i am

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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

NYC Transit Strike: Illegal or Just?

The recent transit strike by disgruntled transit workers created havoc w/ NYC's seven million riders this past week. Folks complained about everything from the the holiday season to the inconvenience to the weather. Its hard trying to please a fickle audience - ask any Knick fan. Still, I'm grateful after two & half days of absence, the buses & subways are back in operation as contract negotiations between the MTA & TWU 100, led by President Roger Toussaint, move forward toward resolution.

Initially, the MTA offered transit workers a paltry six percent raise over a three year period. Yet, less than one mayoral election ago, the MTA publicly announced they'd 'discovered' a billion dollar surplus: show me the money! Additionally, it was reported the MTA - whose board members are mostly appointed by Governor Pataki - keeps two separate accounting books. Why? In the words of power-driven Gordon Gekko of 'Wall Street' fame, a role which garnered actor Michael Douglas an Oscar, "greed is good." Or, as controversial boxing promoter Don King once poignantly remarked, "only in America."

TWU 100 summarily rejected the MTA's offer, which was later amended to a nine percent raise over a three year period. NYC transit workers gross roughly $55,000 yearly, which, on the surface, is a welcome salary by most standards. However, considering the rising cost of living in NYC, the lack of adequate health care, as well as the higher wages of Long Island Rail Road (L.I.R.R.) & Metro North workers, it was clear the MTA was in for a dog fight.

As the principled Toussaint made clear from his brilliant leadership, the strike was more than a quarrel over money. What did Aretha ask for? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. In addition to the ongoing threat of job security due to more technology & less people in the last decade, transit workers are subjected to deplorable working conditions each day: asbestos, inadequate bathroom facilities, poor audio equipment, rats, substance users, etc. Also, the emotional & physical stress of working long hours in a tiny booth is more than enough to make a sane person go crazy.

When the MTA made their final contract offer - a 10.5 percent raise over three years - the TWU 100 overwhelmingly decided enough was enough. The union sought a 24 percent raise over three years, as well as changes in disciplinary action, improved benefits & pension plan revision, all to no avail. The first to strike were bus drivers in Queens as of 12:01 a.m., Sunday, December 18, followed by bus & subway workers from the metropolitan area as of 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, December 20. Yeah, it was on.

Upon viewing the media coverage of the contract negotiations, I noticed a certain tone ascribed to TWU 100 President Roger Toussaint, a proud native of Trinidad & Tobago. His integrity was attacked by local journalists, newspaper columnists & Mayor Bloomberg, who referred to him as "thuggish." Before his recent election, Bloomberg embraced resolution amongst unions involving firemen, policemen, sanitation workers & teachers. Never, in his term as Mayor, has he referred to a union president as a "thug."

Move over 50 Cent, there's a new sheriff in town...

The Mayor's racist remarks drew the ire of many Black male leaders, most notably Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron. Barron, a regular guest on Gary Byrd's 'GBE' weekly early morning radio program (WLIB/1190 AM), told Byrd he basically called Toussaint a nigger. Bloomberg, as well as Pataki, shaped the media's coverage of the strike by calling transit workers "selfish & shameful" for breaking the "Taylor Law," a tool used to justify denying the bargaining leverage of a prospective union.

Toussaint, evoking the spirit of Haitian President Toussaint L'Overture, astutely noted the Civil Rights Movement was fueled by illegal activity: the laws of this country were built on the oppression of African people centuries ago. When the late Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in the Jim Crow south, she successfully spearheaded a 381 day boycott of the Montgomery Bus Company. The TWU 100 leader also remarked Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., who won a Nobel Peace Prize award for his humanitarian efforts, was "begrudgingly" given a national holiday on his earth day - January 15.

Even Stevie Wonder can see how Black men are not valued in this society. The blatant level of disrespect accorded Toussaint is consistent w/ the mistreatment of Black men who hold powerful positions in today's society. Unlike other union leaders who value expediency over empowerment, Toussaint remained true to the will of his constituency, 70 percent of whom rely on public transportation. Furthermore, Toussaint disclosed contingency plans which baffled media & political pundits alike. He made me proud.

On the first day of the strike, a Black male Supreme Court Judge - handpicked to handle this case - levied the TWU 100 w/ a million dollar a day fine for breaking the Taylor Law, thereby giving new meaning to 'Black on Black crime.' Additionally, transit workers were fined $25,000 a day for their actions. Later, as negotiations stalled, it was discovered, before the strike was called, the MTA sought to punish transit workers by deducting six percent of their annual salary towards their pension benefits.

As of this writing, transit workers are back to work. For a couple of days, though, I noticed an eerie quiet in the village of Harlem, where I tend to do a lot of walking through anyway. I appreciated the tranquility & wondered how folks were coping. I called a few friends & learned the majority of them empathized w/ the transit workers. They expressed rage towards the supremacist remarks of Bloomberg & Pataki, who didn't intervene at the bargaining table, but instead, viciously attacked the character of Toussaint, a man trying to do his job to the best of his ability, just like the rest of us in this cold ass city.

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