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TWU Retreats Under Many-Sided Pressure

Transit Workers Are in for Long Period of Judicial Stalling

(7 July 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 27, 7 July 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY – Philip Murray, president of the CIO, yielding to the pressure of the La Guardia government, has entered into an agreement with Mayor La Guardia on the transit situation. In effect, the 32,000 transit workers of New York City are being put in refrigeration, for perhaps A WHOLE YEAR. In addition, the Quill leadership, which is known to be friendly to the Stalinists, may have acted under Stalinist pressure. With their new war line, the Stalinists want least of all to embarrass the government with strikes – especially with a subway strike which would paralyze the financial center of the nation.

For months the, Transport Workers Union has been fighting the union-busting policy of Mayor LaGuardia.

It was preparing to strike on the three subway lines on July 1, if the Mayor and the Board of Transportation did not grant the transit workers their right to collective bargaining. This right has now been definitely denied them by their boss, the city of New York. Instead of going ahead with the fight their leaders, including the “fiery” Michael Quill, international president of the TWU, now tell them to cool off.

The pretext for this retreat is the lawsuit which the Board of Transportation brought in the Supreme Court. The board contends it hasn’t the legal right to bargain collectively with the subway workers. The union has all along claimed that there is no federal, state or local law prohibiting the board from bargaining collectively with the workers. On the contrary, the union’s position has been that the state and federal laws grant ALL workers the right to collective bargaining and do not say “except workers employed by the Board of Transportation on the subways of New York City.”

But Philip Murray consented to await the outcome of this lawsuit obviously brought by the board as part of its stalling tactics. The stalling may now add up to a year, according to those who understand court procedure. First will come the trial, which cannot take place until September at: the earliest. Appeals to the state courts may take more time and then there is the possibility of dragging the case into the federal courts.

Because of the thorough preparations of the TWU, the solid backing of organized labor and sympathetic support from a public, a strike at this time, though necessarily bitter, had excellent chances of success. A transit workers’ victory in New York City would, not only for themselves but for the whole working class, answer IN THE NEGATIVE the question: Can labor be reduced to industrial peonage by the government taking over private industry? The chance tor such a victory has been bartered away.

What did Murray get for the 32,000 transit workers in return?

The status quo will be maintained in the sense that the IRT and BMT agreements which expired on June 30, will be considered extended until the determination of the lawsuit. The closed shop is out and Murray further conceded that the Civil Service laws take precedence over the provisions of the union agreements. Murray asks the Mayor to stretch a point and include in the arrangements the workers on the Independent line, who are not covered by the existing agreements.

Murray also requests that, the Board of Transportation “will not discriminate against any person by reason of his membership or non-membership in TWU nor attempt to encourage membership in any other organization nor to discourage membership in TWU.” However, the Mayor’s statement to Murray is silent on these aspects of union-busting.

The understanding is that the board will meet with the TWU officials immediately as to wages and hours, special grievances and working conditions. However, since the right of collective bargaining is denied, these meetings are simply “to confer,” not to negotiate a new agreement.

Because of the complaint of the TWU that the Board of Transportation is autocratic and unwilling to take up labor grievances, the Mayor intends to create a labor grievance board within the Board of Transportation “to expedite consideration of grievances and facilitate in their adjustment.”

These are the dubious gains that Murray secured for the transit workers.

The correct size-up of the transit situation was made by Harry Sacher, attorney for the union, when he said:

“The board is vitally concerned with operating the transit lines at a profit. This aspiration necessarily must come into conflict with the ambitions of its employees for better wages, shorter working hours and improved working conditions.”

This is the set-up in all industry and it necessitates militancy on the part of the workers to cope with it.

At a union meeting on June 25, Quill declared, amid loud applause, that if the Mayor persists in withholding from the transport workers their legitimate rights, he will have to be treated “THE FORD WAY.”

LaGuardia has persisted – Quill has not.

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Last updated: 26 August 2014