Youngbloods, Elders and Friends:

Like many on the Left I was critical of the TWU leadership's decision to end the strike after three days. However, if the strike had gone on any further the union and its members would have suffered a disasterous defeat. I give Roger Toussaint great credit for quickly perceiving that the labor and community solidarity necessary for a successful challenge of the Taylor Law simply was not there. We knew the strike was coming, yet not a single union went on strike in solidarity, not a single rank and file caucus called for a wildcat strike and not a single supporter committed civil disobedience to shut down the City and fill the City's jails with strike supporters.

By the second day of the strike it was clear that other unions were not going to strike in sympathy and even the TWU's interntional was opposing the strike. I originally thought the union should have stayed out longer, but I was wrong. A longer strke would have meant higher fines for the members and the union, possible bankruptcy for the union and left the union in a weakened bargaining position when the strike finally settled.

In 1976 I was a member of the San Francisco Laborer's Union which was one of the municipal crafts unions that went out on a 38 day strike when the City tried to create a tiered system for new workers. The San Francisco City workers strike paralyzed the City when the predominantly Black municipal transit workers union went on strike in sympathy with us. The crafts unions ulimately lost the strike. The two tiered system was established and when the transit workers' contract was renegotiated a year later the City forced the union to accept significant pay cuts in retaliation for their support for the crafts workers. The mayor and the governor of San Francisco were both Democrats in 1976. It takes a tremendous amount of support and militancy for public workers to win a strike that has been declared illegal.

Toussaint was perceptive enough to see that a prolonged strike would have been a disaster for the union members and their families. The necessary support just wasn't there.

Nonetheless the union won a significant concession by defeating the MTA's plan for a two tiered system for new workers when it force the MTA to withdraw its demand that new hires pay a higher portion of their wages toward pension costs. However, that victory came at a high economic price. The union agreed to member contributions to health insurance for the first time. The proposed 4 percent increased contribution to pension costs by new worklers would have resulted in less than $20 million over the three year contract. The 1.5 percent contribution by all workers toward health care will cost the TWU membership over $70 million.

It is significant that the membership of the TWU and their leadership placed solidarity with future workers ahead of economic gains for present workers. For that stand they have earned honor and respect. The TWU workers recognize that the gains which unions have made were won by workers who believed that future generations should be better off than their forebears. Labor solidarity is built upon solidarity with past workers who depend on pensions and commitment to passing on the benefits won yesterday and today to the next generation.

This stand by the TWU should be an important lesson to CUNY students who today are being urged by politicians and opportunistic leaders in the University Student Senate to support a proposal for tiering future CUNY students. TheCOMPACT plan shceduled to be voted on by the CUNY Board of Trustees guarantees that tuition will be increased each year, meaning that future CUNY students will have to pay more than present students. The TWU recognized their obligation to future workers and paid an economic price to fulfill that obligation. In doing so they rejected the gospel of greed and selfishness being pushed by politicians, media and many labor leaders. I hope that today's CUNY students recognize their obligation to keep tuition low for future students.

Since the days of Mike Quill over 50 years ago TWU contracts have traditionally ended on December 15th, barely a week before Christmas. I was therefore initially disappointed that the union agreed to have the new contract expire on January 15th. However, I now think that the new expiration date may give the TWU a strategic advantage in the next contract talks. While a strike just before Christmas is devastating on the retail business, it is harder to get labor or community action in solidarity and key sectors of the City economy, such as colleges and public schools, are closed and other sectors, such as finance and the courts, are opperating in low-volume holiday modes.

A transit strike at any time woul paralyze the City's economy.
A strike in late January would have more effect on Wall Street than a strike in late December. More important, sympathetic job actions by CUNY and public school faculty could have more impact in late January than during the holiday break. So, I don't think that changing the contract expiration date weakens the union's bargaining position.

Finally, the progressive movement needs to assess the role of Elliot Spitzer in breaking the TWU's strike. While Pataki and Bloomberg were grandstanding, Spitzer's office was representing the MTA in court and seeking fines against the TWU. It was Spitzer's decision to seek fines against the union and the membership in excess of the minimum sanctions imposed by the Taylor law. He did not have to impose fines higher than the minimum.

Spitzer will run for governor against some Republican and he will expect support from labor, the Black, Puerto Rican and Dominican communities, and progressive voters. Will we forget his role as a strike-breaker?

Anyone who votes for a strike-breaker deserves what they get.

Ronald B. McGuire