Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Show of Solidarity

Today, New York City's transit workers struck, crippling the city's transit system. We maybe watching a historic battle between America's declining union movement and municipalities, the last bastion for strong union representation. Overall union membership stands at about 12.5% nationally, with most members being public employees of some type.

Many New York City workers are cursing the unions today because they have been inconvenienced. I'm sorry, and I don't mean to minimize this, but walking 20 or 30 blocks is not the Bataan Death March. Most New Yorkers could stand to move more and trim up a little before they pack on the pounds over Christmas. Consider this your impromptu urban gym membership. Roger Toussaint, Local 100's Transit Workers Union president, asked for understanding and solidarity, saying:
"To our riders, we ask for your understanding and forbearance. We stood with you to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the trains, to oppose fare hikes," he said. "We now ask that you stand with us. We did not want a strike, but evidently the M.T.A., the governor and the mayor did."
Americans need to realize that unions are a basic necessity for some semblance of representation and democracy within the overall economy. Democracy cannot remain solely a political concept but must be broadened into a economic concept as well. If that means inefficiency and inconvenience at times, we should be willing to pay it.

Capitalism run by CEOs, corporate managers, and the overall business establishment (which permeates through the government) is a heartless ordeal of reduced or eliminated pension plans and cut wages (both are issues in the MTA strike). Basically we can have a capitalism reminiscent of Mussolini's mythic claim that he "made the trains run on time" or we can have a system that is tempered by the dissent of working people through unions and their attempts to secure a voice in a more just economy.

The liberal-left blogosphere needs to stand in solidarity with NYC's transit workers. Their defeat could spell a swift backlash against unionism in the public sector, which in turn, could demolish what's left of unions in the United States.

For more on how unions benefit the economy for working people, check out this paper from the Economic Policy Institute.