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December 21, 2005

New York transit strike digest

In a scathing open letter, Steve Gilliard blasts the Mayor for calling the T.W.U. leadership "thuggish":

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

The members of the TWU are not thugs, they are the people who make New York work. They, not the bond traders or your employees, who are the heart and soul of the city. When they don't work, we feel it.

But you are using racial code words to demean the working class of the city. Men and women who work day and night, rain and snow and 100 degree heat. To demean them, to question their sincerity is offensive.

Maybe such language makes you feel like a big man, but to most New Yorkers, you might as well as called then ungrateful niggers.


Because the TWU is made of people who are New York's winners, people who graduated high school, served in the military and then came home to serve this city. To suggest that they are on par with the criminals who endanger their lives and the lives of riders is a grave insult. No other union has been so insulted and demeaned by the leadership of this state and city. Yet, they are to be bullied into going back to work? [...]

Steve's co-blogger Jen offers a dissenting view.

Scott Lemieux calls out the MTA's actuarial union-busting.

David Sirota explains why anti-strike legislation hurts workers by undermining the only real bargaining tool they have, not working.

Great strike post by Ian Welsh at BOP .

Matt Stoller offers a big picture perspective on Democrats and unions.


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But at least the Yankees got Johnny Damon.

Poll says 52% of us support the transit workers ... not bad.
Oh, and please help save Agitprop ...

So the mayor is a racist and what he says is offensive because of who the strikers are, not what they have done? Of course. God forbid we should be judged on our actions. I'm neither attacking nor defending the strikers, but let's look at what was offered and what was refused before we decide whether they acted selfishly or "thuggishly."

The strikers are overpaid. They struck against the people of the city of NY in a time of maximum vulernability--when it is cold, when it is Christmas. If they are not thugs, they are stupid and irresponsible and bad citizens and not acting in their own best interest. Apart from that, they are great.

1) The contract expires when the contract expires. Local 100's contract was up. Negotiations broke down. You can't blame the union for the timing of the strike. Walking to work in the cold sucks, but imagine standing on that picket line all day and trying to afford Christmas on strike pay.

2) They aren't striking for more money. The union and the MTA had already bargained and agreed to salary terms for the new contract. Nor are they striking over the retirement age, that was hammered out at the bargaining table, too. The issue is equity between new hires and more senior workers. Basically, at the last minute the MTA demanded that new hires pay in three times as much for the same pension plan as current employees.

3) The MTA sprung this demand at the last minute. They derailed talks over an initiative that would have saved them a paltry $20 million over 3 years. So, if you want to ask who stuck it to the City, it was the MTA.

Personally, I have no love for either side. Lindsay is perfectly correct that the MTA is a mess. I'd send in the National Guard to run the trains and buses better, but first I need them to fix the school system.

Is the only issue at stake the two tier pension system, and are all salary and pay scales already agreed upon?

I have been looking for an analysis of the contract and issues and where the two parties stand on those issues and find nothing in the NYT or anywhere else. There is no news in the media, they all only cover the horserace, how people feel, who do they support; there is little about the structure of the MTA, the TWU, the developement of general union issues, how does the contract compare to the contracts of other public sector unions and then to those of private sector contracts.

If anyone knows of any good comprehensive analysis of the strike and the contract please let us know.

the big thing to remember is that the city still runs if the mayor, the administrators, and yes virginia, even the police take time off. if you stop the trains, the busses or the garbage pick up. poof! civilization as we know it ceases to exist.
give the workers what the want or keep walkin'

--give the workers what the want or keep walkin'--

That's a nice thing to say to the poor and working class people that suffer the most from this. The richer can deal with this, some of them even like it to an extent--with fewer total cars in Manhattan at times, I know a Manhattan resident whose contingency plan is to drive, whereas she normally takes a bus.

Noone gets everything they want. And as the city/state turns the screws to this dysfunctional union, the loudest cheers come from the working class of this city.

"If anyone knows of any good comprehensive analysis of the strike and the contract please let us know."

Try the World Socialist Web Site at We have been covering the strike from the picket lines.

I've survived a transit strike. While it wasn't pretty or easy, I still supported the transit union. So should all people who work. Without unions, corporations would have even more freedom to make lives even more miserable and expensive than they already are.

Transit workers receive pay and benefits that they could never get in the private sector. In return, they are not supposed to strike. They knew that up front.
The strike is illegal. If the mayor had a pair he'd order them all to report for their next scheduled shift or be fired.

Yeah, the World Socialist Web. Fair and balanced, indeed.

Yeah, the World Socialist Web. Fair and balanced, indeed.

I'm lost. How does "thug" become a racial code word?

--I'm lost. How does "thug" become a racial code word?--

It becomes a racial code word when the TWU is without any valid arguments and needs to pull at straws

--I'm lost. How does "thug" become a racial code word?--

It becomes a racial code word when the TWU is without any valid arguments and needs to pull at straws

Eek sorry for posting twice, twice. Typepad is acting weird, just so you know. It has made it appear that the post was not made and that its necessary to enter numbers / letters and post again. Sorry.

The strike is now over. Does anyone know the details about why TWU returned to work? The MSM is claiming that the fines and possible jail sentences scared them into coming back, but there must be more to it than that.

No one asked for "fair and balanced," but for "comprehensive analysis," which a Marxist perspective offers over mainstream press.


Checked out just now, after a three hour commute from 52nd St NYC to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It's excellent comic relief, after a short and unnecessary strike. I can't take it too serious, I kinda grew out of Marxism junior year of high school, but it is cute to know that these slogans are still being cranked out somewhere, a political Esperanto.

Like Mr. Benson, I " kept walkin'", all the way down Second Avenue, over the Manhattan Bridge as far as Flatbush Avenue ( where I hailed a neighborhood car service ) . But I had warmth in my heart knowing that these guys did not get " what they want " when they were already paid well. No joke.

I don't get everything I want. You probably don't either. At some point, reality enters into it. Thats the real world, bro.

I had a short and easy walk from lower midtown to the East Village, and from me & my fellow liberal Manhattanites you will not hear too many nasty words about the union. Why should we complain, when all we suffered were a few pleasant walks?

(Key thing to my mind was that the weather was clear and not especially cold during the strike. If people had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in sleeting rain, or if anyone had died from hypothemia, now that would have been another story.)

Basically Toussaint was an idiot. All he proved was that almost everyone in NYC lives or works within two miles of a LIRR, Metronorth, or PATH train station. Everyone had figured out how to get to work by Thursday, and at that point the union was just annoying everyone. Toussaint called off the strike without a contract, so what did he get for his union? When that contract is finally signed Pataki and the MTA will have what they want.

Worst of all, Toussaint called off the strike only after the Brooklyn judge scheduled a hearing about potential jail time for the union leaders the next day, making it look as if personal cowardice was the real reason the Union ended the strike.

I supported the Union before & during the strike, but now I'm not so sure.

David Sirota's article is pretty interesting.
Denmark's structure is different from just about anywhere else. Here is there description of it by one of the big Danish unions:

Since 1899 a well functioning labour market model has developed in Denmark, consisting of binding bipartite and tripartite co-operation agreements between the trade union movement, employers' organisations and the government.

Consequently, almost all collective bargaining is concluded without government intervention whereas all significant legislative bodies regulating the labour market are normally tripartite bodies. Regional labour market policy is carried out in co-operation between the social partners and the government, and trade unions and employers have a high degree of influence on vocational training in Denmark.

Source: here.
And here a description by the Confederation of Danish Employers

There is a clear division of responsibility between the government and the social partners in relation to labour-market policy.

Working conditions are primarily regulated through collective agreements concluded by the two sides of industry, at industry or branch level. These agreements are, to a large extent, framework accords which allow for flexibility at the company level and for specific local requirements to be taken into account. They cover around 85% of all employees and include regulations governing wages, pensions, working time, redundancies and various pay arrangements for employees during periods of illness, maternity/paternity leave etc.

Legislation covers only specific topics such as holiday entitlement, health and safety, equal pay and equal treatment. Most of this legislation originates from the EU system, and the social partners implement the EU directives themselves. For those not covered by collective agreements, the agreements reached on EU directives are often applied without any changes being made by the government.

Over the last 20 years, the social partners have decentralised the bargaining process with the aim of increasing flexibility, especially with regard to wage-setting and working hours. The decentralisation process is supported by a 50-year-old agreement between the social partners known as the “Cooperation Agreement”. This lays down the conditions for discussions on all relevant issues between the management and employees in the workplace. It reflects the general respect and trust between the two sides of industry. It also reflects the high degree of responsibility placed on the social partners to try to find constructive solutions to problems which might otherwise turn into labour disputes.

Another characteristic of the Danish system is the general “peace obligation”. This means that, in the periods between the renewal of the collective agreements, it is effectively illegal for the workers to strike, although they retain the right to strike if the social partners cannot agree on renewing the collective agreements. To deal with any labour disputes which may occur, an effective judicial system has been created to find quick solutions to problems. There is also a built-in mechanism for avoiding conflicts. For example, in the DA/LO-area – the part of the labour market covered by collective agreements between the DA and LO, which corresponds to approximately 45% of employees in the private sector – the social partners settle more than 85% of all cases involving legal action by employers themselves.

Source: here (opens a word document).

Where am I going with this? Well, there is a lot of flexibility build in in the Danish jobmarket, and this keep unemployement comparatibly low, and the Danish competitiveness high. There are strict limits to when employees can strike (and when employers can lock-out), but every time an agreement is up for re-negotiation (usually every four years), there are risks of strikes, and if there are big disagreements between the Confederation of Employers and the Unions it might lead to a general strike, like in April 1998, which lead to the givernment stepping in.
So, in other words, there are many other factors to take into consideration than striking rights - for a dynamic workforce and a competitive economy, strong unions and employer organizations that are willing to work with each other are also necessary.

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