Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A brave, small union holds the line alone for all of us

I support the striking New York City transit workers and denounce the unfair coverage of the strike by the mainstream media. I am appalled by some Democrats, including the always politically expedient Hillary Clinton, who have chosen to remain “neutral” instead of courageously supporting the strikers.

Once Democrats were proud to be pro labor.

People who work should be unanimous in their support of this brave and traditionally militant union. They have chosen to hold the line on protecting pensions and healthcare for workers and have refused to cave in and accept a contract that will deliver more profits to a tiny, fantastically privileged minority. Everyone but the ultra rich should recognize that a strong union standing up for wages and benefits protects the well being of all of us; sets a comparative standard that strengthens labor bargaining positions as well as wage standards for those not organized.

In coverage of the strike it is especially disgusting to see billionaire leaders, like Bloomberg, denouncing the “greed” of workers who start at $34,000 a year. Try living in NYC on $34,000.

You can’t find fair coverage of the strike in the New York media. For a refreshing, pro worker view, try this article, “New York City transit workers defy threats and strike” from the World Socialist Web Site. When you've read it draw your own conclusions about which coverage is more credible.

Here are a few paragraphs:
...The walkout represents the biggest class confrontation in the US in a generation. The issues at stake are not peculiar to transport workers or public employees, but reflect the general drive to destroy wages, working conditions and benefits of workers throughout the economy, from the airlines to the auto industry.

This strike was by no means something the union bureaucracy wanted. It has been provoked by the MTA as part of a wider strategy to slash spending on public employee compensation. Within New York’s ruling establishment, a conscious decision has been taken to make an example of the TWU.

On the part of transit workers, however, frustration over declining living standards in what is one of the world’s most expensive cities and anger at systematic disciplinary abuse by the MTA have been joined by a deep-felt resistance to the agency’s attempts to wipe out gains won by workers through decades of struggle.

The key issue that has forced the strike is management’s demand for a roll-back of pension rights, forcing newly hired workers to stay on the job until age 62, instead of the current 55, before collecting a pension. No similar demand for pension givebacks has been made against any other public employee union in the city, and the ultimatum has provoked particular anger among transit workers, whose life expectancy is among the lowest of any section of the workforce.

This confrontation has laid bare the immense class divide in New York City, the center of world finance capital. In the run-up to the walkout, the public has been subjected to the spectacle of various billionaires—from Michael Bloomberg, who bought his way into City Hall, to MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, a prominent real estate mogul, to Rupert Murdoch, owner of the New York Post—denouncing workers who start at salaries of $34,000 for their “greed.”

Bloomberg demanded that transit workers face a “new world” in which pensions and health care costs are to be paid by the workers themselves, so that the savings can be funneled into the immense profits and incomes of the social class that he personifies....

Personal note: My own union, Local 333, a New York boatmen’s independent affiliate of the International Longshoremen, was brought to its knees by tactics later shown to be illegal, in a strike in 1985. Throughout my career, tugboat men I met in ports everywhere said 333 set the wage standard for all ports and that it was fear of our union that kept their wages, union and non union, higher than they would be without us. The companies knew this and knew how important it was to break us so wages and benefits could be made lower throughout the industry.

If you are inconvenienced by this strike, I urge you to look beyond personal difficulty and support these brave working people.


Musa said...

I continue to be happy coming across blogs that speak out in support of the brave transit workers who have taken to the streets to defend their union in true class-struggle fashion. I took part at several pickets in the Bronx area during the early part of the day and the energy was amazing.

I do take issue with the supposed pro-labor Democratic Party. It is a fact that during the 1999 contract talks Democrat Hillary Clinton publicly voiced her support for a court ruling that went so far as to make it illegal for transit workers to talk about striking. And as the IG/LFI wrote in a leaflet I helped distribute today to many striking transit workers:

"The strikebreaking in the 1980 strike was led by Democrats, Mayor Ed Koch and Governor Hugh Carey"

From Strike to Shut Down All New York City Transport!

Mois├ęs Delgado

tiger red said...

Thanks for your comment. Perhaps I did credit Democrats too broadly. Though I do remember the days when when Democrats in most of the NE always courted the labor vote.

Jim said...

Regarding your Personal note:

Riding home from work last night WAMC was running a segment on unions in the auto industry. It spoke exactly to your point of how unions affect non-union shops.

Specifically, the report dealt with how Toyota is managing to keep unions at bay by opening factories in rural areas of the south. Apparently they pay well, have good benefits, and offer jobs to people who would otherwise have nowhere to work. In the meantime the UAW is struggling to maintain in their contracts with American Companies.

Most of the workers interviewed thought this was all good, which it certainly is... now.

Others however voiced views from another angle. They pointed out how Toyota has followed the industry in its labor policy to keep unions out, competing with non-union shops with good working conditions: raising wages when unions raised them, providing safe physical plant environments, etc.

BUT, these folks observed, if the UAW and other unions collapse Toyota will follow the aftermath of that as well. Workers, then, can expect their great working conditions and wages to evaporate like WMDs in Iraq, or truth in Washington.

Anonymous said...

Amen! I live in the city and most city residents supported the union. This includes professionals and blue collar people. Yeah, we all grumbled about the inconvenience of the strike, but the people I talked to never attacked the workers. The people who bitched and moaned the most, the people who attacked the union were invariable commuters from Long Island, whose commute was affected only in that it was much more crowded and a bit slower.

The media was completely out of touch on this strike. It supported Bloomberg shamelessly. This includes the allegedly "liberal" New York Times, which ought to be ashamed of itself.

BTW ... I'd like to know where the hell Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer were on this thing. Where was Freddy Ferrer? Where was Mark Green? Where was Anthony Weiner? Where was Gifford Miller? Where were our so-called democratic "leaders?" They were so afraid of being allied with the TWU that they didn't go anywhere near those striking transit workers.

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