Tom Stamm Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

T. Stamm

End of the New York Taxi Strike

(April 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 14, 7 April 1934, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The second general strike of the New York taxi drivers has ended in a second defeat for the workers and a victory for the bosses and reaction. None of the demands put forward by the Taxi Drivers Union has been won. The collapse of the strike – that is what it was – coming on top of the betrayal of the auto workers, has strengthened the chances of the company union which the auto bosses are seeking to foist on the taxi drivers here in New York.

The strike was defeated by the combined forces of the companies who imported gangsters from Chicago to supplement the home supply, the police who drove scab cars and rode in them to provoke attacks by pickets, the yellow press which tried to frame up bombings on the union, the Mayor and his mediators, the NRA doves of peace, Mrs. Herrick and Golden, the Socialist Party which sabotaged the strike and went in for a vicious red-baiting campaign in the union, and the mistakes of the leadership.

Politics in the Strike

On every one of these points there is much to say; from each lessons to be drawn for the future strikes of the taxi workers and the workers movement as a whole. Because of the limitation of space we want to confine ourself here to one outstanding point of this remarkable strike: the extraordinary political nature of the situation in the union and its relation to the strike

For years the New York taxi drivers have been the prey of racketeers and bourgeois politicians. The thinking of many of them stood closer to that of the underworld and the cop than it did to that of the working class movement. That they have now made great strides toward thinking and acting like militant workers is an enormous plus for them as well as for the whole movement. Our hand is extended to them in fraternal solidarity for common struggle against the common enemy.

When LaGuardia was campaigning for the mayoralty he sent his agents into the ranks of the taxi drivers to line up their vote for his new deal. Through Gandall, he built an organization which served him well in the campaign. It was one of the four organizations which later merged to constitute the present union. Gandall became the leader of the first general strike in February.

Bloc with Stalinists Following the scuttling of the first strike by Panken and Ernst a struggle developed in the union. The Stalinists who came into the union through the merger of their paper Taxi Workers Union, formed a bloc with Orner and Green of the Workers Socialist Party, a group of former members and sympathizers of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Joe Gilbert became an organizer and leader of the second strike. In this fight the bloc received, at least, objective support from the Tammany elements in the union who had their own axe to grind against LaGuardia. Gandall was dislodged from leadership. Orner became president of the Manhattan local, the largest and most important of the three units of the union. The Bronx and Brooklyn locals remained under the influence of the Socialist Party elements.

While the strike was in the ascendant all forces with the exception of the Socialists in the Bronx and Brooklyn locals worked to push the strike forward. Orner, without organizational strength outside of the union to throw behind the strike, and involved in the bloc with the Stalinists, had to lean on the latter for support. The Stalinists tried to rally outside forces behind the strike but succeeded only in giving another demonstration of their isolation from the main stream of the labor movement. Their united front conference of working class organizations to support and spread the strike was the usual mass meeting of Stalinist outfits and friends.

Tammany and the Socialists

Tammany tried to use the strike as a club against LaGuardia. The present Grand Jury investigation into the “failure of the municipal government and the police to protect life and property” is inspired by Tammany.

The Socialists tried to make factional capital of the strike in the union by inciting the workers against Communism and the Stalinists whom they represent to the workers as Communists. Because of the popularity of Orner and the strong Orner-Stalinist bloc in the leadership they were forced to carry on their agitation against the leadership in the middle of the strike by an undercover campaign.

All of these forces working through the strike and the union produced a POLITICAL situation In New York of great importance to all future strikes. In fact with the publication by the companies of full page ads in the capitalist press and the replies of LaGuardia attacking the companies the strike became a major political issue in New York City.

Contradictions Come Out

The contradictions in the union did not appear in their full importance until the strike reached its peak and stopped growing. When it landed in the bog of capitalist politics the impact of the strikebreaking efforts of all the capitalist agencies caused the political lines in the union to be drawn very sharply. In the main the line was drawn over the issue of radicalism and its responsibility for the difficult position of the strike. First honors in the reactionary business of red-baiting go to the Socialist Party which seized on this moment to take its undercover campaign into the open. Under its guiding hand the Bronx local passed a motion calling for a fight against Communist influence in the union. Gilbert was dropped from his leading position and a Tammany lawyer took his place in the negotiations at City Hall. Orner’s popularity saved him from a similar fate.

The collapse of the strike gave a great stimulus to the centrifugal forces in the union working through the political contradictions. The union now hangs by a thread. The influence of the Communist Party is almost nil and that is a good thing. But the influence of the Socialist and Democratic parties has increased and that is a bad thing.

Future Lines

The solution lies on the road of building a broad left wing of all progressive elements in the union. The task of building a left wing in this union is a part of the larger problem of building a new left wing in the trade union movement. That is a task of the new party. The Communist League can make a beginning now.

The taxi strike was of the utmost importance for the labor movement. Had it been successful it could have given a great impetus to the struggle against company unionism, and encouraged the workers in the gigantic transportation industry in New York to organize and struggle for the betterment of their conditions.

As the situation stands now it is without positive gains. The two strikes will enter into the annals of the working class as splendid demonstrations of working class militancy. And if the union survives, even without recognition, it will be an important toe-hold for the labor movement in one of the most important domains of Wall Street’s vast empire.

Tom Stamm Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 4 May 2016