Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Nadine M. and Wilma C., Proletarian Unity League

Sum-Up of a Strike in a Municipal Hospital
Getting Out From Between a Rock and a Hard Place


First Published: In two parts in Forward Motion, January and March 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

A recent strike at a municipal hospital points to both the problems and direction public sector unions will be facing in the 1980’s. The history of public sector unionism is decades behind industrial unionism. In most states, it is still illegal for public workers to strike, while the political machines often control the workforce, effectively undermining trade union solidarity. Even with these conditions, the strike at this public hospital made some breakthroughs. And even though some backroom dealing by the leadership of another union left us in a weaker position, we also saw that labor solidarity is possible. While the illegality of striking made city workers afraid of striking, the success and eventual amnesty won in the SEIU strike touched off a rash of walkouts and strikes in other areas of the city. Our victory in winning lay-off language, our ability to keep the majority of our membership out on strike, our flexibility in tactics, and the support we got from other hospital union members demonstrated what trade union militancy and solidarity could win us!

There are many lessons for active union members to learn from this strike; lessons of organization and leadership. While conditions are forcing public workers and public unions into the forefront of labor activity, much of the organization and class solidarity we will need is yet to be built. And in the face of tax reform measures like Proposition 13 in California, Proposition 2-1/2 in Massachusetts, and federal budget cuts in funds for social services, we will find ourselves fighting for our very jobs . . . facing wage freezes, lay-offs, and drastic cuts in benefits. As these measures take effect, we face the prospect that unions will fight for their own survival, but will not fight together. Issues such as tax reform, patronage, affirmative action and continued delivery of services will be before us as broader political debates. From our strike we can draw some of the lessons we’ll need to face these times and conditions.

The Need to Organize

This municipal hospital strike showed the importance of collective and democratic organization of the rank and file. Without this involvement and democratic discussion, the more left leaders of the union would find themselves locked in ineffective debate with the center union leadership. Key to making headway with the leadership, and in running the strike was the setting up of organization and committees that were responsible for the activities of the rest of the membership. It was this base and structure that gave our views credibility; it was this base and structure that kept the strike going after day-1.

From the beginning of negotiations, the issue of democracy and rank and file involvement met with resistance from the union staff and president. In many ways, members were seen as the troops in a battle that the leadership was designing. As activists in the local, we did not gasp the depth of this opposition to democratic discussion immediately; that it represented different views of what a union should and must be. Because of this unclarity, we did not always try and build up rank and file organization with its own views. An obvious example is the fact that while the union staff had a strategy for the negotiations (which depended extensively on a legal case that few members knew about), union members had no alternative strategy for negotiations. In fact, the local president was able to stifle any strategy discussions on the negotiating committee or the Contract Action Committee (C AC) up until the last several weeks of the contract. We did not agree among ourselves where we should be heading; the activists were not prepared to make important decisions. Most importantly, we were not able to organize sentiment behind us for a particular tactic or proposal. The union leadership was still able to call all the shots.

It was at this point that sentiment for striking began to surface, and we took this sentiment and organized broadly with it. We took it out to the membership, organizing new activists to visit members department by department. And because of this approach, we built up support to the point that the president and the union staff realized that we might strike, with or without them. Once the president backed down and agreed to allow the strike, our work took on a new character. We had built up an organized group of activists who were agitating hospital-wide for a strike; we now broke that group up into committees that would become responsible for running the strike. Picket captains, media work, news bulletins, were all assigned to various workers, and coordinated by the strike coordinating committee. It was this organization that gave us real strength and independence in the strike. As the president once mumbled, we just ran ourselves. But more importantly, these committees actually became the site where major political questions were decided for the strike. If we had understood that sooner, we would have had the committees working weeks (instead of days) before actual walkout. We would have been able to convince people about the importance of various types of work, so that we didn’t just keep reacting to the pressures of the moment. It was from this organization that we ran an effective strike: that allowed us to make independent decisions as well as giving leadership responsibilities to new faces who had never appeared interested in the union before. It was because of this organization that we came out of the strike known as some of the most militant city workers around town.

Exposing Right Opportunism

During the pre-strike period and the strike itself, union activists discovered a lot about working with the social-democratic staff of SEIU. This staff is probably one of the most progressive in the state. They actively opposed regressive tax measures and the .Mayor’s patronage system. They are committed to organizing the unorganized, and won the first seniority language ever for city workers. But while working alongside the union on these issues, we found ourselves in constant conflict with the president and his staff. Our disagreements arose over issues such as militancy of actions, the amount of democracy in the local, affirmative action and discrimination, and over the type of outreach and coalitions we were trying to build.

The president’s first concern was to maintain control and influence over the local. He is interested in little else, except broadening his control and influence. So when proposals such as the Contract Education Committee were made 8 months before contract expiration, he flatly opposed it because he was afraid we would try to build up an active base to influence negotiations. It took a petition of 400 members to the Executive Board to make him back down. And then, a month later, the City negotiations opened early! The president opposed the committee because he is content to use members as shock troops. He sees conflict between labor and management, not as class struggle, but as struggle between various politicians. His clout in the battle becomes his ability to mobilize members to stand behind him (just as the Mayor’s power lies in his machine). In short, the president’s interest is not in organizing workers as a class to defend their own interests, but as a base that he depends on for his (and the local’s) power.

We saw this in how negotiations were run. We democratically elected negotiators, suggested contract language, but were kept out of any of the real negotiating. That is, we wrote up none of the actual language, all newsletters were written by staff members and we sat ’behind’ the table as the president and staff negotiated the contract. In fact, even the negotiators never were involved in discussions that lead to language changes, or strategy discussions (until our negotiators from the hospital forced the issue). The president left those discussions and decisions to the staff (who he hires) and himself.

Another example of this ’politician’ view of labor struggle was the legalistic approach developed by the president and his staff. The union hoped that by filing a suit (“politically embarrassing”) against the Mayor’s patronage machine, we would be able to blackmail the city into a contract with higher wages and seniority. The workers had no part in this strategy, except to be expected to show up at rallies called by the union – i.e. as shock troops. And no one even knew what the legal case was about! It was when the legal strategy seemed to be stalling negotiations that members began to question the strategy. The president actively tried to suppress any broad discussions. When Contract Action Committee members asked if we were going to strike, he refused to answer the question saying that the negotiators were talking about such matters. He later told the negotiators that the strategy discussions had to be tabled because he didn’t want any leaks of our plans to the city. He tried to play one democratic form against another, for his own ends. It was only after coming out in support of the strike that he voiced his ’honest’ views. He said that he always opposed strikes (in principle) unless he was backed into a corner. At the hospital, he realized that we would walk without him, so he decided to back the strike so that he could lead it. He didn’t want to find himself being dragged along by the membership!

The president’s efforts to control the course of the strike meant that staff members were put in charge of every committee we set up. Decisions by the members would often be overturned by the staff. When the community outreach committee decided to have a press conference to get support for the strike, the staff cancelled it because other things were “more pressing.” Their fears were that other more Left or oppressed nationality groups would get into the limelight. The president’s opposition to this kind of community support reflects his white chauvinism; he will actively look for support from white-based community groups, but avoid it from Black community leaders. He is afraid of alienating his white membership (the base of his support). He once publicly commented that he would rather build a rally with the backing of a particular white supremacist community group than with the backing of a Black community group which was organizing against violence against the Black community. He would rather sacrifice support from the Black and Hispanic communities than face the loss of part of his white support.

This conciliating with white supremacy is widespread and encouraged in the staff. Most of the union leadership opposed affirmative action proposals in the contract. When the union office printed up the list of clauses won in the new contract, no mention was made of a new clause on affirmative action (meaning they saw it as a loss?). And office jokes were made that the only way to win office in this city’s labor movement, is to have an Irish last name. And while it is a joke, chances are the next slate of officers running with the president will reflect this.

While white supremacy goes unchallenged in the office, the local openly supports issues of women’s rights. They encouraged us to present proposals on day care to the city, strengthening maternity rights, and they have close ties to a local chapter of Working Women. While the struggle for women’s rights is legitimate in their eyes, the struggle against national oppression is ’more complicated’ and threatens to lose them some support. If we ever hope to place this struggle within the union, we will have to be organized independently before the president will be anything but oppositionist. We will have to raise an issue, have members mobilized around it. . . that is, be a force he feels he has to control, before the union will openly back any such struggle.

Perhaps the most profound difference we had with the president during this strike crystalized over what the direction forward will be for public sector unions in the next decade. While the president is a progressive in the labor movement overall, he still hasn’t broken significantly with a narrow view of the trade union struggle. This was reflected in arguments we had over what type of force it would take to make the Mayor back down, and what type of strike to build up. This issue will be dealt with in depth in the last half of the paper.

Forces Within the Local

At times we were successfully able to defeat the president’s views by building up an alliance with other forces within the local. This alliance was built issue by issue. And perhaps the most important lesson we learned in building up this work was that such an alliance was possible only when the Left was convinced, and convincing about what needed to be done. To understand something about the actual work that was built up, we need to understand the various forces in the local, which includes the staff and union leadership as well as divisions among the rank and file members.

This particular SEIU local is broken up into various locations city-wide. Where members work closely with the Mayor’s people or the police, we found some strong center leaders who are influenced by conservative views and white chauvinism. While at times these members demanded miracles from the union, they were generally the least organized, least militant, and most unwilling to buck the machine. Negotiators from City Hall and the Police Department initially opposed striking, placed a lot of hope on the legal case, and were pessimistic about organizing their members. But within these departments there were a few strong and more progressive leaders. Their stronger ties with members, their willingness to organize and agitate, and their open views gave hospital negotiators room to move in. These forces became the main link between workers at the hospital and the rest of the city departments.

The local leadership and staff is also a mixture of forces. The president has aligned our local with the social democratic wing of the labor movement. He hopes to build our local into the center of progressive unionism in the state. He came to power on a bandwagon of democracy, and is trying to build himself up as a liberal trade unionist. We have found ourselves able to work together with him and the staff on many issues. The staff he has hired is more “to the Left” than he is. They are young, white and educated, most having worked for progressive organizations at one time or another. They honestly want to “organize the working class,” though few of them have worked regular jobs. But while talking democracy and working class solidarity, they are often caught up in trying to make the membership reach “pragmatic” decisions. Because most of the staff has never worked as a city worker, and are removed from the rank and file, they tend to underestimate the ability and willingness of the workers to fight. They also carry with them some of the white chauvinism of more populist community organizations . . . not wanting to take up issues like affirmative action which they view as divisive. While they can often point to the weaknesses of our membership, you don’t get a sense that they see any of its strength. They tend to hold up examples of the center (like Nixon’s silent majority) as the group on which they base their decisions and tactics. They aim to lead the center, while trying to bring the “extremes” of the Left and the right under this leadership.

Within the hospital itself, there were strong divisions and different levels of organization. The technicians were highly organized, and were set on getting a 10% raise like the nurses. Their concerns reflected their more professional status; they were less concerned about job security, were more militant and mostly concerned about their own departments. Some were (and still are) interested in forming their own bargaining unit to win more professional concessions from management.

Technical departments employ workers who are generally younger, better educated, a higher percentage of men, and mostly all white. As a whole, they have little respect for the clerical units, and are isolated off in their own departments. Clerks, on the other hand, are a more diverse group; a combination of older white women, along with younger Black, Hispanic and white women. As unskilled city workers, many as single heads of households, their chief concern was for seniority in lay-offs and promotions. On many union issues, they have had the most consistent participation, and taken the more progressive views. They quickly backed the demand for translators, seniority and amnesty. And because they are the more multinational workforce, most of the Black and Hispanic support on the lines came from the clerks. This meant that lines in front of a clerical building were racially mixed, while lines near the accident floor (covered by nurses and techs) were mostly all white. These divisions remained unchanged during the course of the strike, leading to some tensions. The technical division was more dissatisfied with the final contract offer because of the seniority language and amnesty clause. This different perspective on what we won in the contract lead to some of the techs blaming clerks for “selling out” for job security; other techs again started to say that techs should have their own bargaining unit. While these tensions never exploded, they remain beneath the surface, and will affect the character of future union actions.

As progressive leaders in the local, we were slow in realizing that our “opposition” to the union leadership was not enough to win us respect. Without plans, strategy or demands, center forces would follow the lead (or lack of leadership) of the union officials. Opposing the president’s legal strategy wasn’t enough. We had to come up with our own plans and perspective to convince other workers of viable alternatives. When we were able to do this, we were able to force the president and staff to back us up. When we didn’t have a clear view of where to go, we couldn’t gather support and appeared as oppositionists. Our first real break in the negotiations was realizing that his strategy for legal blackmail was going to hurt us, that we had to put the issue of striking before our membership. We went out and boldly organized for a strike. This turned the tables, forced the president to back the strike, and brought the center forces actively behind the leadership of the Left forces in the local.

The Struggle for Equality

One of the shortcomings of the negotiations was the failure to raise (in any consistent way) the demands of various nationalities within the membership. This mistake wasn’t due to the objective conditions – there was the basis of support for demands such as affirmative action and translators. The failure was the fault of progressives who didn’t try to organize independently for these demands (as they did around the issue of striking), so that there was no organized pressure to support specific contract demands.

While at the time we underestimated the support we could get for demands for affirmative action language, or the problems that would be created by a strict seniority clause for lay-offs, we are confronted by these issues head-on today. In the wake of the recent tax-cutting referendum, it is estimated that 75% of all minorities in municipal and state jobs will be laid off. Out of 250 minority firemen, 10 will be left after lay-offs. The Mayor (who won weak support from the Black community in the last elections), is using this issue to say that he will ignore the seniority clauses of contracts to secure minority positions. A suit has been threatened to insure that straight seniority will not wipe out the gains in minority hiring. And the unions have generally come out in defense of straight seniority, putting them on a collision course with the Mayor and the courts. Instead of looking to the Black community for support, instead of exposing the Mayor’s call for affirmative action (that will guarantee him a patronage arm in the Black community), instead of coming out in favor of affirmative action and proposing new language that would guarantee fairness in lay-offs as well as equality, the major unions have backed themselves into a corner. Our failure to recognize this scenario in the contract negotiations meant we failed to find ourselves allies in the local who could counter the backward position of the union leadership.

There were two points where contract language was raised that defended the rights of oppressed nationalities. One was the city’s proposal for new affirmative action language. The union opposed this language at the table because it asked the union to implement the city’s affirmative action goals and guidelines. Without input into these goals, the union was rightfully suspicious of the abuse the Major would make of such language. This view got the support of the majority of the negotiators. At this point, the hospital negotiators could have done one of two things: we could have let the debate stand at this (the union in effect opposing affirmative action language), or we could have countered with a proposal of our own. We could have taken this proposal to rank and file members and gotten support for our views. This type of action could have turned affirmative action into a major debate in the contract struggle. More* progressive forces could have taken this opening as an opportunity to lead, and organize, in hopes of winning other middle forces to stand for equality, in opposition to the rightist views of the union. Because we were cautious about intervening, the debate remained between the city and the union, with the issue pushed under the table.

It was later in the negotiations that we learned some more about our ability to move some of the center leaders. The hospital Contract Action Committee had proposed language asking for pay and training for bilingual workers who were expected to translate for the city. We expected strong opposition to this language, and were shocked when some of the more racist negotiators spoke in favor of the proposal. They saw the need for such language, because they had the experience of not being able to deliver services because of the scarcity of bilingual employees. Appealing to their union sense of justice (that all workers should be paid for extra work they are expected to do), all the negotiators voted to keep the translators clause in the contract proposals to the very end.

As part of the strike settlement, we won the contract language we had proposed. That came as a shock to all concerned. But, while winning the language, our failure to organize rank and file members to fight for this language during the strike, meant there was no center of workers who saw the language as a victory for them. The victory was lost in the shuffle of other demands, while no one learned the lessons that contract struggles can be site for the struggle for democratic rights. In fact, six months after the contract has been in effect, the city has still failed to start paying for training employees. We are now in the position of beginning to organize forces to defend this language ... a place we wouldn’t have to be if we had done the organizing around the contract fight.

At the same time that we failed to organize oppressed nationality workers around specific contract language, our failure to highlight such language meant that we never struggled with other sections of the union to back demands for equality. To some degree, the tensions between the clerks and the techs reflected this lack of struggle. And because the main issues we struck over were wages and seniority, the majority of the activists remained mainly white (the union had always had white leaders). These leaders, while respected for their role as militants, have not become seen as fighters for equality. In fact, most complaints about discrimination still go outside to local or federal agencies. While we were able to lead a successful strike, our leadership did little to win us support as fighters against national oppression.

Training in Tactics

Being organized isn’t an end in itself – the strike meant we had to make important decisions about when to strike, when to return to work, what type of picket line to set up, etc. Throughout the month before the strike, there were large differences between sections of the membership about when (or if) to strike. The hospital is only one third a city-wide unit... a unit that was not preparing to strike anywhere else. The drift in the negotiating committee was to not allow the hospital to walk out. At the hospital, some of the technical departments were talking about immediate walk-outs, department by department if necessary. Some individuals called for “no contract, no work” . . . even though the end of the contract was only 5 days away, we had no organization and no authorization to strike! These views were weak because they did not move the pro-strike sections to see the need for winning other sections to back a strike, or how important organization was going to be to lead a strike. While it would have been disastrous for an unplanned walk-out at the hospital to fizzle, the negotiators were not quick to realize the important and leading role the hospital could play for the whole local. A militant walk-out at the hospital could teach City Hall and the Police civilians that struggle (not patronage) pays.

Trying to avert a premature strike, the hospital negotiators took the position that we needed to get 75% support at the hospital before they would call a walk-out. To maintain a strike against all the pressures of the Mayor’s machine, we had to go out with a strong majority. And, in retrospect, the problems that developed between the police civilians, City Hall and hospital over the terms of the final settlement (like how important was the final amnesty clause), makes many of the negotiators nervous about ever letting just one department walk out again. The tactic of a partial walk-out worked this time, but should not become a tactic to be relied on in the future.

Worker/Community Alliance

While the hospital strike was successful in building the broader trade union consciousness across the city, it fell short of grasping the importance–the strategic importance–of building up alliances between the workers movement and community forces in defense of public services. As the public sector faces attacks from the right, such as the recent attacks on mass transit and pro-business tax measures, an alliance with the community becomes more and more crucial. Public workers are caught between various political forces trying to bail the state out of the economic crisis. Hospital closings, like Sydenham in NYC, can graphically show how the needs of the public sector unions merge with the needs of the Black, Hispanic and white working class communities. But the recent opposition of many public employee unions to super-seniority in lay-offs also shows that these forces will not merge automatically.

An alliance between these forces must be built, and fought for, on the basis of the defense of the needs of all the united forces. It will mean winning support from the public for the rights of public workers–seniority rights, the right to strike, cracking the patronage machine, as well as winning decent wages. While strengthening seniority language in lay-offs and promotions, it will mean winning public workers to seek affirmative action in all levels of city government, to defend the interests of the oppressed nationality workforce as well as the interests of those who have been excluded from public service jobs. It will mean fighting to maintain vital services in all communities, while struggling against rightist and populist ideas that blame the poor and Black communities for the growing tax burden. It will mean fighting to improve these services (and not just saving our jobs), particularly in oppressed nationality communities which will be hardest hit. This alliance will not come about unless it is built on a two-way street–in defense of public workers rights, and in defense of national equality in jobs and services.

Our leadership of the hospital strike fell short of grasping this aspect of the struggle. We did battle with our union leaders over the type of picket lines to set up.

But we felt such pressure to “shut down” the hospital that we maintained 24-hour picket lines at the expense of community outreach work.

Making the building of a community/labor alliance a major aspect of our strike would have fundamentally changed the type of strike we led, and even the possible outcome of the strike itself. In confronting the Mayor, we hoped that shutting down the hospital would cost him so much money that he would have to back down. We hoped that flexing the muscles of city workers would be enough. It wasn’t. The administration was effectively able to shut down the hospital to half its size, and to maintain an “equilibrium” within. They were able to begin to turn public support against us (in the name of patient care), while our union spokespeople failed to mention the conditions within. Our decision to return was based, in a large part, on our assessment that the administration was prepared to wait us out economically. We weren’t prepared for a long political battle. And because of our ignoring the issue of patient care, some of our allies among the doctors and nurses began to back off. In building a united front that could actually unite forces behind our action, we failed to speak to the issues that would have actually built that unity:

(1) Support for workers’ rights. Flexing our muscles wasn’t enough to threaten the Mayor. We needed to expose his indifference to the rights of city workers. The potential was there–we were fighting for the first lay-off language for white and blue collar municipal workers, and for the right to strike. But we weren’t always patient about winning that support. If we had let the union leadership push us into calling members of the other union at the hospital “scabs” on Day One, we would have never seen the solidarity on Day Two when 600 of these workers walked out. It would have meant demanding more of the non-striking SEIU membership, possibly spreading the strike city-wide. It would have meant involving the State Labor Council in attempting to make the strike into a popular struggle over public workers’ rights. Again, our letting the struggle get narrowed to aiming to hurt the Mayor economically meant that when we saw the administration’s indifference to the economic pressure, we felt we had to return quickly to keep from being defeated.

(2) The union made cracking the Mayor’s patronage machine center too much on the public exposures done during the contract struggle. This was potentially a good issue around which to get public support. But this potential was never fully realized for a number of reasons. First, the union leadership saw exposing patronage as a blackmail technique of contract negotiations. They did not have a program that would continue to hit at patronage after the contract. While a small number of city ball workers got wrapped up in digging up dirt on the machine, the majority of the members never were involved in discussions of patronage, much less in how to attack the machine. This lead to a major division in the local and the negotiating committee over what strategy would work–the lawsuit against patronage or an organized job action. The real problem in most of this was the opportunist use of the patronage suit–it was only developed to use as a lever to win us good raises and seniority in lay-offs. If the lawsuit had successfully won us a better contract, it would have appeared to the public that we had “backed off attacking the Mayor for our own self-interest”. It would not have won us any love in the eyes of the public; it would have only reinforced the image that conservatives like to spread about city workers.

But another aspect of the patronage attacks that the union refused to bring out was the “white” nature of the machine. While we battled over seniority rights, the union refused to discuss affirmative action or super-seniority. We did not address what strict seniority would mean for minority city workers. In fact, the seniority system that was won reinforces the present segregation within city departments, with no transfer rights being allowed from department to department. And if some predictions are true, lay-offs will see the elimination of 75% of all minority workers if strict seniority is applied.

The union leadership, instead of recognizing the principles of non- discrimination and the potential for strong political allies from the Black and Hispanic communities against the Mayor–chose to ignore and oppose any new affirmative action language. Their argument was that any affirmative action goals took rights in hiring out of the hands of the union, and put them into the hands of the Mayor. Today, this problem has resurfaced as the Mayor states publicly that he will ignore strict seniority clauses in the name of affirmative action. The Mayor appears as a defender of the city’s minority communities, while the unions appear defenders of the system of white supremacy (last hired, first fired). Now with the cuts in social services at our doorsteps, we may have to organize around the unions, publicly breaking with union leaders to gain a hearing with oppressed nationality groups.

(3) Maintaining city services. City workers must have the right to strike or the potential to bargain better contracts will remain pitiful. But striking is a tactic, a tactic that we should not use without considering what the withholding of services could mean for the public. This summer, we fell short of “endearing” ourselves to the public. Other past hospital actions–doctors’ informational picket lines, understaffing rallies, etc. had broad media attention as they highlighted issues of patient care. Our media work during the strike rarely pointed out such issues. This left the city administrators being the only ones who seemed concerned about patients. This narrowness on our part meant that more conservative doctors backed away from us, and forced more progressive doctors into a position of siding with management. At times, our pickets even yelled at patients. After the first day of the strike, there were no more leaflets available to hand out to patients trying to go into the hospital.

We should have attempted to expose how the budget priorities and the Mayor’s reaction to the strike did not mean quality health care. An example that could have been used in a public exposure was the use of scab telephone operators. At the time the city was saying that all was well within the hospital, doctors reported that there had been two medical emergencies that had not been responded to because the scab operators did not know how to page the doctors for cardiac emergencies. This could have been used to show how the administration was willing to risk patients’ lives to keep the hospital open and to bust the strike. In fact, it was the realization by the negotiating committee that the city was willing to continue in this crisis method indefinitely that made us decide to go in. But it wasn’t just exposures of administrative callousness that could have won us public support.

Making known the demand for trained and paid translators could have been used to show the union’s concern for improving care, while winning us allies from those communities that feel they receive second class care.

Our failure to consistently raise patient care issues had meant that our union has marginal connections with the communities that use the hospital. It has also meant that our trade union activists have come forward mostly around issues of wages and seniority, and have not been trained to have a broader point of view. Yet we are faced with a situation in public employment where major issues such as tax reform and super-seniority are being thrown in our face.

The trade union solidarity and militancy built this year in the SEIU strike must be expanded on. But this militancy must be expanded on in the context of organizing for, and struggling to lead, the political struggles going on across the state. Tax reform can mean that public workers find themselves under attack, not just by the state and the media, but by their very friends and neighbors. The refusal of the public sector unions to build alliances with community forces, and particularly, with resistance to work with and defend the demands of oppressed nationalities throughout the city, could mean disaster for all our lives. There are large sections of the working class in this city whose livelihood, and very existence, depends on the survival and improvement of public transportation, schools and health care. If the public sector unions fail to come to the defense of these services, to place their interests with the interests of the rest of the community forces, then the present retrenchment of labor could lead to a serious defeat.

The 1980’s will find public workers nationally between a rock and a hard place. Building the broadest united front between the unions and the community will be the only defense that can get us out of this crunch. It will be the only possibility of changing the rightward drift in the political climate. But it will mean that the unions will have to lead in those political struggles, whether in tax reform, electoral politics, affirmative action or against service curtailments. And leading will mean developing a program that defends the interests, not just of one sector of the workforce or community, but the interests of all.

Fall 1980