Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Domestic Enemy #1

Roger Toussaint has backed himself into the same kind of corner that Yasser Arafat did in the waning days of the Clinton Administration. Back in 2000 President Clinton negotiated a deal that is as good as any deal the Palestinians are ever likely to get. But Yasser Arafat, after a lifelong, and uncompromising commitment to his ideals, decided that he would stand on his principles, instead of cutting a deal. He had predicated his four decades leading the PLO on repeated statements calling for the destruction of Israel. In 2000, walking away from the deal he claimed that the Palestinian people could not accept a deal that did not include all of Jerusalem and the right of return for all Palestinians, to their former holdings. He missed an opportunity to truly lead, forgetting that leadership means compromise, and convincing one’s constituents to accept it. Instead the peace process waited another four years for Arafat’s passing, before it could move forward again.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take the TWU that long to come to its senses and realize that Roger Toussaint has led them to a dead end. Like Arafat, Toussaint made his name as a radical leader. As a mere transit worker, his continual clashes with MTA management led to his eventual dismissal. But Toussaint had found his place in the union organization. He made his mark leading the New Directions, a radical wing of the TWU that managed to express the dissatisfaction of much of the union’s membership with the 1999 MTA contract. The rank and file thanked by electing him as TWU President the next year. Toussaint has been spoiling for a strike since back in 1999. As President, he blinked in 2002 swerving from a strike with a last minute deal. Apparently he has regretted it ever since.

Like Arafat, Toussaint has already seen as good a deal, as he is likely to. There’s just not that much more to give on the MTA’s side. Whether Toussaint can see that or not is hard to tell. Obviously the TWU national organization has; they refused to sanction this strike. Toussaint may be crippling New York City because he really believes he can do better. But his demagoguery has blinded him to reality. In addition to his union’s national leaders, every politician in New York, and apparently every editorial page in the city, has criticized him. A state judge realizing the severity of the economic threat has fined Toussaint’s local, a million dollars a day, for every day on strike. Without the national organization Local 100 will be bankrupt by Saturday morning. The only public figures who haven’t criticized Toussaint are fellow municipal union leaders like Pat Lynch of the PBA and Randi Weingarten of the UFT, both with recent contracts in hand have refrained from offering any criticism, or any real support either.

Toussaint like Arafat is using extortion. Where Arafat threatened a continuing war of terror, Toussaint offers inconvenience and economic devastation to New York. Like the Palestinians, when the TWU returns to the bargaining table, they are likely to find the same deal waiting as when they left. In both cases, the deal on the table was as good as it ever could be, in Toussaint’s case he has a far better than average municipal contract waiting for him already. But both leaders turned away from pragmatism, allowing their bankrupt ideology to blind them to reality. And suffering was the result. Fortunately we live in a nation of laws and democratic will. Toussaint doesn’t have a lifelong grip on his union.

The pressure of public opinion is eroding his support by the hour. In fact some one thousand or so TWU members have followed the national rather than local mandate and continued to report for work, breaking their own picket lines. So far New Yorkers have remained patient, but how patient they’ll remain while Toussaint the ideologue subjects them to extortion for a few more scraps of their tax dollars, he will soon see.


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