What They Were Striking For
December 22, 2005 - 2:19pm ET
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At his blog , Jonathan Tasini challenges those who criticize the workers for striking: "For those people here and elsewhere who blame the union, please, get a grip. It can' t be more clear now that the M.T.A. forced a strike over a pittance to its coffers--but a 4 percent cut to workers."
Here's the full post:
I want to start by repeating some thoughts expressed by Roger Toussaint, the leader of the transport workers union, who was, in my humble opinion, magnificient in his statements yesterday in taking on the ugly comments made by Mayor Bloomberg. For all those people dragging out the breaking of the Taylor Law as a way of criticizing the union, Toussaint and others have rightly pointed out that had Rosa Parks abided by the law when she rode the bus, many people would still be riding in the back of the bus, including as Toussaint pointed out, many of the people driving buses in NY today. Can you imagine where South Africa would be today if Nelson Mandela had decided to obey the law rather than sit in jail for 40 years. And what about the exalted American revolution, which started because a small band of people decided to defy the law?
And I reiterate: yes, it's a drag that it takes longer to get somewhere and, yes, it's effecting people trying to get to work. But, people who are attacking the union need to ask themselves: when do we draw the line in defense of basic rights on the job? Airline workers are having their pensions ripped away, companies are filing bankruptcy to take away pay and benefits from workers (while executives still make millions), millions of workers are shouldering more health care costs and everyone is being told that they should not ask for a fair reward for hard work--all this in the richest country on the planet.
So, now we know, thanks to Steve Greenhouse's analytical story about the fight over the pension issue, that the entire savings to the MTA--an authority that has a surplus of at least $1 billion--if it got its pension demand (which both sides agree triggereed the strike) would be a whopping $20 million over the next three years. This is a story that needs widespread attention.
For those people here and elsewhere who blame the union, please, get a grip. It can' t be more clear now that the M.T.A. forced a strike over a pittance to its coffers--but a 4 percent cut to workers. The union's position was: we are not going to hurt the people who want to work in the future. Lord, here's a union standing up for the principle that it has a responsibility to protect the interests of workers who are not even paying dues to the union!!! In other words, for the union, for Roger Toussaint, this wasn't entirely about solving an internal political issue--though, obviously, there are great tensions inside the union leadership.
Contrast that to the M.T.A., Mayor Bloomberg and George Pataki: you've got high-paid executives at the M.T.A., a billionaire mayor and a governor who is raising millions to run for another political office telling workers trying to make a middle-class living that they should take a hit. The M.T.A. is using the rhetoric of slowing down future pension obligations--a crisis that does not exist today. Yes, long-term pension obligations have to be addressed but those can be solved without taking a big whack at workers.
For the latest on the settlement, check Tasini's blog, WorkingLife .
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