Other Voices: The Connexions Newsletter
March 18, 2017

This Issue: Public Transit

Public transportation is key to the functioning of modern cities. The old style of city, where workers lived within walking distance of their workplaces, has been replaced by a new kind of city, defined by urban sprawl and the need to commute, often over long distances, between home and work. This new kind of urban landscape, defined by and for the automobile, was deliberately brought into being by the oil industry and the automobile companies. In the United States, they bought up and then ruthlessly dismantled public transportation systems across the country, to ensure that people would have no choice except to buy and drive automobiles. In Europe and Asia, and to some extent in Canada, public transportation systems have continued to play a more important role, but there too, and indeed across the globe, car ownership has been seen as a symbol of success and affluence, and almost everywhere governments have pursued policies favouring automobiles, roads, and highways over public transportation.

If successful people drive cars, then people who need to take public transit can easily be seen as losers. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said that “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” This kind of attitude has led governments in many parts of the world to starve public transit while at the same time providing massive subsidies to create and maintain the roads and other infrastructure needed by automobiles.

But one of the paradoxes of automobile-dominated cities is that they cannot function without public transportation. Most of the people who do the low-paid work without which modern cities cannot survive can’t afford to buy and operate cars – and if they could, cities would be paralyzed by gridlock. Urban capitalism depends on minimum-wage jobs and precarious work, so the state has to provide some level of transit service for the people who do that work.

All too often, however, the service provided is inadequate and unreliable. Why spend more money than absolutely necessary to serve the needs of working people and the poor, who are often immigrants and members of racialized minorities?

Around the world, there are movements of transit riders fighting for better public transit. A key perspective guiding many of these struggles is the idea that transit should be free, that is, paid for not by fares, but out of general revenues. This is how roads are normally funded: their construction and maintenance are paid for by taxes, rarely by user fees.

Free public transit by itself would not be enough, however. We also need good transit, transit that runs frequently and goes where people want to go. It also needs to be pleasant and safe. This requires substantial new investment.

The cost of building and providing transit systems cannot be ignored. Real estate developers continue to perpetuate and worsen sprawl, building widely dispersed subdivisions which cannot be served by transit in any reasonably affordable way. Thus they continue to worsen society’s dependence on cars at the very time when the climate crisis requires us to radically reduce our dependency on the car. It is clear that government regulations have had little impact on the behaviour of real estate developers. The issue that we will have to address sooner or later is the question of private ownership of land: the strange idea that rich people and corporations should be able to buy land and then do with it whatever they please.

Transit struggles, such as the ones described in the articles below about Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Los Angeles, have met with success to the extent that they have formed alliances between drivers and riders. One favourite strategy of governments is to blame high fares and poor service on ‘greedy’ drivers, whose demands for good pay and working conditions supposedly leave governments with no choice except to cut back on service. Divide and conquer is the favourite tactic of those in power, and to fight back successfully, we need to recognize that tactic and reject it.

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Topic of the Week

Public Transit

Public transit – good affordable public transit – is key to a liveable city. The Connexions Library features a wide selection of resources. Explore them here

This Week on Connexions.org

Free transit

This pamphlet, published by Socialist Project, gathers together a number of essays on the struggle for public transit. It emerges especially out of the urban context of Toronto. But the essays speak also to the wider crisis of public transit in North America, and the importance of this demand to an eco-socialist vision of feasible futures. Read more here (slide version) or here (PDF).

Keywords: Public Transit - Public Transportation

Ecosocialism and the fight for free public transit

Mass transportation is intimately tied not only to the physical form of cities, but to the deeper social structures of capitalism. A campaign for free public transit, says Stefan Kipfer, can be an important part of a broader fight to restructure society along ecosocialist lines. Read more

Keywords: Ecosocialism - Environment/Role of Public Transit

Transit Activism and the Urban Question in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Brazil has been an inspiring source of debate for the global left over the last generation. This has been true for a range of initiatives, including the rise of the Workers’ Party (PT) in the 1980s, municipal socialist projects in the 1990s, and the movement of landless workers Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). The demand for free transit has been an important starting point of more recent mobilizations, notably those that shook the whole country in the summer of 2013. This interview with local activists and researchers João Tonucci and André Veloso zeroes in on transit organizing in Belo Horizonte, the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil. Read more

Keywords: Brazil - Urban Transit

No Fares!

This series of articles in The Tyee takes a hard look at fare hikes and spending priorities by B.C.'s transit planners, as well as rising greenhouse emissions and pollution by the private automobile, and asks: Why are we creating barriers for people who might take public transit? Read more

Keywords: Public Services - Public Transit

How Labor and Climate United Can Trump Trump

Jeremy Brecher writes that the Trump regime is potentially vulnerable because it only represents the interests of the top 1% of the top 1%. But it has a potentially winning strategy to rule nonetheless: keep those who might stand up in the interest of the 99.9 percent divided and therefore powerless. The Trump ascendancy creates a new context for addressing long-standing tensions between organized labor and the environmental movement, between workers’ job concerns and everyone’s need to protect the climate. Forging a force that can effectively counter Trumpism requires change that will involve tension within each movement as well as between them, but that may be necessary if either is to have a future. The alternative is most likely decimation of both movements and of everything they are fighting for. Read more

Keywords: Divide and Conquer - Working Class and Climate Change

Beyond Banksters: Book Review

Joyce Nelson’s “Beyond Banksters,” says Ed Finn, is an eye-opening, must-read exposé of a ravenous financial system. “Over the course of my 70-plus years as a journalist, I’ve reviewed hundreds of books, many of them informative and educational. But Joyce Nelson’s Beyond Banksters, which I’ve just finished reading, is not only the most enlightening book I’ve ever reviewed, but by far the most challenging.” Read more

Keywords: Bank of Canada - Banking Industry

Website of the Week

Zero-Fare Canada

A website promoting fare-free public transportation. Find it here

Keywords: Public Transit - Urban Transportation

Book of the Week

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

By Taras Grescoe

In the 20th century, writes Taras Grescoe, our greatest cities were almost ruined by the automobile. Only a global revolution in transportation, he says, can bring them back from the brink. The automobile has encouraged obesity and social isolation, destroyed public space, encouraged fossil-fuel driven foreign wars, and undone the fabric of once great cities. On a journey that takes him to New York, Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia, Grescoe gets the inside story on the world's great transit systems, going beneath the streets to see subway tunnels being dug, boarding state-of-the-art streetcars, and hopping on high-speed trains, along the way uncovering new ideas that will help undo the damage a century of car-centric planning has done to our cities. Ultimately he envisions a future with convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation-and better city living-for all. Read more

Keywords: Public Transit - Urban Transportation

Video of the Week

Toronto Talks Transit with Herman Rosenfeld

Herman Rosenfeld speaks about transit issues in Toronto, and the campaign for good affordable public transit. Watch

Keywords: Municipal Transit - Public Transit


A Race Struggle, a Class Struggle, A Women's Struggle All at Once

An article on the work of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles focusing on the generation of mass campaigns of the working class and oppressed nationalities, in particular the black and Latino workers and communities. One of its key involvements has been in the Bus Riders Union, known for its yellow T-shirted, militant, multi-racial band of on-the-bus organizers, taking over the bus and contesting public space, as they organize bus drivers and bus riders in a moving site of struggle-exemplified by its 'No Somos Sardinas/No Seat No Fare' campaign in which tens of thousands of bus riders refused to pay their fare as a protest against bus overcrowding. The union's explicitly ideological approach to organizing, reflected in its slogans on posters, leaflets, and T-shirts throughout the city -- 'Fight Transit Racism', 'Stop the Corporatization of Government', 'Mass Transportation is a Human Right' explicitly challenges the accommodation to neoliberal globalization of many former socialists and communists who are now pro-corporate labor union officials, community organizers, and powerful Democratic Party liberal operatives. Read more

Keywords: Community Organizing - Organizing for Social Change

People's History

Images of the Vietnam War from the winning side

In the West, the images we know of the Vietnam War were almost all taken by western photographers. This collection of photographs features images taken by the winning side in the war, the Vietnamese. Read more

Keywords: Photography Archives - Vietnam War

From the Archives

The CIA Reads French Theory

A recently declassified CIA document reveals that in the 1980s, the Agency had its analysts devote substantial time and resources to studying trends in French theory, and specifically, the work that writers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Roland Barthes were doing in undermining the Marxism and the Marxist vision of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with socialism. The CIA evaluated this new intellectual trend as being highly beneficial to the United States and its quest for global hegemony, because it undermined the idea that there could or should be fundamental revolutionary change. Read more

Keywords: Left Neoliberalism - Post-modernism

Connexions Calendar

March 21, 2017
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

We need to fight racism everywhere, every day. But on 21 March – proclaimed by the General Assembly as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – all eyes are on the issue.

March 21, 2017
International Day of Forests

Forests cover one third of the Earth's land mass, performing vital functions around the world. Around 1.6 billion people - including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures - depend on forests for their livelihood. This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests.

March 22, 2017
World Water Day

World Water Day is marked on 22 March every year. It’s a day to celebrate water. It’s a day to make a difference for the members of the global population who suffer from water related issues. It’s a day to prepare for how we manage water in the future.

March 24, 2017
Call for Readers for a Community Reading of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report (TRC Report)

You are invited to take part in a community reading of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Report on March 24, 2017.

The Connexions Calendar is an online calendar that exists to advertise events that support social justice, democracy, human rights, ecology, and other causes. We invite you to use it to promote your events. Adding events to the Connexions Calendar is FREE. We’ll give you a username and password which you use to log on. Use the contact form to arrange for a username and password.

Seeds of Fire

March 12, 1912
Lawrence “Bread and Roses” strike

Workers led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) win the Lawrence, Massachusetts “Bread & Roses” textile strike after 32,000 workers, most of them young female immigrants, half of them under the age of 18, stay out on strike for nine weeks demanding a wage increase, double time for overtime, and safer working conditions.

March 12 - April 6, 1930
Salt Satyagraha

A Salt Satyagraha (Salt March) led by Mohandas Gandhi protests the British-imposed tax on salt in India. Gandhi and thousands of others walk 388 kilometres from Ahmedabad to the sea, where Gandhi himself makes salt from the sea in violation of the British edict. Feeling their hold in India threatened by this mass disobedience, the British imprison more than 60,000 people.

March 13 - May 7, 1954
Battle of Dien Bien Phu

The start of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, the decisive confrontation between the Viet Minh national liberation forces and the French colonial army. The battle ends on May 7 with the total defeat of the French army, forcing France to withdraw all its forces from the region and give up its claims to possess what it had called French Indochina.

March 18, 1871
The Paris Commune

An uprising in Paris turns into revolution. France has just been defeated in a war with Prussia. In Paris, hundreds of thousands of citizens, predominantly workers, are part of the National Guard militia. National Guard units elect their own officers, and closely reflect the mood of the population, which is increasingly demanding radical changes, summed up in the slogan “a democratic and social republic.”
The French government, led by Adolphe Thiers, fears the workers of Paris more than it fears the Prussians. It sends regular troops to seize the cannons belonging to the National Guard. The citizens resist, and instead of carrying out their orders, the soldiers fraternize with the National Guard and the citizens in the street. Two army generals who order their soldiers to fire on the crowds are arrested and executed. The government flees.
The Central Committee of the National Guard is now the only effective authority in Paris. Elections are called for March 26 for a Communal Council, and on March 28 the Paris Commune is proclaimed. It is the first working-class-led revolution to hold power anywhere in the world.

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This issue was edited by Ulli Diemer.

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