Daily News from ,  on December 23, 2005 · 41
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Daily News from , · 41

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Friday, December 23, 2005
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4 ON LABOR ON LEADERSHIP By ERROL LOUIS By DENNIS SMITH For breaking law, the TWU has to pay p s a former delegate for the firefight-l ers union and as a writer who spent Imost of my life in the proletariat, I Mi ayor Bloomberg yesterday confirmed that he stood by every word of his televised outburst against the Transport Workers Union's leadership at the height of this week's strike. He called them "thuggish," "selfish," "frauds" and the like. A host of critics, such as state Sen. Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, now accuse the mayor of being racially divisive. "We only need to look back to the day and time when MTA workers first gained the kind of pension and benefits which are now being called 'cushy.' The complexion of the union was sure of a different hue at that time," says Parker, the son of a transit worker. "Now that the Transit Authority workforce is majority black and Hispanic, they are suddenly 'spoiled,' 'selfish' and 'overpaid,' " Parker says. "Are these colors of the race card too obscure to see? Not from my view." Parker has a point. In August Powell Jr. joined other Harlem activists in pressing city-owned and private transit lines to hire more blacks." The article described the career of Valerie Beatty, a Harlem native who at 25 years old was a black single mother on food stamps until she snagged a job as a subway cleaner at $18,000 a year. Beatty ended up in her early 40s as a motor inspector earning $50,000 a year, with a house on Long Island and her sons in college. Food stamps in the ghetto versus self-sufficiency, health care, a house in the suburbs and kids in college: For native New Yorkers, especially black New Yorkers, that's all this week's strike was ever about. It's why TWU chief Roger Tous-saint risked fines and imprisonment and kept repeating the word "dignity that so baffled and enraged Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki. Toussaint probably deserves a ticker-tape parade but will have to receive his glory on the installment plan: standing ovations in churches, union halls and almost any place he shows :. -k.' i- :, . ! k s. . - m ' i rv i TT. g ..... .sf1B.s(C c . r : a RON ANTONEUJ DAILY NEWS of 2004, when aggrieved members of the 91 white Fire De- , partment of New York were protesting every public appearance by Bloomberg and threatening an illegal strike during the Republican National Convention, Bloomberg's spokesman, Ed Skyler, called the protesting firefighters "thugs." But Bloomberg himself took pains to not to repeat the slur, telling the New York Sun, "I wasn't brought up that way." And yet, when it came to the city's transit workers, the mayor's home training eluded him. Bloomberg's rant was not only divisive, it betrayed a fundamental lack of understanding of our city and its history. As the Wall Street Journal Online wrote in a revealing story earlier this year, the MTA "has been a haven for African-Americans seeking upward mobility since the 1940s, when Adam Clayton can see that America's labor history is both informed and defined by the decision of workers to strike. What else do working people have to leverage their needs and desires but the withholding of their labor? Next to compulsory arbitration, the strike is the only powerful recourse when labor negotiations break down. It is a way to seek justice of a kind. But there are other elements in the recent transit strike that we should remember. There is the legal mandate that says the Taylor Law is designed to prohibit strikes against the public's interest, and that we are a nation of laws. The workers might now seek to overturn the Taylor Law in the Legislature, but as long as the law is the law all unions must be made to obey it in the future. The transit workers seemed to take a high road in saving that the Dred Scott decision was a law as well, but that never made the ownership of another human being right, and we must fight against injustice law or no law. It is a lofty ideal to fight injustice, but it must be done before a judge and not at the expense of the comfort of our citizens. There is another side to these observations: These workers were determined in what they saw as their correctness in closing down our transportation system. Why? Because they Eire blue-collar workers living in a society where 27-year-olds who do little more than move paper from one side of their desks to the other are buying multimillion-dollar second homes in the Hamptons, part of a society where CEOs are often paid 1,500 times the salary of their lowest level employee. And in New York City, especially, we all should realize the disparities that are agonizing our city employees. The Suffolk County police, for instance, are paid almost 50 more than New York's Finest, and the firefighters of San Francisco are earning almost double what we pay New York's Bravest. On the one hand, there is always the argument that each of our city workers is lucky to have a job. On the other, there is the writing on the wall that predicts much labor unrest in our future. Our public pension systems, and many of our private systems as well, are underfunded and respected financial analysts are predicting their collapse. Our workers are marginally paid in relation to the excessive pay they see around them, and they can see that their share of the pie is getting smaller and smaller. Still, I hated the strike, and our transit workers were wrong to punish the rest of the hardworking New Yorkers, to have forced them to cope with stress and anger in what ought to have been a time of joy. In ending the strike, Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has kept himself from a jail term, but he should be reminded of the harsh burden he conveyed to all of us. Someone should strap a refrigerator on his back and make him walk the many miles in near freezing temperatures that most New Yorkers had to endure in this strike. Smith, an author of 14 books, is a retired firefighter and chairman of the First Responders Financial Co. his face in black neighborhoods. The Trinidadian and Tobagonian-born former train cleaner gave Bloomberg a lesson in real courage, dignity and determination. Toussaint brought the city to a halt with five words to his members "shut it down, then talk" a power that even the billionaire mayor will never possess. And after ensuring that a path to the middle class will remain open to his members, Toussaint ended the strike yesterday with an equally terse order: "Hold your head high when you report to work." It brought to mind that word again. Dignity. eIouisnydaiIynews.com ON RESPONSIBILITY By PLAYTHELL BENJAMIN iss Jonas' rantings plain wrong o In Wednesday morning, I was surfing the radio dial listening to different takes on the transit strike. I acciden a as a fundamental human-rights issue. The wisdom of his choices is a matter for history to decide. But the wisest minds among black Americans and West Indians have always known that the mutual enmities and ethnic chauvinisms that poison relations between these two neo-African peoples is dangerous folly. Many African-Americans are outraged at the kind of ignorant racist propaganda leveled at the Caribbean community by Miss Jones, and we are prepared to support any effort to challenge the license of Hot 97, which is a menace to the youths of this city in more ways than I can list here. The black labor leaders throughout American history are far too numerous to mention, and new heroes are born every day Toussaint among them in the eyes of many municipal workers. Benjamin is a New York-based author and critic. card." It was a performance that could well aggravate the already troubled relations between the African-American and Caribbean communities. Miss Jones' comments demonstrated the worst sort of African-American ignorance of the tremendous contribution that West Indians make to this city today, and their historic contribution to the advancement of black people everywhere. In his fearless and principled leadership of the Transport Workers Union, Toussaint, from Trinidad, is honoring a glorious ancestral imperative. He is heir to the legacy of such leaders as Ferdinand Smith, the African-Jamaican immigrant who was the principal organizer of the powerful National Maritime Union, which controlled American merchant shipping worldwide in the 1930s and '40s and revolutionized the status of seamen. Like his predecessors, Toussaint envisions the question of justice for workers tally flipped to "Miss Jones in the Morning" on Hot 97. Her discussion of the transit strike was unquestionably the worst I've heard thus far. She was foulmouthed, racist, embarrassingly ignorant and contemptuous of working people. This is the same woman who was recently suspended for ridiculing the tsunami victims. The comments she made about TWU President Roger Toussaint slandered Caribbean people in this city and disgraced black Americans. After denouncing transport workers as uneducated and overpaid losers who made the wrong choices in high school, which resulted in their driving a bus, she viciously attacked Toussaint. She called him "a dumb coconut who probably don't even have a green 3 (I to 0J K O O

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