Over the summer a coalition was started by Socialist Alternative, members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and some of the most radical elements of Occupy Boston, going by the name Boston Fare Strike. The purpose of the coalition is to resist the recent implementation of fare hikes on the MBTA, which disproportionately affect the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and working people (especially low-wage earners and people of color). The coalition is committed popularizing and using tactics of direct action and civil disobedience as the most effective way to combat the attacks on workers.
Fare Strike began its campaign of civil disobedience on June 16 with the March Against Austerity. The action consisted of approximately 100 people marching through downtown Boston, stopping at various protest targets like Bank of America and the State House, and gave protesters the opportunity to voice their opposition to the actions of the big banks and the government that serves them. Speakers didn’t restrict their speeches to the fare hikes and service cuts the MBTA was facing, but also dealt with issues that affected the broader community. Home foreclosures, student debt, cuts to public higher education, and cuts in public transportation represent a broad attack on the living standards of the people who depend on these things, while benefiting only the super-rich.
The march ended at Park St. station, where the organizers spoke about the frustration of unresponsive politicians. The only immediate solution was to take direct action. Dozens of protesters rushed through the gates as they were held open. One chant echoed through the station: “If the banks get a free ride, why can’t we?”
Training and Resistance
A couple weeks later, Boston Fare Strike Coalition held a training on fare evasion tactics that drew around 40 people and some media. Some speakers explained the real reasons why the MBTA is currently facing fiscal problems, and one activist talked about a successful fare strike in Chicago. Attendees then discussed outreach to riders and to drivers and evasion tactics. The event was covered by Boston's right-wing newspaper, the Boston Herald, as well as the Metro, the free daily paper oriented towards commuters.
The event ended with a fare evasion. Participants marched into the nearby T station, opened the gates, and then held the gates open for anyone who entered the station. There were no confrontations with police or anyone else. This was the second successfully organized fare evasion with no fines or arrests. Some organizers say this is laying the groundwork for the fight against the next round of fare hikes, service cuts, and layoffs, which are anticipated to be happening again next year.
For their third action, the coalition called for a “Fare Free Friday”. Several dozen protesters marched through downtown Boston to stage a fare evasion in Chinatown, all the while followed by some local news cameras. They held the doors open for several minutes, letting riders through and having a coalition member explain the action to the MBTA workers. This time the Transit Police showed up. Luckily for the protesters, there was a train waiting for them, giving them a fast escape. They simply moved to the next stations and continued to do the same thing. When the police followed behind in the next train, they quickly decided to move further. They switched lines and continued to stop at several stations in Boston and Cambridge, offering free rides to anybody who came through. Altogether they were able to temporarily liberate 4 train stations. There still have been no fines and no arrests.
In August, the coalition held another action that targeted the morning commuters for outreach about fare resistance tactics at Quincy Center Station. The action was an opportunity for a couple dozen activists to start conversations with working commuters about what is really needed to stop future fare hikes and service cuts. The protest was considered intolerable by the Transit authorities. The police came to find a couple dozen activists discussing with commuters and handing out leaflets. Without any crimes being committed, the police were left to find arbitrary reasons for kicking several activists out of the station.
Repression and the Future
The authorities were notably more prepared for this action. It also seems that the massive anger that was prevalent early on has mostly subsided. The early hearings on the cuts and hikes were events that allowed people to come and vent their anger, which they did. The hearings drew throngs of people who voiced their opposition to the relatively powerless MBTA board. The Quincy action stimulated some good discussion, but did not draw any new forces into struggle. This shows that most people have accepted the fare hikes and are not likely to be drawn into action at this time. That is, until the next set of cuts, layoffs, and fare hikes comes next year.
At this point, the media has become more pointed in its attacks on riders who refuse to pay fares, blaming them for the MBTA's fiscal crisis. On top of that, along with the increase in fares, there were big increases in the fines for fare refusal.
The wave of resistance that swept through the country during the Occupy movement gave an example of the kinds of tactics that will be necessary to defeat the attacks on the living standards of working people. The Boston Fare Strike Coalition was formed by a base of activists who recognized that lobbying Democratic politicians was a dead end and that direct action was the only tactic available to working people to defend their interests. With more cuts, fare hikes, and layoffs down the road, this sets an important precedent for future struggles.