I expect the Monday morning quarterbacks to start using their perfect 20-20 hindsight to declare defeat for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and their President Patrick Lynch after the recent PBA job action. By having a slowdown officers achieved no tangible gains. Mayor Bill de Blasio never apologized to them; they still don't have a contract. In addition, they are now a divided union, as Juan Gonzalez reported on Tuesday, with dissidents ready to challenge Lynch for his job. On the surface this looks like a major PBA setback.
We desperately need some objective pro-labor analysis of what went on and is continuing. Reading Daily Kos oppose the job action while criticizing Bill O'Reilly's support for it was more irony than anyone could possibly handle.
The PBA has been without a contract or raises for years. Their pay lags behind what other police officers in the area earn. The PBA contract dispute is in arbitration and I don't see any possible way they will emerge with anything much better than the uniform pattern setting 11% over 6 years and 7 months that their supervisors agreed to in recent settlements. This is a major issue.
After making these points that point to the futility of the police slowdown, I stand by an earlier posting where I stated that the police showed how a union (albeit a very different kind of union) can pull off an illegal job action even in the current political climate and without much public support (see this Quinipiac College poll; see also Lynch's predictable defiant reaction). The Taylor law penalties for public sector job actions have not been invoked, nor are they likely to be, against the police who refused to do a big part of their job for weeks. Police Commissioner William Bratton agreed on National Public Radio that there was a protest or job action going on. That was a significant admission.
The problem the police had with their slowdown was they didn't have anything specific they were asking for in public except for an apology from the mayor for being disrespectful. Detailed demands could have easily been leaked to the press but they were not. Everyone had to speculate about what the job action was all about. It looks like it was a mistake not to ask for something concrete as they have done in past disputes with City Hall. That seems to be one of the main contentions of the PBA dissidents.
I agree with the dissidents on this tactical failure. I think the city will be generous on items such as bullet proof glass for police cars, new bullet proof vests and upgrading precincts. The police look to be in a positive position concerning making gains to their working conditions. We can be reasonably certain the PBA will not be asked to take givebacks. Labor militancy, even if the PBA President went way over the top with his rhetoric against Mayor de Blasio, has left the average officer no worse off in the end than when this started.
Looking into the future, if PBA President Lynch survives a challenge and wins reelection, he may continue to pursue a political strategy against the mayor but his hand here appears to be weaker and that is something progressives can be happy about. While de Blasio has been a disappointment when it comes to those of us who work in the schools, a Mayor Eva Moskowitz would be exponentially worse.
As for my feelings about the police as part of the working class, I again urge everyone to read former TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint's amazing Portside piece on the police and community. Roger sees police as workers and links our struggles.
In New York, some of the very former governors and mayors who gave the police hell to get raises, insisted on underpaying them, leaving them without contracts for years on end are today, once again, claiming to be their best defenders and crusaders. Why is that? Could it be because, they see an opportunity to use the cops to discourage and put down a movement that could help change America and challenge their rape of the country's wealth? Cops and firefighters should think hard about where their better interest lies and who their true allies are. Tomorrow, the attempt to rob them of their pensions will return to the front burner. And when contract time comes they will be left out in the cold and standing alone. Who should their leaders serve? Their members best interests or those of the rich and powerful?
It's more than irony that both the leader of NY's PBA (Pat Lynch) and Eric Garner grew up as sons of NYC transit workers. Not only was Pat's father a lifelong transit worker but Pat himself worked briefly as a conductor. Eric Garner's mother is a retired train operator, his sister is an active duty bus operator as are cousins who serve as active transit workers (train operator). So not only is it literally true that "That could have been any of us," but the loyalty being exercised by the leadership of the PBA to the interests of the rich and powerful, is misguided and misplaced on this count too.
The best way to stop the continuing downward spiral for working people, including teachers, police, transit workers and many others might be for us to combine the power of many unions into militant action. I made a suggestion to then UFT President Randi Weingarten at the Executive Board in 2005 to form a militant alliance of teachers and transit workers before we gave away so many of our rights that year in a horrible contract. My friend Sam Lazarus was urging me on. Needless to say, our idea went nowhere and working people are worse off as time has gone by.