December 22, 2005

New York Transit Strike: Example of New "Class Warfare"

Marc Comtois

The New York Transit Worker Union strike has been going on for three days--and though a deal may be looming--both the lessons offered and the people most affected are those I'm quite sure the strikers hadn't intended. New York Post columnist Ryan Sager [subscription] writes of the key lesson we can all take from this episode:

As transit workers walked off the job Tuesday and stayed off the job Wednesday, the rhetoric has heated up on all sides.

Nowhere did the rhetoric get hotter than on a Web site that the TWU set up for the strike. There, as the sun came up on Tuesday, hundreds of anonymous New Yorkers logged on and sounded off about the TWU's decision to shut down the subways and buses.

The surprise (at least to the TWU): Opinions on the site ran roughly 4-to-1 against the union which pulled the comments off the Web by Tuesday afternoon.

But the real surprise was who was against the union. . .

"I appreciate many of your concerns regarding the contract negotiations, but striking, though [it] may prove a point, hurts more people than it helps," wrote one New Yorker. "My annual salary is less than half than the lowest paid transit worker in the system, and now I am going to lose at least one if not more days of pay due to the strike . . . Thanks for that and happy holidays."

. . . Not the reaction the TWU was hoping for.

And also not the war of rich against poor that the unions would like New Yorkers to believe is underway.

One socialist Web site on Tuesday labeled the strike "the biggest class confrontation in the U.S. in a generation" and wrote that "The attitude taken by the city's ruling elite is akin to the reaction of a master to a slave revolt."

Not quite.

As the comments excerpted above show, there is a class confrontation of a kind going on but it's not between rich and poor. It's between the working class and what might be called the government-worker class. {emphasis mine}

Sager offers a couple more comments and delves into the gaps between private and public benefits, the last of which regular readers of Anchor Rising should be familiar. Sager sums it up this way:
The private sector has been groaning under rising health and pension costs for years. Retired coal miners have lost company-paid health insurance in bankruptcy proceedings. Companies like General Motors have had to lay off tens of thousands of workers because of crushing pension costs.

Yet the benefits for public-sector workers keep getting fatter and fatter.

The reason is fairly simple. While only 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionized these days, some 40 percent of public-sector workers are unionized. And while the rigors of the free market forced private companies to become more efficient, the government faces no such constraints.

Instead, pliant politicians simply give the unions whatever they want, driving up health and pension costs and sticking taxpayers (the ones trudging over the Brooklyn Bridge this week) with the bill.

Sound familiar? Of course, here in Rhode Island--a STATE with only 1 million people (versus the 8 million in the CITY of New York) where "everybody knows somebody" employed by some level of government--I suspect the sympathy for such a strike would be higher.