Saturday, February 19, 2011
A short history of public employee unions, with pictures and graphs 'n' stuff. Nice job.
The lede link is worth looking at. But it's one-sided.
In particular it mischaracterizes how Mayor Robert Wagner authorized New York City workers to unionize back in the 1950s as his simply wanting to "cynically buy votes." As the lede link correctly points out, this was a signal development as Wagner's move was much copied, including by JFK at the federal level.
But it leaves out the role played by the founder and leader of the New York City Transit Worker's Union, "Red" Mike Quill. Quill is one of those folks that you rarely hear about anymore who actually had a profound impact on our national history. The TWU started in the 1930s with a mix of Irish nationalism and socialist philosophy. NYC transit workers back then were predominantly Irish. Some had even fled Ireland as they were IRA members who had refused to accept a compromised peace with Great Britain; having first taken on an Empire, they were on the losing side in Ireland's Civil War of the 1920s. Notably, Quill and the TWU weren't racist and the TWU had sizeable black numbers from the start. To them, it was "all of us" against the Establishment. Like a lot of unions back in the 1930s, the TWU flirted with Stalin. Later, Quill was one of the first American labor leaders to denounce Stalin and the Soviets.
Before the TWU came along, some city workers -- including transit workers -- had poor pay, long hours and exploitative conditions. It took Quill 30 years to change that, ending in his face-off confrontation with Mayor John Lindsay in 1966. Until then, Quill had only threatened strikes to bargain. Lindsay picked a fight with Quill -- and even made it personal. Quill went "nuclear" and called a strike at midnight on New Year's Eve, stranding millions. Lindsay had Quill put in jail. Quill then had the great sense to have a heart attack while in jail. The TWU held out for two weeks, and won. Quill died three days later. The NYC labor movement was changed forever, and by extension so was that of the USA.
But that was then, and this is now. Unions have had their place, and sometimes still do. E.g., Right now, I side more with the NFL players than with the NFL owners. But the plight of some municipal workers back then bears little comparison to that of today. E.g., Nassau County (Long Island) police officers average $190,000 in annual compensation. They get five paid days-off for donating blood. I could go on.