From: "Vinnie gangbox" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 08:15:54 PDT
This is a post from the Gangbox website about
the June 30,1998 one day construction workers strike in New York
by Gregory A. Butler
On June 30, 1998, the streets of New York
saw the most millitant labor demonstration in 30 years. But it
didn't start out that way. It was SUPPOSED to be just another
boring, respectable, legal labor march. But some of the workers had different ideas.
"F--K ROY KAY !!!:It all began when the Metropolitan Transportation Agency/New York City Transit [MTA],the state owned corporation that runs New York City's subways and busses, decided to let a non union New Jersey contractor, Roy Kay, inc. build a subway command center on the west side of Manhattan at West 54th Street and 10th Avenue.
Roy Kay had already done a number of MTA
jobs non union, to no complaint from either the New York City
Building and Construction Trades Council or local #100 of the
Transport Workers Union,AFL-CIO/CLC [TWU]. (A New York City District
Council of Carpenters organizer would later tell me that Roy Kay
"wasn't big enough" to be organized on the smaller jobs).
So, in for a dime, in for a dollar, why not go all the way, the
MTA thought. But letting a job so big go non union embarrassed
the Building Trades Council into action. (It wasn't enough to
embarrass local #100 TWU, they had no reaction to the job going
non union and had played no role in the ensuing protests). So,
the BTC called a rally for Tuesday, June 30, 1998 at Madison
Avenue and 48th Street, the site of MTA headquaarters.
A RAINY TUESDAY IN JUNE:I first heard about
the rally about a week before, when Andy Rodriguez, the carpenter
general shop steward at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center,
and the assistant steward, John "Johnny Dio" Diodato,
gave leaflets about the rally to all the carpenters reporting
to work at the Javits that day.
Many other stewards, from all the trades,
followed in Andy and Johnny Dio's footsteps, and got the word
out. So, when the day of the rally came, instead of just 10,000
workers at the site, there were, according to the NYPD, at least
40,000 (the union bosses, seemingly embarrassed by their members
militancy, to this day claim it was only 10,000!)
And it seems that some of the workers had
more in mind than just listening to some boring speeches.
I got up as usual at 5AM on Tuesday, June
30 and, seeing the forecast on NY1 cable news for rain all that
day, I really didn't expect that many people. So I was shocked
when I saw about a thousand plumbers and steamfitters at the 54th
street site. I joined them for a militant march in the
rain across town to the East 48th street "official"
rally. When I got to 5th Avenue, there was a sea of at least 25,000
people on 48th street, and many more clogging the surronding
streets. I met up with a carpenter I knew and we made
our way to the East 48th and Madison, where there was a stage
with no sound system (the police had intimidated the union bosses
into shutting off the microphones).
At first there wher the usual boring speeches
from union officials and "our good union contractors",
but from the begining, it was in the air that someone else had
different plans. When Mr Herman, the then director of organizing
for Local #79 of the Laborers International Union of North America,
AFL-CIO/CFL [LIUNA] got up to speak, he made the mistake of leading
the crowd in a chant of "Who's streets? Our streets!".
At this point, a group of laborers went out
into Madison Avenue and blocked the Liberty Lines express busses
(one luckless driver was stuck with her passengers for over 2
hours, and her bus got on the front page of the N.Y. Daily News)
Apparantly, some people thought Herman meant it.(Herman, who
by the way never worked a day in his life in any construction
trade, later got canned by the Laborers, maybe because of that
"who's street..." thing, and now works for the New York
District Council of Carpenters)
The President and Buisnes Manager of local
#79, LIUNA, Joe Speizale, ran into the avenue to get his members
on the sidewalk. Seeing they wouldn't leave, Joe said to "do
what you gotta do". Folks from other trades ran into the street,
and the union bosses on the stage went balistic. Mr Mazzachi,
the International President of the plumbers union, got up and
lied to us. He claimed that Roy Kay had signed a union contract
(something that company has never done in it's corporate history)
and "lets get out of the street and celebrate our victory
The Plumbers president also told us to obey
the New York Police Department orders to clear the street, because
"the cops are our friends". To this the crowd responded
"F--k the Police!!". This was especially ironic since
many White New York City construction workers have family on
the NYPD. (In fact, all during the march you'd see cops calling
out to cousins and brothers in the march, and vice versa). "LET'S GO TO 10TH AVENUE": at this
point, a group of plumbers and steamfitters began to move out
towards 49th street. On the way, they called out to the other
trades, "let's go to 10th avenue" and the workers, to
a man and woman, followed. a moment, 40,000 workers were on
the move ocupying every cross street from 41st street to 53rd
street, hopelessly gridlocking midtown traffic at 10 AM on a buisness
day. Rudolph Giuliani's NYPD, who pride themselves on breaking
up demonstrations, stood by helpless.
I marched with a group that went across 49th
street, down to 46th street and up 6th avenue. We were joined
by one Mike Forde, the President of Local Union #608 of the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America,AFL-CIO/CLC [UBC],
my local. Mike, and a band of "professional shop stewards" ran to get to the front
of the march, as if he was leading it.
At one point, as we passed the diamond district,
an impatient jeweler tried to ram his Mercedes-Benz throug us,
but he was quickly surronded and he and his car were nearly toppled.
The hapless buisnessman was only saved by Mike Forde's 450 pound
biker bodyguard, Patrick, who asked the workers to let him go.
Then, we got to 53rd street, joined a river
of other tradesmen and tradeswomen, and passed a platoon of shocked
and stunned looking cops who's barricade had been toppled.
But, at 10th avenue, the cops struck back.
"THIS IS AN ILLEGAL MARCH! WE ARE ORDERING
YOU TO DISPERSE!!!":By this time the NYPD had gotten reinforcements.
They had only sent 300 cops that morning, thinking it was a standard
legal march, and they were as shocked as the union bosses were
when there were 40,000 workers present.
By 11 AM they'd rounded up every spare officer
in the City, even the cadets from the police academy. The cadets,
despite being the least trained among the cops, got the toughest
detail, gassing us into submission.
The cadets were issued huge bugspray-like
cans of MACE, a tear gas like substance. So their white shirted
Captains and Deputy Inspectors told us to disperse, and they
commenced gassing us (the papers claimed we threw beer cans, but
I only saw ONE beer can thrown, and that was AFTER the gassing).
Unfortunately for the cops in training, they
didn't have gas masks and I guess they hadn't taken gas training
yet, because 40 of them gassed themselves and had to be hospitalized.
But they took a toll on us too. 39 workers were arrested, and
12 other workers were beaten so badly they had to go to the emergency room (One steamfitter
had a police horse step on his skull). And they stopped us before
we raided the site. All but one of us, I should say. One electrician
ran up to the site, ripped the huge American flag from the 3rd
level girder, and took it as a war prize (he was on every channel
in New York, but they never caught him).
At this point there was a massive show of
force by "New York's Finest", including helicopters,
police horses, motorcycles, rooftop snipers, about 2,000 patrol
officers and more police brass than i've ever seen. I'd had the
foresight to bring a camera, and I took pictures of the cops (at
one point I ran out of film and another carpenter ran to the store
and got some more 35mm for me, paying for the film out of her
own pokcet because it was so important to record our rights being
THE AFTERMATH: Around 1 PM I cut out, but
there were people who stayed until 4 or 5, despite the rain and
the cops. It was the top story on NY1, and channels 2,4,5,7,9
and 11. It also made the front pages of the NY Times, the NY
Post and the NY Daily News (the News called our protest "MAD
And, almost immediately, the union bosses
began groveling before Giuliani and the developers. William Fernandez, the special assistant
to the Presdient of the Building Trades Council, came on NY1 and
begged forgiveness for the "riot" and pleged that they'd
"never again" have a rally like that. He was echoed by Assemblyman Brian McLoughlan
(D,Elechester) the President of the Central Labor Council and
the Vice President of Local Union #3, International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers, who personally apologised to Mayor Giuliani
for the "disruption". McLoughlan also said the issue was not the
fact that Roy Kay was non union, but that he unfairly competed
with "our good union contractors". Brian just wants
"a level playing field". So if non union outfits just
bill at the same rates union contractors do, I guess it's all
good for Brian. And, unlike any group that ever organized
a protest, the Building Trades Council attendance estimate was
lower than the police estimate [BTC estimate: 10,000 people, NYPD
Afterwards, the BTC had token pickets around
the site, always with less than 20 workers, usually supervised
by at least 10 buisness agents, and all segregated by craft, ie
laborers tuesday, carpenters wednesday etc.
But, the token picketing was a joke, and
Roy Kay knew it, and the job continues non union right up til
now, a year later in June '99. At the end of that summer, an anonymous
leaflet was circulated by a group called "the workers committee
against non union contractors", calling for a June 30 part
2. Unfortunately, only a handfull of people showed up that day,
but the NYPD sent over 500 officers.
The Building Trades Council has carried out
a lame attempt at legal harassment of Roy Kay, but it's been a
big waste of time. Also, the BTC at no time tried to bring Roy's
workers into the union, and even publically denigrated them as
unskilled out of towners. Since most of Roy's workers are Black or
Latin, they naturally were insulted, and felt the BTC's main problem
with them was racial. They also felt that the BTC didn't want
to unionize them, just take their jobs. The BTC's stupidity played
right into Roy Kay's hands. "WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS! WHOSE CITY?
OUR CITY!":Well, where do we as construction tradesmen and
tradeswomen go from here? It seems to me the policies of our Buisness
Agents, blindly and uncritically supporting "our good union
contractors", have led us into a blind alley where less than
half the 200,000 construction workers in this city are union.
And, we're just one step away from being all non union, like Houston
But, we aren't going to make things better
by following the bosses. Or, through bright ideas like giving
up premium night and weekend pay, and the right to picket and
stop jobs, on Board of Education jobs, as is now being proposed
by the Building Trades Council.
100 years ago, our unions were founded by
workers marching from job to job, stopping work at any site where
the tradesmen didn't have the 8 hour day and the union scale, getting those workers to
march, and repeating the process until every job in town was union
or closed down. 30 years ago, the coalition started driving
around the city in busses, stoping any job that didn't have any
minorities or minority females working on the site. Today, our
industry has, in part, integrated for Blacks, Latins, Chinese
people, Indians and women because of the brothers and sisters
on the busses.
And, the unions have a long and honorable
tradition of "wrecking crews" tearing up scab jobs,
a tradition that continued up til the 80's. We didn't achive any of these things by asking
or begging anybody, contractor, developer or politician. We got
these things by fighting for them, by being, well ... revolutionary.
The unions aren't perfect, far from it, but
the first step in us as workers resolving our problems with bosses
is for us to be orgainzed, and we aren't going to get there by
following the so called "good union contractor". And, while we're at it, we really don't need
"leaders" like McLoughlan or Fernandez, who's loyalty
is more towards the contractor than to the tradesperson, and who's
priority is maintaining labor peace at all cost.
Bottom line, we need more June 30s, a lot more. comments? email us at: email@example.com
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