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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tough talk has its limits

Traffic on 2nd Avenue

Eventful time for the union


The preparations for the first city transit strike in 25 years were so detailed that they dispelled any doubt that union President Roger Toussaint was serious about a possible walkout - even if the TWU and its leaders risked massive fines and jail under the Taylor Law.

"We have an entire secret leadership in place of nonofficers to carry on the strike if Roger and others are not around," one union leader told me.

The plans even included an alternate command center in case a court order prevented union leaders from operating out of their headquarters.

In the weeks leading up to last Thursday's contract expiration, Toussaint arranged a $5million bank loan to pay for a possible walkout, secured additional money from Local 100's parent union to finance an advertising campaign and persuaded several city unions to reassign some of their paid staff to support his efforts.

Given that few leaders of the union were even around in 1980 during the last transit strike, the level of organization by the TWU has been truly amazing.

While Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly warned the union not to even consider a strike, and while many experts predicted a crushing defeat for the union if its members walked out, Toussaint proved to be a more skillful tactician than anyone imagined.


At a rally last night outside Pataki's office only hours before the new midnight deadline, Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, reminded every union member what was at stake.

In a fiery speech, Lynch talked about his own father, a former transit worker who had walked the picket lines in both the 1966 and 1980 strikes and who raised a large family into the middle class on his MTA salary.

"My father was not a criminal in 1966. He was not a criminal in 1980," Lynch said. Then he pointed to the uniformed cops on the other side of the barricade.

"Their hearts are on this side with you," he bellowed as the crowd erupted in cheers.

Then Toussaint came on stage. You saw in his eyes and you heard in his voice the look and the sound of a leader who had no fear.

"If Rosa Parks had obeyed the law, many of us who drive the buses today would still be sitting in the back of the bus," he said as the crowd went wild.

And at that moment, in the frigid cold of Third Ave., it was clear that Pataki, Bloomberg and the bureaucrats of the MTA had made a huge mistake.

Yeah, yeah lock them all up for standing up for a fair contract. Too bad the PBA doesn't feel that way.

Tough talk will not work. You want to make the TWU revolutionary martyrs, toss them in jail. But when racial tension explodes off the map, don't be surprised.

The solution here is a fair, resonable contract which doesn't try to gut future benefits, which by law, should be settled in the Legislature.

So, for all you bond traders and office workers who are so naturally superior to the guttersnipes who run the trains, what happens when you ask for a raise and don't get it. You move on. Now, would you like a subway run by a constantly revolving cast of workers? No? Well, they get their demands refused, they have the option to strike.

You want to have your subways back, pressuring the governor might help. Jailing and fining people prepared to be jailed and fined won't.

posted by Steve @ 11:14:00 AM

11:14:00 AM

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