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Gertrude Shaw

Speakers at New York Transit Rally
Offer Workers Little but Sympathy

(15 February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 7, 15 February 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The TWU workers in Madison Square Garden Tuesday night at one point set up a chant: “Two, Four, Six, Eight – Make the Mayor Arbitrate!”

Everything, of course, revolves about the word “make” and another word – HOW?

Most of the speakers at the rally attended by some 20,000 TWU and other workers – namely, Quill, international president of the Transport Workers Union; MacMahon, president of New York Local 100; Curran, of the Maritime Union – seemed to think the way to “make” the Mayor arbitrate is to be very nice to him.

For, while they all lambasted John Delaney, chairman of the Board of Transportation, as he deserves, the Mayor – the real city boss, who has kicked the transit workers around since 1939 – was gently spared.

On the burning question of strike, Quill made the position of the leaders very clear: “There is no question of strike,” he said. “There will be no strike.” He did not deem it necessary to explain the two-week ultimatum he delivered to the Mayor in December, about which fiasco the Mayor and Delaney – if they are running true to form – must still be snickering.

CIO President Murray, main speaker of the evening, almost wept with gratitude because the transit workers who had gone on spontaneous sit-downs to protest the ridiculously inadequate and discriminatory “increases” the Mayor had dished out to a handful of workers, had yielded to the exhortations of Quill and MacMahon and returned to work.

While the audience applauded the speakers generously and therefore presumably accepted their no-strike edict, the rank and file spirit that led to the sit-downs a few weeks ago has by no means been squelched. When MacMahon eloquently enumerated all the injustices suffered by the transit workers since the subways came under city ownership – including discrimination against women and pay as low as $22 a week – there was a cry from the audience: “What about the powerhouse?”

Again when he related that workers have to get side work to piece out their pay, thus ruining their health with fourteen to sixteen hours of work per day, and then asked how much longer the subways can be the safest railway system in the country under such conditions, someone called out: “Give ’em one more week!” From another part of the hall came the shout: “Powerhouse!”

Philip Murray undoubtedly heard these comments from the floor and besides had well in mind the sit-downs the men had pulled, for he kept underscoring his opposition to strikes. “Our policy is one of opposition to strikes,” was his theme song, recurring again and again.

As a result of this no-strike policy – which has caused all labor in this country to take one defeat after another and will have even more disastrous results in the future – Murray did a clumsy job of sidestepping the issue of what the 39,000 transit workers are to do. These workers right now are taking what amounts to a 17 per cent wage cut since January 1, 1941. In his forty-minute speech Murray devoted altogether too much time to general labor conditions and not enough time to what the assembled workers had on their minds.

In fact, he got most excited about the black markets. Although workers hate black market profiteers and should fight against them, it can hardly be claimed that the plight of the New York City transit workers is primarily the result of black markets. However, Murray made no more useful suggestion for action on the subject of black markets than on the subject of the transit workers’ demands for much-needed wage increases.

There he stood – the leader of five million organized workers – and the most he did was to plead with the “good citizens of the City of New York” to “help the transit workers.” Yes, the “good citizens of democratic New York” should be “neighborly.” They should be sorry for the wives and children of the transit workers – and tell all their friends about the wives and children of the transit workers who have to be fed and clothed.

Workers, of course, always want the sympathy of their communities and neighborliness is a very nice thing indeed – but is that why 20,000 workers were assembled in Madison Square Garden? For that – and to pass another resolution once more calling for arbitration called for so many times before – with no answer from City Hall?

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