The Transit Strike . . . . . . Who's to Blame?

On the Other Hand

(The following represents the opinion of a minority of the Editorial Board.)

When John V. Lindsay became Mayor of New York City on January 1, the strike deadline laid down by the Transport Workers was only five hours away and negotiations had already been broken off. Twelve days later, Wall Street businessmen are still bitch-hiking to work, and garment center laborers aren't getting to their jobs at all.

The strike was the result of a lack of communication, a breakdown of the collective bargaining process. Until this year this method of negotiation between the Transit Authority and the TWU had never really been used. In the past, New York's Democratic mayors had made behind-the-scenes deals with Michael J. Quill, president and founder of the TWU. Though settlement was reached before the deadline, Quill was permitted to continue with his strike threats up to the last minute so that the city could justify wage increases under the pretense of saving the city from a walkout.

Collective bargaining this year failed because of Quill's lack of co-operation and because of the Transit Authority's poor bargaining position.

From the outset, Quill had not shown that he was willing to bargain. The T.A. estimated that his first demands would cost $680 million, one fifth of the total city budget. It had been clear for some time that Quill was intent on calling a strike. He had held up a walkout against the private bus lines for a month so it would coincide with the one against the T.A. Because Lindsay was trying to change the old system of negotiations, Quill was out to show the new mayor "who was boss." He broke off negotiations several hours before the deadline, and later refused Lindsay's offer to stop the strike and make all settlements retroactive.

The Transit Authority was equally ineffective at the bargaining table. Unable to tell what the union really wanted, and what the T.A. could obtain from the city and the state, it made no offer at all. Finally, on the eve of the walkout, the T.A. made a $25 million proposal based on President Johnson's 3.2 per cent non-inflationary guidelines.

Lindsay has been repeatedly criticized for not getting involved in the negotiations early in December. His detractors feel that even if his participation had not been able to avert the strike his inaction was inexcusable. But Mayor Wagner had objected to Lindsay's participation in city government before he took office. More important, was Lindsay's belief that the collective bargaining was an affair between the union and the autonomous Transit Authority. He rightly believed that the government should enter a labor dispute only when an impasse has stalled fruitful negotiations. On New Year's Day, however, despite all efforts, bargaining had hardly begun.

It may be argued that by insisting on fair collective bargaining, Lindsay was remiss in his responsibility to the city. Critics claim that the old system of deals between Quill and the Mayor saved the city from strikes, produced relatively inexpensive settlements, and therefore was not a contemptible practice. But these deals actually produced agreements, which were unfair to the union members; the workers have been increasingly dissatisfied with past settlements. Moreover, the deals allowed the TWU and T.A. to avoid the responsibility for collective bargaining.

Lindsay has been disappointingly unimaginative in dealing with the problems imposed by the strike. He is likely to have even more difficulty financing any wage increase.

But it is not Lindsay's belief in the value of open collective bargaining that caused the strike or is prolonging it. What is continuing the strike is the inability of the T.A., and the unwillingness of the TWU, to reach a compromise. As Douglas MacMahon, vice-president of the TWU, said, the strike could continue "until hell freezes over."