Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blogging The Transit Strike

Most of the major blogs seem to be ignoring one of the biggest news stories of the year: The New York City transit strike. (It's not every day that 34,000 workers put their jobs and livelihoods on the line to preserve their pay, benefits and rights despite draconian penalties by the courts and a generally unfriendly public.) Some of the "big" blogs that covered the strike are listed below. Read them. Read the comments too for a sometimes inspiring, sometimes depressing taste of what blog readers think about the strike.

One presumes that most of these blog readers are liberals, yet in many cases support for the strike is surprisingly shallow or even hostile. The strikers' issues aren't well understood (fault of the new media or the union?), people assume the strikers are lazy, greedy slugs, people don't understand that strikes are not vacation days for the strikers -- especially when they're ruled illegal by the courts and strikers are being fined.

People fall into the trap of assuming that because most workers these days get less than the transit workers in terms of pay and benefits (thanks Wal-Mart), that the transit workers should face reality, settle for less and be happy about it. They forget the important lesson that in a race to the bottom, there's no finish line.

People assume that struggles like these should somehow come without any kind of hardship for the public. I feel bad for people walking to work in frigid New York, and worse for those low income folks who can't even get to work. But ultimately, the strikers are sacrificing not just for themselves, but for all of us. Workers in this country didn't get where they are today (in terms of decent pay, vacations, 8-hour work days, pensions, health care benefits, etc) without struggle, often bloody, illegal struggles that may have inconvenienced or even hurt "innocent" bystanders. And much of the reason that all of those hard-won benefits are being lost today is that more people aren't in unions and willing to put their jobs on the line to maintain those hard-won benefits.

Finally, people complain that the bad strikers are breaking the law because the "Taylor Law" makes public employee strikes illegal in New York. What people need to understand is that the Taylor law is a shameful example of how this country treats public employees like second-class citizens. Unlike private sector employees, public employees have no federal right to even form unions, much less strike, unless the state gives them that "privilege." To this day, only about half the states in this country provide public employees with the right to form unions and bargain collectively.

To make matters worse, public employees are not covered by OSHA unless the state chooses to cover them. Only 24 states provide their public employees with the right to a safe workplace (NY is one of those, although the law has suffered under Pataki.)

The rights that public employees do enjoy were earned through strikes and militant actions in the 1960's and 1970's, and political action after that time. Now, Republican governors are starting to take some of those rights back and we just saw CA Gov. Schwarzenegger attempt (unsuccessfully) to eviscerate the political power of public employee unions.

So what we're seeing in NY is just more of the same discrimination of those who make life in this country livable.

OK, enough of my blathering. Read what others have to say:
  • Jonathan Tasini's Daily Blog: Everyone's Strike
    So, if the riding public is looking for a reason to rally behind the workers, it's this: the workers are willing to endure hardship and lost wages so they can protect the economic futures of those people who aren't even working in the transit system. That's an admirable step, even if a billionaire mayor can't grasp the concept.

    And that stand is one that will have an effect on the tens of thousands of other public employees who will be targets down the road for the same negotiating ploy--undermine the livelihood of future workers by assuming that current workers won't put their own livelihood on the line for people they don't even know. In preparing his members for a strike, and making it clear what's at stake, Touissant has shown, in my opinion, remarkable leadership.

  • My DD: On the NYC Transit Strike

    Now, I can understand that many city commuters can't bring themselves to support this strike. Taking away public transportation from a city that relies on it, especially at the holidays, is incredibly hard to swallow. I'm sure the commuters feel that everything can be negotiated to a compromise settlement that works out in everyone's best interests and that a full strike wasn't necessary. But I'd challenge each and every one of them to find a job that's as dirty, tough, and dangerous as one being done by a city transit worker.

    We'd all do well to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, this strike is about nothing short of the dignity of workers.

  • Steve Gilliard: On Strike
    Anyone who thinks these people make too much ought to consider why much of New York is thriving and not a ghetto wasteland. Those salaries build homes, pay taxes, buy cars. In short, while you tour Harlem and live in Billysburg ii is because people with stable jobs and good salaries buy homes and live there. The dollars paid by the MTA to the TWU's members go to the city, support the city, unlike the suburban based police and firefighters.

    Yet, Bloomberg and Pataki disregarded that and the effect on business and backed the union into a corner. And they deserve the blame as much as the union or MTA for this. They tried to bully these people like Giuliani did, but that leadership lost their jobs because they buckled.
  • David Sirota: The Superlaws That Undermine Working Americans
    But whether the unions demands are "fair" or not is not the real point here – the point is that superlaws like the 1967 statute being used to break the workers' strike undermine the entire concept of unions and workers' rights. Ask yourself a question: what is the one tool that ordinary, blue-collar workers have that can really help them assert economic power in a way that can minimally compete with the massive economic institutions (corporate/government) that run our society? The answer is ultimately through the threat of a strike – whether a strike happens or not. Without a union having the power to strike, they cannot threaten to strike and that means there is no real reason an employer should listen to any union requests, because the employer knows the union can't back up its requests with any consequences.
  • And, of course, my Confined Space piece yesterday: NY Transit Strike: More Than Just Money