The TWU Strike: The ongoing War Against Workers
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
It only lasted for 3 days, but it lasted long enough to betray the scuffles and scars of war. It was a spark for the eternal war between labor and capital. It was a war between those who work, and those who hire.
When the New York Transport Workers Union (TWU) went out on strike, their action sent shock waves across the country, and rattled the rulers. Immediately, like a slave-driver who claims he was “betrayed by his people,” New York’s mega-billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, unleashed an ugly verbal missile at those who demanded a fair contract under which to work.
In the minds and mouths of the Bloombergers, TWU strikers were: “Thugs!”
The corporate press joined the slander, with one well-known fishwrapper blaring, with a banner headline: “Jail ’em!” Them’s fightin’ words. And they reflect, with a richness and clarity rarely revealed, the true nature of this war: a class war.
Local 100 of the TWU is a predominantly Black, Latino and immigrant union, and the ugly war of words, spun by the masters of the nation’s media machines, were as raw as they were racist. But when an unruly mob of cops converged on City Hall, to lambaste the city’s first Black mayor (David Dinkins) as a “washroom attendant—and sprinkled other racist references on local Black leaders, one needed to search far and wide to find references to the behavior of the cops as “thuggish.”
The city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) used the Taylor Law, which disallows such strikes, to demand that local courts return crippling fines against any striker.
But some leading TWU members pointed to the history of the early civil rights movement, specifically the experience of the late Rosa Parks, who broke unjust laws to spark a mass movement. Can the Taylor Law be just, when it leaves workers at the mercy of management, when it forces them to accept substandard contracts, when it requires ruinous givebacks?
While the corporate press channeled the negativity of their bosses, strikers reported that average, working-class and poor folks supported their efforts, for many understood that this was a stand to strengthen workers generally, and beat back the hands of greed that have been choking unions all across the country.
As for the Taylor Law, why would anyone even try to pass such a law, with clear disadvantages for labor? The very fact of its existence proves the political betrayal by politicians who supported, lobbied and voted for it.
The Taylor Law is a weapon of the rulers, and a whipping for the workers. It strips them of their only real instrument of social power—the right to refuse their labor. Since when is that a crime? Well, to the rich, it is! Karl Marx said that the law “is but the will of one class made into laws for all.”
It is a machine, just like it made segregation legal, and criminalized Black freedom and dignity, the same law demanded that Blacks take the back of the bus. That same law outlaws the right of those who labor to withhold their labor, to better their condition, and those who follow them.
Such a law, must itself be outlawed! But it won’t be, if the people rely on the politicians to do so. That law can be unmade only by the concerted actions of the people, by workers power, supported by others, in every area of work and life.
Even though a recent contract was approved by TWU leadership, the proposed pact was reportedly rejected by a majority of union members. These front-line workers want to put an end to givebacks, and compromises, and labor bowing to capital, and their puppet politicians. Workers wish to fight for their class, and for their many and varied communities, who are supported by their efforts. To make a change, Labor must fight for it!
—Copyright ‘06 Mumia Abu-Jamal, March 1, 2006