Dec 29, 2005

Black Workers Wield Power!

By Amadi Ajamu

The historically militant Transport Workers Union Local 100 (TWU) has given the working class people in the New York City a renewed sense of power. Global market-driven politics of the 21st century demand labor resistance with a concrete political and economic force. The TWU strike in the international hub of New York City challenged the vice-like grip of corporate economic rule and government collusion on both administrative and judicial levels. Black workers took the lead and shut it down.

Unlike other unions in New York City, the TWU, under the bold leadership of a soft spoken Black man named Roger Toussaint, refused to split worker ranks. When the Metropolitan Transit Authority's "final offer" proposed cuts to the pension benefits to future workers, hence pitting old against new workers, Mr. Toussaint, President of Local 100, rebuked the proposal stating "I will not sellout the unborn."

The TWU's 33,700 predominantly black workers walked off the trains and buses on this selfless principle. On the ground, in the streets of Harlem, Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens where black people represent the majority of the population, there was solid support for the strike which lasted three days. Transit workers on the picket line at the Bergen Street depot in Brooklyn were joined by the New York City Peoples' Coalition, an adhoc organization of strike supporters who brought hot coffee, tea, and fruit to workers. "We've got people at several different depots around the city standing in solidarity with TWU. This strike is important to every worker in this city. Our position is that we are on strike too. All workers should refuse to cross the picket lines and join the strike," said Roger Wareham spokesman for the group.

As cars and vans passed, most people blew their horns and raised the "black power" fist in support. Teachers from a nearby high school brought a group of their students out to the depot to support the workers and give the students "an education in real life." The teenagers were eager to get the workers' side of the story. "You are the future workers whose pension the MTA wants to cut" one of the bus drivers explained. "We are fighting for you and us. We have to show the MTA our power. We want respect, a decent wage and benefits. No give backs or selling out our children."

The economic impact of the strike was instant. Millions could not get to work. Commercial deliveries could not get through the traffic-choked streets. Prime time week-before-Christmas shopping was impossible. The TWU struck a major economic blow to the entire tri-state area.

Invoking the Taylor Law which prohibits strikes by public employees, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki virulently promised to make the TWU pay severe penalties. Black Judge Theodore Jones played hardball in the courtroom and fined TWU one million dollars for each day of the strike and threatened to jail Mr. Toussaint for contempt.

Ironically, a closer look at the Taylor Law reveals the MTA's own violation. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez exposed the violation, citing Section 201 of the law which clearly states that "no such retirement benefits shall be negotiated pursuant to this article, and any benefits so negotiated shall be void." According to Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, chairman of the Assembly committee which oversees the MTA, "That's what's known as an impermissible subject of bargaining." Where are the fines and jail threats to the MTA's millionaire executive club? Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki are suspiciously silent on the violation of transit workers rights. Clearly, Bloomberg's "nation of laws" has distinct race and class interests. So do we!