income and wealth skyrocket over the past few decades, not just despite but in large part because of the increasing impoverishment of workers. Worker productivity has continued to rise but wages have remained flat or declined. This means that millions of people in the United States (and billions around the world) struggle to make ends meet, while the profit margins of the 1% rise astronomically, translating into still greater political influence. Moreover, as workers’ buying power falls, capitalists have sought to maintain their high rates of profit by engaging in rampant financial speculation, and by preying on public services… like the T.
Denied the government funds it needs to extend – or even sustain – day-to-day operations, the MBTA has been forced to issue bonds to keep the trains running. Politicians and T administrators have fallen to their knees before these false financial saviors, opening up the T to be strangled by the spiraling serpents of debt (including billions of debt inherited from the Big Dig).
This arrangement has generated tremendous profits for financial capitalists, bankers, and investors, just as they hoped it would. They now suck away over 30% of all T revenues in the form of interest payments alone. Ironically, a similar 30% of the T’s revenue comes from ticket sales; one could say that any time you swipe your CharlieCard, the money goes straight to bond-holders! WTF indeed.
The combination of underfunding and privatization spells disaster for T-riders, workers, and our T-dependent communities, as well as the environment. (Less bus service = more cars on the road = more pollution). But it doesn’t have to be this way. Once we trace the local crisis back to its systemic roots, we can glimpse a whole new world of possibilities on the horizon. A world without wars, and without the rule of the 1%, would be a world where transportation could be free.
Join Occupy the MBTA this April 4th at the Statehouse. Come after school or after work. Help us to expose this farce and to open a path to new possibilities. Help us to defend what ought to be considered a right: affordable, accessible public transportation for all! Let’s come together to reject this false framework of scarcity as we demand: “No Hikes, No Cuts, No Layoffs!”
To get involved, visit www.occupymbta.org or find the “T Riders Union” and “Occupy the MBTA” on Facebook.