Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Bid for a Better Life

For the first time in months I've had the leisure to watch TV. I've been following the coverage of the NY mass transit strike on MSNBC and Fox. It is remarkable how little time they devote to informing their audience of the actual demands of the Transport Workers Union (TWU). One clear avenue to end the strike, capitulating to the demands of the Union, is a discussion that is not even broached on television. On television, Bloomberg and almost all ordinary New Yorkers are portrayed as the good guys, just trying to get to work, enjoy Broadway, and eat at fancy restaurants in Manhatten. Whereas Roger Toussaint, the leader of the Union, is described as "radical" and "militant," thuggishly making "greedy" and "illegal" demands. Ironically, the more the media capture New Yorkers walking to work or wherever, the less disruptive seems to be the strike (especially for viewers that have never been to NYC). Let them walk, run and bicycle!

From what MSNBC and Fox have run, Toussaint and his supporters are black, while Bloomberg and his groupies are white. Ya think this has something to do with how this is playing out? This is clearly also a racial conflict. And it brings to mind the wisdom of Malcolm X: When someone disturbs you in the middle of the night to alert you to a fire in your house, don't blame the messenger. Today, unfortunately, we see that there is fire in New York, and the talking heads want to discuss the prospects of fines and jail-time for the messengers. This does not help anybody.

I support the transit workers asserting themselves as strikers, making a bid for a better life. I think it is wholly in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s non-violent disobedience to unjust laws, with the full awareness and acceptance that one may have to spend time in jail, as MLK did. Emphasizing the "illegal" nature of such activity is immature and besides the point. To seek justice one is required to break unjust laws. For now, at least, it seems that Bloomberg has the good sense not to throw the Union leaders in jail, for he knows that that will not do anything to change the conditions that lead to the strike in the first place. Agreement on a contract is in the best interest for all parties involved.

What little time they give to Toussant is most telling. In a 10 second or so sound bite, he said, to paraphrase, "Bloomberg, a billionaire, is calling us greedy? Come on." He's got a point. Moreover, as a non-New Yorker, I was surprised to discover that Bloomberg doesn't even live in Brooklyn, making his heavily televised walk among the people to work quite theatrical. As one TWU supporter said in an article, he must have been driven with his entourage to the Brooklyn bridge, so that he could then fashion himself as a victim, together with the other walkers, of evil thuggish strikers ('Look what they've done, those bastards'). A good political move, to be sure, but otherwise ridiculous.

You want me to buy the argument that the government's hands aren't dirty? To be sure, the strikers are responsible for their actions, but let's be just in our attributions of responsibility and consider why transit workers would demand better pensions, etc., in the first place. Greedy people do not strike; desperate people do.


xtrachromosomeconservative said...

Ilya, you are all wet. The colors that important here are red and black not black and white. And that greedy people don't strike. The benefits of the transit workers allow them to retire at 55, the MTA attempted to renegotiate the deal to 62, this is what triggered the strike. The average pay for the jobs we are talking about here hardly constitute desperation.

Anti-Everything said...

From my following of the transit strike I think that the main issue was that the city wants to have a two tier system for benefits, one for older employees and an inferior system for younger employees and the union is refusing to allow its younger employees to settle for inferior benefits. Which makes sense to me. Beside walking is good for people, everyone should get some exercise early in the moring.

Also when I saw the mayor walking across the Brooklyn Bridge I found that very funnny considering he lives in a multi million dollar home across the street from Central Park.

Anti-Everything said...

Another interesting part of this story is that the media continues to point out that the strike is illegal due to stipulations in the Taylor Law.

The Taylor Law does forbid public employees from striking, but it also forbids an employer, any government agency, from attempting to force pension changes onto a union contract. Pension changes are made by the state legislature only, not through the collective bargaining process. Although unions often do agree to go with an employer to petition for pension changes, they are not legally part of any collective bargaining process. And that’s what Toussaint kept saying when he said that the demands of the MTA were illegal demands.

So the MTA's demands are illegal and they are not backing down from them, yet the media doesn't cover this part of the strike at all.