Gangbox_New York Wildcat

From: "Vinnie gangbox" <>

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 City

JUNE 30, 1998-One Carpenter's Story.

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 like gentlemen".

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 violated).

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 AVE").

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 estimate: 40,000].

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 or Miami.

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:

Gangbox construction workers website:

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