Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

Tremendous Transport Rally
Gives City Union Busters
Something to Think About

(2 June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 22, 2 June 1941, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY – The latest move in the splendid fight of the Transport Workers Union for its continued existence in New York City was a tremendous rally at Madison Square Garden on May 21. If Mayor LaGuardia still thinks that, by going into the business of running subways, he and the Board of Transportation can break up this powerful union, he has missed the significance of this great gathering of the pro-unionists of the city.

Unionists and supporters of the union cause in New York City, numbering 22,000, jammed the Garden to endorse the life and death struggle of the TWU. An estimated 20,000 could not get into the Garden and many thousands remained on the streets to listen to the speeches as they came through the loud speakers.

Parade from Hall

Even more impressive and stirring than the enthusiasm reigning inside the Garden, was the well-organized parade of members of the TWU from their headquarters on 64th Street down Eighth Avenue. They did not go to the rally as individuals to assemble within the protection of four walls. They came through the city streets guarded by police on foot and on horse, and lined by sympathetic or curious people. They came as a UNION, as ONE, giving life to the placards they bore, “UNITED INVINCIBLE.”

The marchers were formed in companies, each with a captain and each with the banner of the division of the TWU to which they belong. There were car inspectors, lamp trimmers; signalmen, carpenters, locomotive engineers, switchmen, ticket agents, office workers and all the other categories. Men, women and children marched together. Banners, and placards were carried by women and children – even by little ones of five and six.

The BMT, IRT and Independent subways were represented, as were the bus and trolley lines. Workers of the Harlem Paintshop came by. The Women’s Auxiliary of the TWU marched in a company of its own.

The band at the head of the parade played Solidarity Forever and other union songs. Bands of bagpipers were interspersed along the line. The marchers shouted greetings to their friends on the sidewalks and invited them to join. And from the sidewalks came shouts of “Atta boy!”

It was a sight to see. A young woman member of the State, County and Municipal Workers Union said to me, with deep emotion in her voice: “This makes me feel that labor has a chance to get anything it wants.”

The keynote of the huge demonstration was the demand for collective bariaining. Slogans displayed in the parade and inside the Garden called for genuine collective bargaining. Speakers declared that the state and federal laws granting workers the right to collective bargaining do not say “except workers employed by the Board of Transportation of the City of New York.”

The Mayor, now outstanding as No. 1 union-buster, contends that, by taking over the subways, the city has automatically made civil servants of the 32,000 transit workers and ended their right to be represented through their union. The transit workers, whose conditions have been tremendously improved through the TWU, refuse to accept this autocratic, reactionary ruling. The TWU had made advantageous contracts with the BMT and IRT subway systems before the city bought them ten months ago. Since then the ranks of the union have been swelled by the workers on the Independent system, always city-owned. But the Mayor refuses to deal with the union to negotiate a new agreement to take the place of the old BMT-IRT contract expiring June 30th.

There is no other word for this refusal of the Mayor than UNION BUSTING. The answer of the transit workers and their supporters at the Madison Square Garden rally was: “TRY AND·DO IT!” At the beginning of the meeting, Chairman Hogan, president of the New York local, asked the electrician to put on all the lights so that everybody could have a good look around. The place was packed to the rafters. The builders didn’t make the Garden big enough for the TWU, commented the chairman.

Philip Murray, president of the CIO, came to the rally to pledge the support of the 5,000,000 CIO members to the fight of the TWU. He said that for one man or for a small group of men to have power to regulate the lives of thousands of men, women and children – as LaGuardia and the Board of Transportation propose to – was too much power.

Other speakers were more vigorous in their attacks on the Mayor and the Board of Transportation than Murray. Joseph Curran, president of the National Maritime Union, said that along with acquiring the rolling stock of Rockefeller and Morgan at the rate of $320,000,000 for $l00,000,000 in value, the city took over the Rockefeller-Morgan labor policies – for nothing. He said the Mayor wants to return to the Middle Ages where serfdom was the condition of labor. The Mayor, he declared, has three big jobs now, but he isn’t big enough for the job of destroying ’the TWU.

Michael Quill, international president of the TWU, referred to the big three of the Board of Transportation – Delaney, Sullivan and Keegan – as the three old men called “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod,” and predicted: “They’re going to miss our bus again.”

Ewart Guinier, vice-president of the State, County and; Municipal Workers of America, CIO, exposed the lie that civil service employees don’t need a union’ He said 13,000 civil service workers in his union find it necessary. He said the tactics of the government with its workers are just like those in private industry. Such tactics can be met only by the CIO. He promised the support of his union and of his people, numbering half a million Negroes in the city of New York, in the fight of the TWU.

Mrs. Mollie Grogan of the Ladies Auxiliary of the TWU, presented a bouquet to Philip Murray and Mrs. Murray. In her short, speech she said the wives, mothers and daughters of the transport workers know what the union has done for them. “We want the union!” she shouted, and received thunderous applause.

A very enjoyable feature of the rally was the singing of songs written by union members. One was about the scab train that never came back. One was Let’s Roll the Union On over the Delaneys, LaGuardias and all others who stand in the way. The choruses were taken up by the whole assembly.

This meeting was a superb massing of union strength. The TWU members and their supporters have self-confidence and good cheer. They have the promise of Philip Murray that the whole strength of the CIO is behind them – UNTIL VICTORY IS THEIRS. They are giving union-busting LaGuardia something to think about.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 16 February 2020