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Massachusetts Senior Action Council 'Fights' a Fare Hike By Demanding the Fare be Doubled!

by John Spritzler

October 16, 2013

Many elderly people in the Boston, Massachusetts, area depend on a component of the public transportation system known as the Ride, which sends a van to pick you up when you need a ride and takes you where you need to go, such as a doctor appointment. Before government officials drastically raised the bus and subway fares 23% in 2012, using the pretext that "we have to repay our debts," the Ride cost $2 for a one-way trip. When the bus and subway fares were hiked, the Ride fare was also hiked, to $5 for a one-way trip.

One of the main organizations that opposed the fare hike was the Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC). The way they opposed the fare hike, however, was to accept (quite wrongly, as discussed below) the need for a fare hike and merely propose that the burden of the fare hike be distributed to the working class differently (more "equitably" as they put it) than the way government officials distributed it. Before seeing how the MSAC's wrong-headed approach led them to ask for a doubling of the Ride fare, let's first consider why there should not have been any fare hike at all.

As spelled out in this PDR leaflet, four thousand copies of which we distributed in Boston, there was absolutely no moral justification for the fare hike. The debt that the hiked fares pay back is a debt that the working class does not owe in the first place. It's a bogus debt that the billionaire class claims the public owes them (with interest) because the government borrowed money from the billionaires. It's a bogus debt because the government, were it not controlled by the billionaires, could have just taken the money from the billionaires by taxation.

Furthermore, public transportation should be free to the working class, with no fare whatsoever. Why? Because working people collectively produce all the wealth of society beyond natural resources. The working class, by their everyday routine labor, produced the entire public transportation system, all of the trolleys and buses and trains; the working class laid the train tracks and drives the buses and subways and repairs them. All of the wealth that billionaires and everybody else possess was created by the working class. Working people pay their fare by working! Fare collection is just a way that the haves take even more from the have-nots. Far from working people owing billionaires a debt, the billionaires owe working people trillions of dollars they have essentially stolen from working people in the past by claiming to own the wealth that workers create as employees of the capitalist class. Employers steal from their employees just as much as cotton plantation slave owners in the paar stole from their slaves by claiming to own the ready-to-sell bales of cotton that only existed because of the slaves' labor.

To point out the bogus nature of the debt that Massachusetts government officials use as a pretext to raise public transportation fares is implicitly revolutionary; it challenges the legitimacy of capitalist inequality at the core. Calling the debt bogus amounts to declaring war against the billionaire class that exercises a dictatorship of the rich behind a veil of fake democracy. Declaring the debt bogus is a winning strategy for solving the Big Problem--that we live under a dictatorship of the rich--with a Big Solution--building a revolutionary movement to remove the billionaires from power and create a no-rich-and-no-poor egalitarian society. It is a way to help working people see that any fare hike no matter how small is morally wrong. It is a way to mobilize all working people against the fare hike.

But the MSAC has decided not to point out the bogus nature of the debt, according to the headline article in MSAC's newspaper, Senior Action Leader, 2013 Vol. 2 (May). The logic of not challenging the legitimacy of the bogus debt leads the MSAC to call for making the Ride fare for many riders $4 for a one-way ride, i.e., double the $2 that it was at the beginning of 2012 before the fare hike.

Here's how the MSAC accepts the legitimacy of the debt that is the pretext for the fare hikes. The MSAC newspaper reports:

On Wednesday, April 10, the day of the MBTA Board vote MSAC went back to the transportation building to force the Board to face us one more time. "We understand the financial crisis you have faced and the structural deficit." [This quotation also is reported online here.]

MSAC, instead of denouncing the fare hikes as immoral, called for hiking the fares (to pay back the debt that they "understand") but to hike the fares in a different manner that was not, as MSAC says, "extreme and disproportionate." MSAC proposes the following, in their own words:

One such proposal MSAC has put forth is to implement a tiered fare structure...Those whose incomes are under 200% of the FPL (Federal Poverty Line)--about $22,000 year--would see their paratransit (Ride) fare "Rolled Back" to the $2.00 one-way. Those whose incomes are under 300% of the FPL--about $34,000 year--would see their fares "rolled back" to $3.00 one way. Finally, those whose incomes exceed 300% of FPL--more than $34,000 year--would pay no more than $4.00 one way.

The MSAC, in other words, is calling for people who earn as little as $34,001 per year to pay twice as much ($4) for the Ride as they did before the fare hike in 2012 ($2). And MSAC says people earning between $22,000 and $34,000 per year should also pay more--$3 versus $2. This is terrible! MSAC is pretending to oppose the 2012 fare hike but is actually supporting it for all but those who earn less than $22,000 per year. If the rulers wanted to destroy opposition to the fare hike by destroying working class solidarity around this issue, they could hardly have come up with a better method than MSAC's "tiered" fare structure that pits workers earning more than $22,000 against those earning less.

MSAC's wrongheaded strategy is clearly absurd. But such absurdity is inevitable when one accepts as legitimate the bogus debt that government officials use to claim that a fare hike is necessary. If one agrees that the fares working class people pay must be raised, what else is there left to ask for other than to raise the fares more for some so that they can be raised less for others?

Why does MSAC refuse to say that the debt is bogus (and therefore nobody's fares should be raised)? No doubt the answer is that MSAC does not want to say anything that is, as discussed above, implicitly revolutionary. But why, exactly, are they afraid to do this? I cannot read the minds of MSAC leaders and rank-and-file members, but I will venture to guess what's going on. It is possible that MSAC leaders think that if they adopted a revolutionary strategy of declaring the debt bogus then they would not have the support of their own rank-and-file members or of the public. If this is what they think, then they are wrong. Most working class people, when asked if they would like to see the rich removed from power so that people can create a society with no rich and no poor, say Yes!

Our rulers go to great lengths to persuade us all that if we have revolutionary aspirations then we are all alone and very different from most people in this regard. This is why one never sees or hears ordinary people on mainstream corporate-owned T.V. or radio talking about wanting to remove the rich from power and making a truly equal world. The rich try to prevent the very idea of no-rich-and-no-poor from even entering our heads. They do this by stripping the word "equality" of this meaning and substituting for it the very different idea suggested by the phrases, "equal opportunity" and a "level playing field," meaning an equal opportunity to become rich in a world of rich and poor. That is why these two phrases dominate public discourse in newspapers and radio and T.V. and the notion of no-rich-and-no-poor is totally absent.

If an organization, however, did advocate no-rich-and-no-poor, and did declare the bogus debt to be bogus, it would gain wide support from working class people. Such organizations--revolutionary mass organizations--could ultimately gain so much support that a critical mass of American soldiers would refuse orders to attack their revolutionary movement and would use their weapons to defend the movement. This is how we can really remove the rich from power and create a truly equal and democratic society--an egalitarian society as discussed in Thinking about Revolution and supplementary articles here. Until we adopt this strategy, we'll remain on the treadmill of defeat, led by organizations like MSAC that fight a fare hike by suggesting that the fare be increased.

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