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Susan Green

LaGuardia Treats Transit Workers of New York
as Second-Class Citizens

(4 January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 1, 4 January 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“For the next two weeks we we going to shout, beg and plead for justice from the Mayor and the Board of Transportation. If that gets nowhere, then we will call a membership meeting and a few hours after that meeting is held the people of New York can look for something – and this time it will BE something.”

Thus spoke Michael Quill, international president of the Transport Workers Union, CIO, on December 23 before a meeting of 600 delegates representing 212 New York City labor unions and civic groups. At the game meeting Douglas MacMahon, president of the TWU’s New York City local, declared that the transport workers are in a strike mood – WHICH IS NOT HARD TO BELIEVE.

Rather timidly and circumspectly, to be sure, but at long last the leaders of the transport workers of New York City were – on December 23 – beginning to talk in terms of strike.

Quill Retreats – Why?

On December 24 Mayor LaGuardia – who stands for workers’ rights, provided the workers are in Italy or some other distant land – bombastically reannounced his position that “Any interruption of service, by whatever name it may be called, is tantamount to a strike against the government. The right to strike against the government has not, is not and cannot be recognised. If any untoward action is taken as long as I am Mayor and happen to be here, I will meet it.”

The boss press cheered the Mayor’s brazen anti-labor statement till the rafters rang – and reminded President Quill that the transit workers cannot strike, not only because they are municipal employees, but because President Quill himself committed bis union not to strike for the duration of the war.

Perhaps his political mentors in Stalinist headquarters got after President Quill with the suggestion to pull in his horns. At any rate, on December 24 the union officers appeared to be back-watering. They no longer hinted at a strike, but again spoke of a “PEACEFUL SOLUTION.” They said: “The only avenue for peaceful solution of the dispute is to submit the matter to an impartial tribunal for adjustment and settlement.”

Such weak-kneed conduct will get the workers nowhere. Efforts of the union for a “PEACEFUL SOLUTION” have been going on for the past two years. THE NET RESULT IS THE OFFER BY THE CITY FATHERS OF A SIXTY-CENTS-A-WEEK RAISE TO MEN EARNING AS LITTLE AS $26 A WEEK AND NO MORE THAN $38.

The union’s efforts at a “peaceful solution” have been rebuffed by the WLB, which relegated the transit workers to the status of second-class citizens by refusing to take up their demand for the 15 per cent increase in wages allowed by the WLB’s own formula. All these efforts at a “peaceful solution” – plus the half-hearted threat of a strike made by union leaders on December 23 – brought from the Mayor on December 24 only the high-handed repetition of his former offer to give the 32,000 subway, trolley and bus workers a blanket increase of $l,000,000 – which breaks down to the pittance of a sixty-cents-a-week wage increase per worker. Here are the Mayor’s arrogant words:

“I cannot understand the purpose of any demand now, particularly after weeks of conference and my announcement – repeated announcement – only as late as the day before yesterday, in a message to the council, that the board was working on salary adjustments to eliminate some existing inequalities which amount to $1,000,000.”

The plea of the union for justice from the Mayor and the Board of Transportation is falling on stone-deaf ears. The two weeks’ limit set by President Quill, when he was in a brave mood, expires on January 6. That “SOMETHING” which President Quill spoke about must be delivered. Unless the transit workers now put up a fight for their rights they will entirely compromise their position and be reduced to the status of municipal slaves.

That means not only that there will be no wage increases – except sixty cents a week – but the very existence of their union will be in jeopardy. Capitulation of the workers at this point will be a complete victory for the anti-labor policies of Delaney and LaGuardia, WHOSE BASIC AIM IS TO BUST THE UNION!

Every union local in the City of New York should send a resolution of protest to the Board of Transportation and, to the Mayor against their anti-union campaign – and a resolution of solidarity and support to the transit workers in taking the strike action that has been forced upon them.

The 4,500,000 daily users of the subways, trolleys and buses of the city, whose safe travel depends on the well-being of the 38,000 transit workers, should also send protests to the reactionary city fathers – and back the transit workers in their demands for a modest wage increase THAT IS NOT EVEN ADEQUATE to meet the sky-rocketing cost of living.

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