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Susan Green

City Officials Answer TWU Demands
with Threats, Lies

(19 May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 20, 19 May 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Every station, every mile of track, every car, every powerhouse, every thing is catalogued and planned, OUR STRATEGY IS LIKE THAT OF THE ARMY – we prepare for everything in advance.”

Police Commissioner Valentine of New York City is the author of these war-like remarks.

The military preparations of the police department that he so grimly described are meant to be used against 32,000 AMERICAN WORKERS – workers whose combined labor transports 5,198,000 people every day in the subways of the city. They operate, repair, clean – they tend the powerhouses, the tracks, the cars, the stations. Their labor gives life to the transit arteries of the·busiest city in the world.

These transit workers are the “enemy.” The “hostile act” that they have committed is to demand that the city negotiate a contract with their union – the Transport Workers Union, CIO – covering the three subway systems, the BMT, IRT and Independent, all now operated by the city.

This legitimate demand of the TWU has been met with a barrage of irresponsible slander against 32,000 responsible workers – and with preparations to wage war against them, should they be compelled to resort to a strike.

Appeals to Mayor La Guardia and to the Board of Transportation by the TWU and by Philip Murray, president of the CIO, that the legal right of the transit workers to bargain collectively with their boss be recognized, are ignored both .by the “progressive” Mayor and by his dictatorial Board of Transportation. Union letters remain unanswered.

Instead, the Mayor has tried to discredit the union in the eyes of the workers with such underhanded slurs as: “I know the difference between a real labor leader and just a dues collector.”

What Are the Facts’?

Such attempts are laughable.

Transport workers know what they have accomplished through their union since 1937, when it became active. Not only have they forced substantial wage increases for all transport workers, including taxi drivers, bus drivers, surface, elevated and subway workers. The 12, 14 and 16-hour working days used to prevail. During these long hours the men were subject to call, but were paid only for eight or nine hours. This evil has been abolished. The six-day week has also been established where the seven-day week flourished. Vacations with pay have been won.

Transport workers know these things. So when the “progressive” Mayor only the other day made the crack that the city is against the 56-hour week but “inherited” it from the TWU when it took over the contracts made by the TWU with the private owners of the BMT and IRT, the workers understood exactly the method in the Mayor’s madness.

The workers understood even before Austin J. Hogan, president of the New York City local of the TWU, replied that every contract the union entered into was “a great improvement over conditions which existed before.” Mr. Hogan also pointed out that the contract terms the Mayor now sneers at had been determined by a fact-finding committee appointed by the Mayor himself in 1937.

The workers also know a three letter word to describe the Mayor’s assertion that the hours of BMT and IRT workers covered by TWU contracts are worse than on the city controlled Independent. Michael J. Quill,·international president of the TWU, states that on the Independent system, city built and always operated by the’ city, there are towermen and motormen forced to work seven days a week.

The World-Telegram, which is not exactly pro-labor. recently quoted a motorman on the Independent subway as follows: “What we want is what all the men want, grievance machinery, the ability to sit down and talk over the things that are wrong. We’re not getting it now. We never have gotten it. And men who have fought the TWU for years are going over to it. They figure that it’s the only way to get anywhere. In the last few months the TWU has gained tremendously in strength on the Independent division, where the men have always been under civil service. Working conditions on the IRT and BMT are better than on the Independent. The Independent men figure the TWU made them so.”

Before the city took them over, there was grievance machinery on the privately owned IRT and’ BMT. Shop stewards could meet with superintendents to discuss complaints. If these did not agree, union officials could meet with company officials. When the city took over the lines, the Board of Transportation was supposed to set up a similar system. Nothing of the kind has been done. A TWU representative now meets weekly with George Keegan, a member of the board, but the union states these meetings have yielded no results.

In fact, the handbill entitled Our Side of the Transit Story, issued by the TWU, charges that many of the gains made by the union prior to unification by the city have been destroyed during the ten months of city operation.

The Board of Transportation has a very unsavory labor reputation. The World-Telegram, after investigating the record of the Board, stated that it could find no instance in the last eight years when John H. Delaney, chairman of the board and himself a former labor leader, having served as president of New York Typographical Union for one year, received representatives of independent labor organizations to work out a method of adjusting grievances. In many cases the board has not even deigned to reply to requests for interviews from labor organizations.

Jonas A. McBride, vice-president of the ultra-conservative Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, is reported to have said:

“I have been dealing with hardboiled employers for 31 years and I have never met one as tough as the Board of Transportation.”

But the TWU is hardboiled, too. It insists on the right of workers to bar gain collectively with their boss even if the boss is the tough Board of Transportation of the City of New York. The contract the union had with the privately owned BMT and IRT expires June 30. It insists on negotiating. a new contract with the city covering the BMT, IRT and Independent systems.

The union demands for the new contract include a 48-hour week for those who work more, a 44-hour week for those who work 48 hours, and a 40-hour work for those who work 44 hours. The “labor-loving” Mayor, who stated the city does not approve of the 56-hour week, should have no objections to these improvements in hours.

The union also asks for equalization of pay for the same work on the three subways at the highest levels of pay, and for a flat $1 a day increase for all workers, The Mayor has grossly misrepresented the union’s demands; saying it asks for a 40 per cent increase. He declares, on the basis of this falsification: “There is no such money in sight. Such talk cannot be taken seriously.”

However, there is plenty of money with which to prepare an armed attack on the workers should they have to strike.

The union’s appeals for recognition having been ignored by the city officials, the transit workers have carried their fight to the working public which depends on the 32,000 transit workers to get it where it wants to go. The union’s handbill is being distributed at subway, bus and elevated stations. It expects to increase the number distributed to one and a half million a week. Public mass meetings have been held. On Saturdays there have been demonstrations by transit workers and their families outside the offices of the Board of Transportation at 250 Hudson Street. These demonstrations will hereafter be transferred to City Hall. The union is planning a campaign to gather signatures for a public petition. Another great mass meeting has been arranged for May 21st at Madison Square Garden, at which Philip Murray is to be the main speaker. A tremendous turn out is expected by the union.

“Persuasion” Needed

John Santo, international secretary and treasurer of the TWU, has said he believes the union finally will succeed in persuading the Mayor to bargain collectively with it on behalf of all the transit workers, because LaGuardia “is one of the ablest mayors in the country, he knows his job and does the right thing in the long run.”

It must be remembered that Bethlehem and Ford are two of the “ablest” boss outfits in the country, know their jobs and are just beginning to do “the right thing in the long run” – but only after the workers demonstrated their fighting power on the picket lines. Boss La Guardia seems to need the same kind of persuasion.

In the meantime he keeps promising that the city will take care of its “children.” It will adjust wages, hours and working conditions of the transit workers “in good time.” These are “complicated” matters, the mayor declares.

No doubt! Adjustment of wages, hours and working conditions does become very complicated indeed – when the object is to put it over on the workers.


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