New York Daily New

Making of a Rally, Rat and All



The demonstration that astonished the City of New York was planned in a Ninth Ave. cafe exactly a week ago.

The 20 building trades organizers of the Roy Kay Task Force convened at the Route 66 Cafe just above W. 55th St. at 9 a.m. last Wednesday. Roy Kay is the New Jersey contractor who is using nonunion labor to put up the new Transit Authority building a block and a half down Ninth Ave.

The task force had been picketing the site for a month and had held a demonstration there on June 11 that had drawn 5,000 construction workers from the West Side of Manhattan. The rally had featured a 15-foot inflatable rat as a symbol of a nonunion contractor.

Even with the rat, the demonstration had received little public attention. The organizers now decided that the next rally would draw workers from all five boroughs. Grammar school math was all that was needed to project how this gathering would compare with the one recruited just from the West Side.

"Much bigger," a task force member says.

After an hour, the meeting ended and the task force departed the cafe. Building trades organizers started putting out the word with leaflets and, most importantly, phone calls.

"One guy calls five guys who each call five guys who each call five guys," says Anthony Mancusi, organizer with the Construction & General Building Laborers' Local 79. "It's like a chain reaction when there's livelihoods at stake."

The word spread so quickly that guys were soon calling guys who had already been called.

"It just blossomed," Mancusi says.

By the organizers' account, they alerted the police on Friday and again on Monday to expect between 30,000 and 40,000 at a demonstration set for 8 a.m. on June 30.

"We did warn them," Mancusi says. "For some reason, they didn't want to believe us."

The organizers, meanwhile, distributed a "Rally Reminder" to the union members.

"All members of our affiliated unions should know this will be a PEACEFUL demonstration," the leaflet read. "Let's cooperate with the NYPD and make this demonstration a success."

On Monday night, Mancusi joined in making a sound tape for the rally. The songs included Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" and the Young Rascals' "People Got to Be Free."

"I felt like I was preparing for a Vietnam protest," Mancusi says.

As dawn neared, Mancusi and some fellow organizers climbed into the "organizing truck." The inflatable rat was in the back.

"I got two of them," Mancusi says. "We got a place where they make all sorts of animals. We got a brochure."

Rain began to fall, but any worries Mancusi harbored were alleviated as he neared the corner of 44th St. and Madison Ave. He saw fellow construction workers in doorways and under awnings.

"Guys were huddling everywhere," Mancusi says.

Mancusi and the other organizers hopped out with a box of 50 American flags. They began to distribute them as the rain magically ceased and the appointed hour neared.

"When the rain stopped, it was amazing," Mancusi says. "People were just coming from everywhere."

The tape started up. Thousands began to dance and clap, as free as the Rascals' song said people just got to be.

"It was quite a scene," Mancusi says. "To really see the solidarity."

The inflatable rat was, of course, welcomed with cheers.

"People love the rat," Mancusi says.

The demonstrators then started for the construction site. Mancusi was with a contingent of about 1,000 that went across 44th St. and then turned up Sixth Ave. His group embraced the other contingents they encountered as they marched

in the shadows of the spires that had been erected with the sweat and muscle and skill and nerve of the city's building trades.

"Everybody calling each other brother and sister," Mancusi says. "Plasterers, laborers, electricians, carpenters. The roofers were even out."

The police seemed not at all prepared when the demonstrators arrived at the building site where 5,000 workers had gathered three weeks before. A few pushes came to shove.

"It got a little rough, but it quieted down," Mancusi says.

The demonstrators then headed off to work having amazed the city they had built spire by spire with no greater demand than decent wages and no protection other than their unions. They felt they had now made something of neither steel nor concrete.

"Definitely history was made today," Mancusi said.

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