by Gary North
Almost exactly 40 years ago, on New Year's Day, 1966, the Transportation Worker's Union walked off the job and shut down New York City. These people know how to use the holidays for their own ends.
The strike was illegal under the state law, just as the present one is. Mike Quill, the head of the union and one of its founders in 1934, was ordered by the judge to return with his union to operate the transportation system. Quill responded to the press: "The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don't care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike."
He was immediately arrested and sent to jail. In jail, he had a heart attack. The strike was almost immediately settled. Three days after his victory over the city, Quill died. This story appears on the web site of the TWU.
The TWU EXPRESS reported that month: Mike Quill "did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for TWU and its members."
The union is obviously proud of Quill's defiance.
The city is now going through another shutdown. The reason is the same: coercion.
STATE COERCION AND UNION BENEFITS
The modern trade union movement is the product of special legislation. Businesses are compelled by law to honor unions that receive a majority vote by employees. Employees are then able to gain above-market wages because businesses are forbidden by law to make offers to potential employees who would otherwise underbid the unionized workers. These would-be employees are referred to by union members as "scabs." The idea of competitive, open-entry bidding is anathema to trade unions.
The trade union movement is not a pro-labor movement. It is an anti-labor movement. It exists in order to benefit a minority of workers at the expense of a majority of would-be workers who would be willing to work for less, but who are prohibited by law from being allowed to.
It was in this context that Mike Quill shut down the transportation system of New York City. As the employer, and as a tax-funded, coercive entity, its administrators did not want their monopoly over the city's transportation system visibly called into question by another coercive, state-created organization.
Monopolists resent any attempt by other monopolists to horn in on their market share. Quill and the TWU were trying to extract a portion of the city's share of its monopoly returns. This was regarded by the city's administrators with the same enthusiasm that Bugs Moran regarded Al Capone.
The judge called for the enforcement of the contract: no walk-off strikes allowed. Quill verbally put the judge in his place. The judge then put Quill in his place: jail. The union within a week got what it wanted: a raise.
But then, lo and behold, it was not the judge who dropped dead in his black robes. It was Mike Quill, without robes.
COERCION ALL AROUND
The economic and judicial issues are the same today as they were in 1966. A coercive agency, New York City, regulates cabs by restricting entry. It jointly funds the Metropolitan Transit Authority's deficit. The state of New York funds the other half, since the MTA is legally a state agency.
The city taxes drivers who cross any of the city's bridges to keep the transportation system — including the subway system — going. Part of the tolls from the bridges is used to subsidize the subway system, allowing lower fares.
On the other side of the bargaining table, a coercive agency, the Transport Workers Union, demands higher wages for its members. It can do this because the city is not allowed by Federal administrative law to hire non-union workers.
What does a New York City policeman get paid? To begin, $32,000 a year. This rises to $60,000 after 5.5 years. So, the police are paid comparably to bus drivers.
The WTU wants a 9% raise each year for three years. The MTA is offering 3%. Given price inflation and taxes, this is no raise at all.
The workers get full retirement benefits at age 55. The MTA wants to raise this to 62. No deal, says the union.
If the union gets its demands, what will happen to the joint deficit of New York City and the state of New York? Ralph Kramden put it best half a century ago: "To the moon!"
Trade unionism is dying in the United States. It has enrolled about 10% of the work force, and almost all of this is in unions working in various levels of civil government. Without the Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Board, there would be almost no trade unionism in the United States.
New York City is different. The union has New York City's transportation system by the neck. This is because the state of New York and New York City jointly put the transportation system in this position. By outlawing open-entry private competition for transportation in and around Fun City, the civil authorities turned the streets of New York, not to mention the tunnels, into a disaster zone.
Political coercion breeds coercion in general. The people walking and bicycling to work in New York City are the victims of a system that pits one coercive branch of government against the other. When the elephants fight, the ants get stomped on.
I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw in Dallas around 1980. Love New York? Take Highway 30, East.
When you get there, put on your walking shoes.
December 22, 2005
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