Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New York Transit Strike Will Hit Business Hard


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

It is official: NYC most vital systems for moving people around that very dense city has been shut down. This is going to impact businesses in more than a few ways and will be an unfortunate hardship for workers who will find it very difficult to get to work. I will explain some of the forces at work here and what they mean.

Ever since the USA has chosen to destroy the relative power of unionized workers in pursuit of cheap prices (ie, to kill inflation caused by war and energy price hikes both of which go hand in glove), we have seen precious few strikes that affect the general public. The few exceptions are in service industries. The hotel unions in Las Vegas, for example, have had successful strikes and so have dock workers moving cheap goods from China and expensive goods from the citadel of protectionism, Japan, can effectively flex muscles.

In other industries that have gone from protected businesses to ruthless "free trade, no controls" businesses have seen their workers lose ground, lose benefits and lose power since the factory owners can either simply replace them with quasi-legal labor let in from our porous borders or move the factories to anti-union former slave states or to China, the favored destination.

So only a very few unions are left who can negotiate on level ground with management and of course, most of these are government related jobs such as transit workers.

The NYC transit workers have gone on strike before, I was there when it happened. It was very hot, in the middle of torrid summer. Since I worked in the neighborhood instead of Manhattan such as when I worked at 43rd and Park Ave, I wasn't hit directly by the strike but David, my husband at the time, had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the World Trade Center every day and it was a bit of a hike but not too bad in that weather, he packed a drink and wore comfortable shoes but of course, everyone who did this showed up at work pretty sweaty. We lived very near the Brooklyn Bridge so it was little problem for us.

But it was for others who walked from much further away. I could see them streaming home in the evening, tired from work and more tired from the looming hike so I set up a first aid station on Flatbush Ave in front of a store run by a Lebanonese merchant I was friendly with. Bandaids and drinks and a whole bunch of folding chairs and access to a telephone was what we offered. I connected this with fundraising for our Park Slope Day Care Collective and other parents and kids who were not commuting long walks joined in. We had a lot of customers. Just to sit down for a while, people were happy for the chairs. More than one lady had bleeding feet from wearing shoes not made for long hikes. So we did lots of first aid.

The NYC transit union has had a past of not being very effecient especially the ones working on cleaning and maintaining the cars who, long ago, spent much of their time without oversight thanks to the way the staffing hierarchy was set up. This is why that strike happened years ago, they wanted to keep the status quo which was unacceptable.

This strike is quite simple: they need a pay raise because living in NYC is very expensive and inflation is now raging as I keep pointing out. Our economic system can't rely on cheap loans below the rate of inflation forever so rates have been climbing and so have prices of all those things one can't escape or go to China for a cheaper version: health care, energy, education, food and housing.

There really should be a two-tier inflation index. One for people with "purchasing power" and one for people who don't have this. After all, the percentage of income going into various types of purchases makes a gigantic difference with the inflation rate. Our government has deliberately misalighned the inflation index by minimizing or even excluding exactly those items that have the highest percentage impact on fixed or low incomes!

NYC, like all great cities, has in inflation rate different from rural areas. Like all dynamic systems, pressure to raise prices is much greater in cities during times of accelerated economic activity so when brokers on Wall Street make lots of money, the price of everything shoots up in the city because everyone has more money to throw around so real estate prices shoot up, the price of entertainment jumps, all sorts of things suddenly go up and up. This internal inflation is actually healthy unlike external which is what we are going through right now, namely, huge jumps in energy costs.

The tendency is to fight energy costs by reducing money flowing to labor and we will see this at work with a vengence yet again. The joy our rulers take in announcing they have prevented inflation is only due to the sad fact that most workers are helpless to pass on the inflation in their own lives and are basically eating the inflation at their own level by increasing their debt loads and working more hours or doing without.

All of which are not good things at all. Of course, the few who can pass this on like transit workers will try their best and the best way to strike is to do it when it is most inconvenient. Just before Xmas is exactly that time frame. It hits businesses really hard, crimps Wall Street, plays havock with the flow of events by disrupting Xmas shopping the same week it is at its most intense. No one will want to carry an armload of presents, hiking home in the freezing cold, walking five or more miles each day.

Day one, it is an interesting challenge. Day five, exhaustion.

The unions have to play it this way for if the pain is great, the strike will end all the sooner. This also makes public employee strikes very unpopular since the public at large bears the brunt of the whole thing. It makes people irritable and then, even if they, themselves, belong to unions, they become hostile towards the union, not the management especially when the management is the government.

The Mayor of NYC won his recent election thanks to 100% support from all the major newsmedia owners who literally buried the opponent, a Hispanic from the Bronx, on the back pages as a nobody, no run candidate. The deadly blanket of silence fell up him and Bloomberg exhaulted in his lofty position by laughing as he trounced someone who was hogtied on the ground by Bloomberg's drinking buddies.

Bloated with pride, Bloomberg thought playing hardball with a pesky union would be fun and games. HE doesn't have to walk miles to work nor does he run a small business which will see Xmas drop off the cliff and never come back. HE doesn't have to freeze his nose off trying to huff his way through vast crowds of equally miserable workers. He, like his ilk, can avoid all this and play tough. And his media owning drinking buddies will join him in attacking the union for daring to strike, attacking them for not eating the bitter fruits of raging inflation, demanding they back down. The other public service unions are watching this dance of death with great interest because they have carved out a considerably nice niche in the middle ranks of the middle class and they don't want to fall down the pit of inflation, either. So there is a great deal of hidden tension here.

The mayor has to play tough so he can strongarm the other unions and the other unions have to support the transit workers since this is an inflation fight, not a fight over other unrelated issues.

Virtually all workers are being forced to the ground except for these few. Sometimes, when miserable, humans want others who are similar to be equally unhappy but not those who are above it all. This simple human formula is exploited carefully by the media who want us to worship wealth and celebrity while grinding fellow workers under our own boot heels. This is why Americans don't care how many people die making all the stuff being shipped over here. We just want it cheap and want it now.

This is also why few want to examine who is funding all this debit card shopping. The strings attached are carefully hidden by the traitors running America who know perfectly well what is going on and why. The dynamics of this out of control system have to keep on running because it is making the American elite very very rich. Even as workers suck out all the inflation caused by the runup to the Hubbert Oil Peak, their efforts are beginning to flag. This is why labor unrest in China is beginning and it rages in Europe. Here, in America, it is just beginning. Even up to this season, when factories suddenly closed and relocated you know where, workers simply hunched their shoulders and and took it on the chin and shuffled off to another Gold Rush City, in this case being Las Vegas and other gambling hubs. But the money flowing there is being tapped by too many and this is why the Abramoff scandal is so vital: using politicians, his job was to prevent the opening of more casinos which would compete with his clients. So he bribed the greedy Republican power bosses and manipulated Christian groups with the help of super cynic, Ralph Reed. Now that is being investigated and hopefully all the GOP leadership will go to prison.

And Bush.

Arrest them all.

Meanwhile, once workers begin to seriously push back and once they realize that tax cuts that allow executives to pocket all profits because it won't be taxed much, they will take serious political moves and begin the process of wrestling with our own government to fix things and fixing this mess won't be easy at all. We have to first solve the riddle of the Hubbert Oil Peak and begin to seriously reorganize the way we run our culture.

Meanwhile, to my fellow New Yorkers: if you are forced to go to work and have to walk far, dress with layers so you don't sweat and then chill and cover the face. This makes the entire body warmer. And stop frequently at small stores. Give them a little business. This will make a cheerier holiday season for them and one finds the most charming stuff this way. I always patronized the little stores that crowd around downtown Brooklyn and Chinatown on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge.

And yes, that bridge is very beautiful on a winter's morn.

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