When 33,000 workers go on strike anywhere in the U.S., we should stop and take notice. The decline of strong unions that fight for their workers is but one reason why we are now the third most unequal industrialized nation in the world.
When the striking workers are 70% Black, Latino, or Asian American, we have good reason to believe that their standing up for workers’ rights will be (in the long run) good for all who are struggling to make ends meet.
According to Mayor Bloomberg, a billionaire, the workers were being selfish because by choosing to strike they have hurt economic activity in NY. Translation -- profits of big businesses were hurt. Who is Bloomberg really concerned about? Everyday New Yorkers? No. How about the business community? Well, if we mean Mom and Pop stores or street vendors then not exactly. But if we mean big corporate stores like Saks Fifth Ave or Tiffany’s, then you got it right.
There is no reason for anyone to believe that Bloomberg’s primary concern is for the average New Yorker. Between 1979 and 2004, there has been a 5% drop in average hourly earnings (adjusted for inflation), while the profits of US companies grew by 63%. Workers all over the United States have not shared in the prosperity enjoyed by many businesses.
And inequality is growing in New York. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the average income of the richest fifth of families in New York was more than 11 times the average income of the bottom fifth of families.
The strike has ended.
It inconvenienced 7,000,000 New Yorkers who were compelled to find other ways to get to work. And some of those workers, those unable to get to work or paid for reduced hours, have indeed suffered. As always, those who have the least money suffer disproportionately in times of hardship. But major businesses could have given their employees full pay for the days missed. No law prevents this.
But a strange law -- the Taylor law -- made this strike “illegal”. Is this law designed to benefit everyday folks? Or is it designed to discipline and control workers (full time, part time, temps, migrant, and the unemployed), for the benefit of big business and pro-corporate government?
Despite Bloomberg’s attempt to demonize the Transit Workers Union, many working people understood what was going on, and supported the TWU. The workers were striking for the type of pensions, wages, and benefits that we all should have. Workers were striking against growing inequality, which hurts us all.
So when TWU leader Roger Toussaint characterized the strike as a continuation of the civil rights movement, he needs to be taken seriously. The Federal Reserve Board’s 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances points out that the average white family has a median net worth of $136,000, which dwarfs the $20,000 held by Black families. Clearly, racial economic injustice remains the order of the day.
Yet Bloomberg the billionaire attacked the strikers and their leaders because they “thuggishly turned their backs on New York City.” At a time when the MTA has a billion dollar surplus, workers who strike are called “thugs”. Even if the MTA is facing future challenges, why should workers pay with reduced pensions and New Yorkers with fare hikes? Isn¹t Governor Pataki’s defunding of the MTA to help fund state tax cuts for the super rich in the 1990s the real reason that the MTA may face future challenges?
Thank you, Roger Toussaint, for pointing out Mayor Bloomberg’s cruel joke. The billionaire mayor told workers that they were selfish for fighting not only for themselves, but also for future workers.
Now that the strike is over, we should remember that when unions stand up for “fair wages, hard-earned benefits, respect and dignity,” as TWU defines their goals, it is likely, in the long run, to be good for everyday folks who don¹t get big tax breaks and don¹t own lots of stocks.
What we need in this country is many more strikes against tax cuts for the super rich, against cuts to social spending, the growing wealth divide, and against growing racial inequality.
Pataki & Bloomberg: How to Bust a Union by Jack Random