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Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002 / 12 Teves, 5763

Julia Gorin

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Consumer Reports

Topsy-turvy in New York | There's nothing like a threatened transit strike to bring New Yorkers together. Prior to yesterday's settlement, news stations profiled urban workers from the boroughs--mostly minorities--who were at a loss for how they would get to their jobs in Manhattan in the event of a strike, without the public transportation they rely on.

Their woe was shared by an effeminate gentleman who, as the midnight hour approached, stopped me on the street to ask the time.

"I hope I can get home!" he fretted, adding, "How can they do this to the people--to the little people? They shouldn't be allowed! It's illegal, you know."

For the past two weeks in New York one has even been able to say things like: "They should just fire them all--like Reagan did with the air traffic controllers"--and get nods in return rather than the usual horror-stricken expressions at the mention of the unspeakable name. It was a battle of the little guy versus the side long trumpeted as the little guy by the aforementioned little guy. It was also a battle of the working poor versus the self-proclaimed working poor who start at forty grand a year. The chief villain: a Caribbean immigrant--union president and former Trinidadian Roger Toussaint.

Topsy turvy!

Even the New York Times, on a brief visit to reality, was on the same page. One article actually grasped the concept of there simply not being enough money in the Transit Authority, city or state to meet the workers' demands. Their old surrealist shoes were being filled by Toussaint himself, who demanded a pay increase for workers and at the same time was against a fare hike for riders.

Writing about the Transport Workers Union's history, the Times reporter mentioned that "in 1966 and 1980 its members defied state law, fines and jail sentences and shut down the nation's largest transit system."

For the first time, this was a criticism. The article also quoted a labor law professor who called the union one of the most militant "'in any municipality in the United States.'"

Which means there's actually something out there that's too militant for professors. Don't the academic ranks usually support chaos and lawlessness by the supposed underdog?

And a Times editorial read: "The prospect of millions of people hiking or biking in freezing temperatures and negotiating clogged roads during the holiday season is unacceptable." The piece also expressed worry that business would suffer at this financially fragile time. Here, the paper single-handedly both placed concern for the individual above a potential workers' paradise, and showed sensitivity to business needs and economic precariousness. (Granted, the editors didn't completely part ways with their loyalties, couching the seemingly contradictory stance in the interest of its traditional sympathies: "The transit workers could destroy their union if they take such a foolhardy course..They will lose all claim to public support. New Yorkers would understand the desire to hold out for a decent pay increase if these were ordinary times.")

But ah, the sweet aroma of liberal policies backfiring. Only the World Socialist Web Site was consistent in all of this, printing an article titled "New York: Governor and Mayor Threaten Transit Workers over Strike." How diverse America is, that a market economy can be held hostage by socialism!

The corporate world must be quietly chuckling to itself. And really, what was everyone so upset about? We're witnessing the logical conclusion of the kinds of policies that New Yorkers have been supporting all along--encouraging workers to strike to get what they want and emboldening self-serving labor unions to blackmail industry. It's just that the industry in this case was New Yorkers themselves.

Now, if only they could retain these lessons for the future, when business is again the one to be held hostage--then it would really be an altogether "New" York.

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JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Julia Gorin