Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 26, 2005

Lions Led By Asses
In defiance of their employer, the courts, and even the national leadership of their unions, 33,000 members of TWU Local 100, along with 3,000 members of two ATU locals, shut down New York City’s subways and buses. This action paralyzed transportation in the nation’s largest city at the height of the holiday shopping and entertainment seasons. Mayor Bloomberg claims city’s businesses lost a billion dollars because of this action.

This step was not taken lightly. Workers whose motto is "we move New York" undoubtedly regretted the inconvenience, even hardships for millions of working people as a result of the shut down. They also knew that state law could cost them two days pay for every day on strike and that an injunction provided for a million dollar a day fine against the TWU and 75,000 against the ATU.

Friends of mine in Local 100 did not expect a strike. In fact, a peaceful settlement appeared within grasp just minutes before the union’s final deadline after MTA negotiators dropped their demand for raising the retirement age for new hires.

But the rulers of New York didn’t want anything that could be perceived as a union victory. They wanted to nip this militant force in the bud. The strike was provoked when the Mayor sent his personally appointed MTA chairman into negotiations at the last minute--ratcheting up takeaway demands. The talks then blew up and TWU leader Roger Toussaint asked for, and got, an overwhelming vote from the executive board to pull the pin and shut everything down.

Toussaint, invoking the union’s proud history, along with the spirit of Martin Luther King, issued militant statements declaring that transit workers were going to stop the general employer assault on pensions and health care. This clarion call resonated not only with fighting mad transit workers but also many other New York workers who had to start walking to their jobs. Indeed, workers across the country were cheering them on.

Unlike the TWU and ATU national leaderships, the heads of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win issued formal statements of support to the strikers. The Troy, New York Central Labor Council passed a solidarity resolution that included a call for a general strike. Thousands of New York unionists–especially from the public sector–visited the picket lines, usually donating food, beverages, and money. Rev. Al Sharpton, adapting to the sentiment in the Black and Latino communities, denounced Bloomberg for referring to the strikers–a majority of whom are Black and Latino–as "thugs." Sharpton reminded everyone that Dr King was supporting a strike in defiance of an injunction at the time of his assassination in Memphis.

But behind the scenes, the tried [perhaps also tired] and true union bureaucracy was up to the same old, same old. Rather than organizing real solidarity they immediately began to counsel Toussaint that the strike was a big mistake and the union was in real peril. By the morning of the third day of the strike it appeared likely that Toussaint, and other strike leaders, would be jailed for violating the anti-strike injunction.

Toussaint then nervously turned for help to Bruce Raynor, the general president of Unite Here, and a top dog in Change to Win, and Mike Fishman, president of the city's giant union of building service workers, Local 32BJ of SEIU. These two big shots had been strong supporters of Mayor Bloomberg’s recent reelection victory. After talking to His Honor, they assured Toussaint that, while they had no formal guarantees, if he called off the strike City Hall would make sure negotiations would be fair. Others began to lean on Toussaint to cave as well such as Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council and United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

On Wednesday afternoon, the third day of the strike, just before a judge was to rule on whether the leadership would go to jail, Toussaint called together the executive board and told them it was time to go back to work. After some heated debate a majority concurred.

Clearly the strikers were stunned. While there is always a sense of relief when a strike ends and you can go back to work most questioned what their sacrifices had accomplished. They had disrupted the city, lost wages and would be fined more–and they still didn’t have a contract.

Because of the unique power of New York transit workers this strike could have been a major turning point in the fight against the bosses attacks on our benefits. While we still await the final outcome of negotiations it appears that the brief heroic stand taken by the transit workers will be squandered and the employer offensive will roll on.

Did UAW’s Health Care Giveback to Ford Really ‘Eke’ By?
As predicted, the UAW bureaucrats gave Ford essentially the same concessions on health care as were recently granted to GM. They really had no choice from their "partnership" perspective. Ford and Daimler were not going to accept their major competitor getting billions in labor cost reductions without insisting on parity.

Unfortunately for the UAW tops they had to ask Ford workers to approve this sell-out. A Friday headline in the Detroit News proclaimed the deal had "eked" by, reporting UAW released figures of 51 percent approval. But many UAW Ford members are questioning both the methods and announced outcome of the vote.

The Detroit Free Press quotes a long-time Local 600 (the historic River Rouge local) activist: "‘I think there are quite enough people who are angry enough’ to appeal [to the NLRB], said Ron Lare, a member at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn who describes himself as pro-union." According to the story "Large locals representing assembly workers in Chicago; Louisville, Ky.; Kansas City, Mo., and St. Paul, Minn., rejected the deal, according to various UAW workers and union officials. A flier given to workers at Local 600 in Dearborn, one of the UAW's largest locals, said the agreement passed by 68 votes, with 2,645 workers voting yes and 2,577 voting no."

Some Christmas Spirit Briefs

* Some were surprised when a neofascist group announced a charity operation, called "solidarity," to feed the poor of Nice, France around the Christmas holiday season. Upon closer examination it turned out the hot "traditional French" menu being offered was restricted to pork soup. The big majority of Nice’s poor are Muslim–a faith that rejects consumption of swine.

* A well-to-do housing project in southern Orange County, California erected a 15-foot high menorah–a candle holder used by religious Jews, lit during sabbath and Hanukkah commemoration–to promote understanding between Christians and Jews. The stainless steel candelabra was destroyed by vandals before the first candle could be lit.

* Two Salvation Army donation kettles were stolen in Kansas City, Kansas while volunteer bell-ringers were using the rest room.

My Christmas holiday was a lot more pleasant than the examples above and I hope yours was too.

Another Break Already
Just when I was beginning to get back into the routine of updating the Daily Labor News Digest I decided to take another break. The period between Christmas and New Year is generally a very slow time for both news stories and visits to our site. If something big breaks we’ll respond but otherwise our next update of the news page will be on Tuesday, January 3.

New Articles Posted
I’ve posted two companion pieces on the Labor Advocate Online page about the Labor Party’s first venture into electoral politics.

Labor Party Prepares To Enter Electoral Arena

A Party Of A Different Kind

That’s all for this week.

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Past Weeks In Review