Race and the Politics of the Transit Strike
I continue to be surprised by the level of distain for Roger Toussaint and TWU local 100 that is expressed in the mainstream media. The coverage of Monday's rally of support and march across the bridge to the Tombs was filled with ridicule, condescending language, and general disrespect. And there appeared to be, just as during the strike, distain for the very notion that the current fight of these workers is tied to the legacy of the civil rights movement in this country. At first I thought it was that the mainstream has a hard time linking struggles. They are better at understanding labor struggles, immigrant struggles, civil rights struggles as separate and isolated phenomena. But now I wonder if it could be that mainstream America has yet to recover from the demands imposed on them by the civil rights movement, could never accept King's final call for economic justice, and now views all calls emanating from the Black community for social or economic justice with contempt?
More than 1,000 people, marched and rallied on Monday. Most of the protesters and marchers were Black. The demeaning tone of the coverage seemed to suggest that anything organized by Black people with hints of the civil rights movement, is actually little more than vaudeville. Something to be ridiculed and demeaned. A NYT article led with "In an act of street theater intended to recall the civil rights movement of the 1960's". A Times opinion piece referred to the 1,000 plus gathering of activists to voice their anger over the jailing of a labor leader as a "pep rally". It further went on to describe the protest as a two act opera that Toussaint had orchestrated for himself. The Post, of course, had its usual slew of ridiculous headlines like "Jailbird on Parade" and "Marching on Tombs-day, Roger's jail production".
Race has been an undercurrent in the fight since the beginning. The public sector remains one of the few places where Black workers have some density in jobs that offer decent wages and benefits. Any attacks on public sector workers is automatically an attack on the economic viability of the Black community. From Bloomberg's "thug" comments to an interesting NY 1 poll that got almost no coverage in the press during strike, race has been present. The poll revealed that about 54% of New Yorkers, overall, believed that what the union was asking for was reasonable. But it also took a look at how New Yorkers felt along racial lines. 35% of white New Yorkers blamed the union for the strike, while only 12% of Blacks did, and 17% of Latinos. Only 38% of whites thought that the unions demands were fair. But 75% of Blacks and Latinos thought that the union was justified in its demands.
When I watched the broadcast coverage of the march that evening, reporters on the street asked mostly white commuters if they thought Toussaint deserved what he got. They all said yes, although a couple anchors weighed in with "well, there was a mix of comments so those don't reflect what all New Yorkers think". But balance in reported apparently wasn't an issue. As I rode the 2 train home to Brooklyn that evening my own "woman on the street" experience made the poll real. Tired West Indian and African American workers piled into the train car, saw my TWU local 100 bandana and said "did they put in jail? That's a damn shame."
Adrianne Shropshire: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 11:59 AM, Apr 26, 2006 in Labor | MTA Strike | Middle-class squeeze | New York | Racial Justice | Transportation | public services
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