The Taylor Law: What It Is and How to Fight It

To take the topics in reverse order: we can fight the Taylor Law by massively disobeying it. If we strike, we should make amnesty from Taylor Law Penalties one of our contract demands: we stay out till the MTA and NY State government guarantee this. If we are forced to strike and shut the city down to win our demands, the Taylor Law can be exposed as nothing but a piece of paper and swept away along with all the bosses’ other threats.

That’s always been the way for workers and other oppressed to overturn anti-working class and racist laws. Black people in the South, for example, smashed Jim Crow segregation by massive disobedience to “whites only” laws.

The victorious 1966 TWU Local 100 strike was completely illegal. The Condon-Wadlin Law of that time forbade all public sector strikes. The penalty was mandatory firing of the members and jail for the leaders. We remember Mike Quill’s immortal words, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes! I don’t care if I rot in jail – I won’t call off the strike!“ A little over a week later, Quill was out of jail, transit workers were back at work in triumph, and the Condon-Wadlin Law was a dim memory.

Quill’s successors in the TWU as well as other union bureaucrats then managed to lose in the voting booths what transit workers had won in the streets. They urged workers to vote for liberal Democratic candidates for the State legislature, who then quickly passed the draconian Taylor Law. It forbids strikes and “concerted actions” that restrain production such as slowdowns (including safety slowdowns!) as well as incitement by union officials to such actions. Despite its heavy fines, it does not provide for firing strikers.

Several unions have defied the Taylor Law and won. NYC sanitation workers struck in the late seventies and demanded and got amnesty (from an emergency session of the state legislature). The Yonkers UFT (Teachers) has struck against the Taylor Law five times, and taken some fines while winning some victories. In recent years NYCT workers have pulled slowdowns and won, as in the RTO rule-book action against Pick take-backs. Management didn’t even try to use the Taylor Law in that case.

Readiness to break the Taylor Law by striking begins when our leaders have the courage to talk about it. But Toussaint & Co. are refusing even to say that we should prepare to strike. They cite the Taylor Law Clause against “incitement” by union officials, while telling “rank-and-file” members to say what they like. This is irresponsible: the members wonder if their leaders will back them up in a strike. If our leaders’ coyness results in an unprepared strike, it could be a disaster for us. The Local 100 opposition bulletin Rank and File Advocate has said job actions can be necessary, but where will the job actions go? Here, too, irresponsible coyness.

At least one Local 100 official has gone on record for strike preparation. That’s RTW supporter and Track Division Vice-Chair Eric Josephson. Before his election in December 2000, and running openly as a supporter of the socialist League for the Revolutionary Party, he had urged strike preparation, in print, over a 12-year period. At the December 14, 1999 General Membership Meeting, in the teeth of Giuliani’s fascistic anti-strike injunction, Josephson raised the motion for an immediate strike: it passed unanimously. But Hall and James’s active sabotage, and New Directions’ passive timidity stopped our mass movement. Since then Josephson and RTW have continued to advocate that the union prepare to strike to win its demands. Let’s not let our struggle be held back again. Militant workers committed to preparing the Local for strike action should get in touch with RTW.