Thursday, December 22, 2005

How to Prolong a Strike 2

The New York Daily News (22 December) reports (from FEE -- inbrief@fee.org):

The NYC Transit Strike in its Third Day


“The leaders of the union behind New York's crippling mass transit strike met transit authorities on Thursday for the first face-to-face talks since workers walked out on the job two days ago, local media said.” (New York Daily News)

The brute course of events in strike management often mocks the careless rhetoric of the parties. Yesterday I criticised the statement of Mayor Bloomberg that there would be no negotiations with the strikers’ union until they returned to work. Next day, the Transport Authority is in negotiations with the strikers’ union - and they are still on strike.

This, not entirely unexpected event to those who have watched the course of ‘crippling’ strikes, underlines my point about the futility of public figures making such ‘no negotiations under duress’ type statements.

Empty threats exposed as bluster and bluffs reinforce strikers’ morale and prolong the strike. Many of the strikers may be wavering in the strike decision but they are kept on message by union leaders who point to such turnarounds as evidence that they are 'winning'. Better not to give out that message.

It would have been better for the mayor, in consultation with the Transport Authority, to announce that the ‘door is always open’ to negotiations and the strike is ‘unnecessary’, etc. This undermines union solidarity and creates problems for the union leaders.

Instead, I note from the New York Times, that worse blunders were made yesterday by the media denouncing the strikers as ‘rats’! The strike leaders were quick to turn such shameful rhetoric into racial abuse, link their action to Martin Luther King and Rosa Park - what images that creates in the minds of the workforce(!) as it deepens their sense of solidarity.

Who is (mis)advising the New York authorities? What is their strategy? Were they prepared for the strike?

If they ‘win’ in these circumstances they pile up grievances and lose in the month’s ahead.

FEE adds a comment:

"What is euphemistically called collective bargaining by union leaders and pro-labor legislation is bargaining at the point of a gun. It is bargaining between an armed party, ready to use its weapons, and an unarmed party under duress. It is not a market transaction." -- Ludwig von Mises

I shall refrain from commenting on this assertion until I read more on Mises’ analysis of collective bargaining (I am now at the halfway stage through Human Action).


As for ‘unarmed’, it seems from this distance that $1 million a day fines, loss of two-days pay for everyday they strike, and threats to jail the leaders hardly warrants the adjective unarmed. The employer’s are certainly ‘under duress’, which is what strikes aim to cause, a point noted by Adam Smith in the quotation In yesterday’s post.

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