The NYC Transit Strike
Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union representing 33,700 subway and tens of thousands more bus workers, announced its first strike in 25 years on December 20 affecting some seven million subway riders and tens of thousands more who ride New York Cityís buses.
New York Stateís Taylor Law bars strikes by public employees and carries draconic penalties of two daysí pay for each day on strike and more millions in fines designed to bankrupt their union. But subway and bus drivers decided that they had already been forced to accept substantial reductions in wages and benefits that they had fought for and won in their long history of strike struggles to win a living wage.
It is hardly accidental that this very important strike takes place at the same time that rank-and-file autoworkers have begun to take their destiny into their own hands. Would that the top leaders of the UAW will follow the example of Roger Toussaint, president of TWU Local 100 who is doing his duty by standing at the head of his long-suffering union membership. After all, the duty of leaders is to lead and be among the first to bear the responsibility of their leadership. Moreover, in Toussaintís case he is taking responsibility for violating the rules of class war set down by the class enemy.
He knows, however, that itís a risk well worth the taking. That is, he is fully aware that almost exactly 40 years ago, the founding president of the Transport Workers Union, Michael J. Quill, was sent to prison soon after he had announced the beginning of an almost identical subway strike. Although there was no Taylor Law when that strike had begun on January 1, 1966, Quill knew that he would be imprisoned for violating an anti-strike injunction issued by then Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
It happens to also show why workers need to know their unionís history and the history of the working class. That is, TWU history shows that the strike that began 40 years ago, ended with much more than a major increase in wages, benefits and enhanced union power. But they also won the release of their leader and all the retraction of all charges, fines and penalties levied against their union and its leaders.
We have no crystal ball, but we can safely predict that if this strike ends victoriously it promises to also precipitate the greatest-ever labor upsurge in American history.