They’re trying to change the world, their pickets say. Trying is the key word in the Transport Workers Union fight to make sure fathers earn enough to pay the grocery bill and mothers to cover rent. The TWU, idealists that they are, want sick workers to stay home and healthy employees to have regular hours. They’ve been at this a long time, and done well by their union members. But the fight is just starting for their newest members, employees of New York City’s CitiBike bike-share program.
When I spotted the pickets at City Hall, I thanked my union brother for being there and asked how it was going. “Good,” he told me, as he handed me a leaflet. “How are you?” I’m faring fine, brother, in these days my Bubby would envy.
Back when Bubby was at the picket line, standing with two little boys, and watching her husband strike for his right to be paid a living wage to teach the nation’s children how to read, the atmosphere was far from good. None of the striking teachers enjoyed the day, and neither did the police standing by. The police were the ones who told her to take the kids home, because it might get ugly. They got that idea from the fact that bricks had already been thrown, and they weren’t planning to step in. Bubby told them she agreed the kids shouldn’t get hurt – the police were welcome to make sure that neither her kids, nor husband, nor anyone else, got hit – but the kids weren’t going anywhere.
Everyone survived Zaidy’s American Federation of Teachers strike. It took about two weeks for the city to agree that it was worth paying teachers enough to live on so that they could educate the children. The AFT united teachers, forcing the city to negotiate with its educators, rather than dictate to them. The result was a generation of kids taught by teachers with an incentive to help them learn. But, after decades in power, the teachers, parents, and students have forgotten the bitter battles fought over fair pay and working conditions – and their own ability to win those battles. Unionized labor has excelled beyond its wildest dreams, leaving people to forget the nightmares which lead to its formation.
Today, the TWU was surrounded by neither police nor flying bricks. Just a sunny sky and apathetic commuters. And one union sister who is ready to take a stand. Join me in supporting our fellow workers. Write and call: