Playing the race placard

This morning The Times fans — or rather, gathers the kindling and tries to ignite — the flames of racial discord in the New York transit strike.

But now, as representatives of a mostly nonwhite work force trade recriminations publicly with white leaders in government and at the transportation authority, the potentially volatile issue of race, with all its emotional consequences, is bubbling to the surface.

And the evidence of this is: (1) Bozos say bad things in web comments — gee, that never happens anywhere else. (2) Mayor Bloomberg says that the union “thuggishly turned their backs on New York City.” Roger Toussaint, the union leader, and Al Sharpton call that racial.

Not in my UnPC dictionary. The words “thug” and “union” have been in usage since long before minorities finally came into power in them … since, well, the words “mafia” and “union” were also in common usage. Look up “Hoffa” and “thug” in Google and the first listing among 9,300 is about Tony Soprano.

Now I almost understand, or at least not be surprised at, Sharpton and Roger Toussaint grasping at cheap shots try to spin this illegal strike, this act of unlawful thuggery against the people of New York. Toussaint is also playing the race card as he tries to summon the ghost of Rosa Parks onto MTA buses.

But I do not understand The Times giving this canard legitimacy without finding anyone in the story, other than the mayor’s spokesman, to call bullshit. It is irresponsible.

  • More class than race, I’d say. A billionaire mayor snapping the whip at the worker bees, insisting they get the affluent stockbrokers and media types into work so they can make their boodle, and at a reduced cost to the city. You know, another way to look at “productivity increases” is getting more work for less money out of the lower classes, to the benefit of their betters.

  • More work for less money is one matter. More work for more money is another. But increasing productivity isn’t necessarily about either: it’s more output for the same resource. And that, like it or not, is what drives economic growth.

  • Ebenezer Scrooge

    >Not in my UnPC dictionary.

    Memo to the angry white man, it’s become PC to be unPC so don’t think you’re so special because you’re unPC when it comes to racial issues.

  • Civil Service and Union

    I am not a New Yorker. I do visit NY.I do love NY. I know that NY needs the commuters for tax dollars and lunch dollars to make NY go. Believe me, a lot of people will leave the city to work elsewhere. 911 was a big push out. This nonsense is another push.

    The world is flat. Most commuters do admin work that the internet lets you do anywhere. The strike is making NY unattractive to business.

  • J. Peden

    “Black, middle-class Workers of the World, Unite!” [Before you “disappear”.]

    Btw, the Times apparently does not know that it is racist to call a white person racist because he is white.

  • Mike

    What a joke. Racial overtones in this ridiculous strike. Should we expect anything less when people don’t have a leg to stand on. Considering that from the interviews and reports from most people in the city, no one is on the side of the union (and rightfully so, these city workers have too much guaranteed them already, try getting such guarantees in the real world), why not claim race is playing a part.


  • I think “irresponsible” can also be applied to your post here, where you insinuate, with no evidence, that the TWU has ties to organized crime. The mayor describes the union tactics as “thuggish” so you engage in slippery logic, to say the least.

    1) the mayor subscribes to a long tradition when he describes union actions as thuggish

    2) a long tradition also links unions with the Mafia in the popular imagination

    3) the evidence for this link in popular imagination is discussions of the fiction TV series The Sopranos

    4) Roger Toussaint has more in common with Jimmy Hoffa than Rosa Parks

    This has the same lack of logical clarity as Dan Quayle decrying children born out of wedlock because Murphy Brown was a single mother in a TV sitcom.

    There has never been even a hint that organized crime has a role in this dispute, whereas racial friction in the workplace has certainly been cited frequently as an underlying factor and was not invented out of whole cloth by the Gray Lady.

    I have no idea why the BuzzMachine has decided, irresponsibly, to bring the mob into the discussion of a strike that is illegal according to public service employment laws not racketeering ones.

  • Clearly the mayor is racial code for the largely Indian union leadership when he says they acted “thuggishly.”

  • Ravo

    There’s no end to the silliness.

    I once read an article in a newspaper charging police dogs,as being racists, for biting more blacks than whites, as if the dogs had a choice of the color of the people involved in the crimes!

    “as representatives of a mostly nonwhite work force trade”

    Hmmmm, where’s the affirmative action program for poor whites in NY, so they can be properly represented in this union workforce and retire young?

  • John

    Mike Quill was called far worse during the 1966 transit strike, and AFAIK, the Times never ran an editorial about the NYCTA’s anti-Irish bias.

  • Jeff – Soprano’s? Jimmy Hoffa?
    Do you have any connection left at all to physical reality – any respect at all for working men and women, for cops, for firefighters, sanitation workers, bus drivers, construction workers, teachers, nurses, sand-hogs?
    Did you spring fully-formed by witebread upper middle cass cyberland, unsullied by those who do physical labor in this world?
    C’mon man come back to the real world here….

  • Catherine

    Don McArthur – he billionaires are not hurt by this strike. You are clearly clueless.

    It’s the person working in retail at say, Bed Bath and Beyond (the ppl who work there most certainly don’t live on the UW or UE Side!), starbucks, waitpeople, carpenters, cooks…all ppl who do not get paid if they do not go to work – all people without benefits, pensions, overtime, etc unlike those in the TWU. THOSE are the people who are hardest hit. THOSE are the people the mayor is speaking for. He said the fact that the union is saying they are striking for “the working man,” is bull because that is exactly who they are ruining. This is especially true of waiters and the like who depend on earning a lot of their yearly wages over the holidays. When I was waiting a few years ago in a fish restaurant, it was xmas, Fridays at lent and all of the other holidays (mother’s day you broke your back, but you made good money on a Sunday) are everything. The customers aren’t there, and a lot of workers can’t make it in to fill their hours and get paid.

  • Oh, come on, Andrew. I am not tying the TWU to organized crime. I am showing that the word “thug” has been used in reference to labor ever since white guys were the only ones allowed into or allowed to run unions. You are the one leaping logical grand canyons.

    And Tom, don’t make assumptions about my lineage. You, like Andrew, are trying to skate around the point.

  • Gray_

    Hmm, in your mind, “mafia” and “union” go together, Jeff? Just like there are many people who would say “republican” and “corruption” have the same sound? That’s about the same automatism that is working when people witness a minority guy being called a “thug” and spontanously think “racist”. I do think, too, that it’s the wrong answer to call Bloomberg a racist, there are other, better fitting words. But by spreading your own prejudices, even when they are disguised as irony, you ruined this valid argument. Where’s the difference between you implying unions have something in common with the mafia, Bloomberg calling unions thuggish and, say, Steve Gilliard calling Boomberg a racist? At least for me, that’s the same thing, only in different colors.

  • Catherine, thanks for pointing out my lack of clue, but I was previously aware of its absence. It comes from my background, blue collar and union.

    I think all of those working people you wrote about would be better off organizing and demanding a decent life, as opposed to joining the race-to-the-bottom envisioned for them by their Wall Street masters.

    We’re at war, haven’t you heard, that’s why we just cut student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, to pay for it. Say what? As long as we protect those capital gains and estate incomes…

  • Gray, you, too, are playing fast and loose with the logic. Bloomberg’s opponents said that he was being racist by using the word “thug.” In a union context, I say that “thug” was in use without regard to race. I don’t have to say that union people are thugs to say that. I am saying that it is not a racial word… or was not until the Times made it one today.

  • Jeff, point taken. You did indeed say that there is a tradition of using the word thug in a union context without implications of race…

    …but what the hell was all that other mumbojumo about the mafia and Jimmy Hoffa and The Sopranos? What were you insinuating when you added mobbed-up elements into the conversation? You raised those ideas not Bloomberg, not Toussaint, not The New York Times.

    Just as there is nothing inherently racist about the word “thug” there is nothing inherently racketeering about the word either. As Eric J noted earlier, it is a reference to robbery in India.

  • Thug in itself is not racist, but prejudice is often (and rightly) in the eye of the beholder – it was an incredibly stupid thing to say from anyone who claims public sector leadership.

    The NYT was merely reporting how union members took it – a union that is in hte firing line with 70% black workforce – of course they’re sensitive (and moderately scared at this time) – and the comments merely prove that there are plenty of racists out there.

  • Gray_

    Guess I have to state my own opinion a bit more clear: Bloomberg’s “thuggish” comment was improper and false. Your ironic (?) remark putting unions next to mafia was improper and false. Gilliard’s statement that Bllomberg is a racist was improper and false.

    JJ: “I am saying that it is not a racial word” I guess you wanted to say that, that’s why I said that’s a valid argument, but your wordplay with union and mafia was totally unnecessary and ruined it. That’s not better than Gilliards reply.

    And do I understand you right, you support Bloomberg’s comment, but think Gilliards rebuttal is unfair? You think it’s ok to call unions liars? Just for your info, Toussaint was elected to the helm of local 100 as an outsider, replacing a guy whose reelection had been pushed by national TWU. His first actions were to reduce his own salyry and to get rid of a lucurious health insurance, opting for the same insurance as his teamsters instead. If you want to call this guy a thug, you gave to offer some evidence, everything else is just a smear attack. Don’t look so much Sopranos, start googling.

  • Gray_

    Oops! “You think it’s ok to call unions liars?” Make that “thugs”, of course…

  • Why is it the little guy who always gets it in the neck? No one seems to notice when big business extorts money from government in the form of tax breaks.

    I thought that in a capitalist system companies only invested if they felt they could make a profit from their investments. So why the need for a government subsidy?

    Here is a local example. Compare it with the size of the increase being demanded by the TWU.

    “City and state officials said on Wednesday [August 12, 2005] that they had agreed to grant the company [Goldman Sachs] at least $150 million in tax breaks and to provide a total of $1.6 billion in federally subsidized Liberty Bonds to revive Goldman’s plan to build a $2 billion tower in Battery Park City.”

  • Catherine

    Don – I don’t care if you are union or not. Unions were never any good to my family and friends when they belonged (janitors and suburban bus union). Your workers of the world unite crap is ignoring history.

    Again, you are missing the point

    We know that the MTA’s $1 billion surplus is not the result of the labors of the transit workers; it is the result of MY taxes. The little people who are suffering the most during this strike, will also have TO PAY FOR IT IN TAXES. Union members did not put in extra effort to bring about more income! THE “PROFIT” IS MY TAXES AND TOLL MONEY! In fact, 45% of that surplus is earmarked for the transit workers’ pension fund. Not NEW TRAINS! Not CLEANER trains and stations! This is why most NYers (including teachers, cops, et al) are saying SPARE ME YOUR WHINING.

    On top of that, the bus drivers on my route – 50% are JERKS and crappy attitudes. When they don’t have “their” favorite bus available, THEY DON’T DRIVE. If I said, “I don’t like my desk, I’m not working…” I am out of a job. On an average week, it’s this kind of stuff that makes ME late for work or doesn’t leave room for people at the end of the route to get on because they are short a bus.

    No sympathy!

  • I think “irresponsible” can also be applied to your post here, where you insinuate, with no evidence, that the TWU has ties to organized crime. The mayor describes the union tactics as “thuggish” so you engage in slippery logic, to say the least.

    Hee… pardon the schadenfreude, JJ, but — like Sharpton sniping at liberal Republican Bloomberg — it’s somehow a bit satisfying for conservatives to see some liberals sniping at other Democrats with the same slimy tactics used against conservatives as a matter of course.

    Of course Bloomberg used “thug” simply to mean “bully”, just as you only mentioned the past use of the word mafia to characterize past views — not yours — of unions. But precise meanings are no obstacle to angry partisans.

    You might remember what happened to Bill Bennett… arguing on the radio against a silly liberal concept, he demonstrated its silliness by following it to its logical end. Partisans lighted on him, though, deliberately misunderstanding what he had said in order to paint a prominent conservative as racist. It was, of course, the concept he was popping that was ultimately racist and illogical.

    In other words, welcome to our world.

    Andrew Tyndall seems to continue feigning confusion over what you meant. It’s perfectly clear to everybody else.

  • Excuse me, Carson Fire, if you found my tone angry or my tactics slimy. Neither was my intent.

    However, allow me to insist…

    It was Jarvis who initiated the word-association game of Bloomberg’s term “thug” with his own “Hoffa.” Jarvis was the one who googled the combination. Jarvis was the one who cited HBO’s The Sopranos. He was the one who introduced organized crime into the discussion.

    I am not feigning confusion about his odd decision to go in this direction. I am genuinely confused.

    And since the point of his original post was to criticize The New York Times for tendentiously interjecting racial innuendos into the Bloomberg-Toussaint dispute, it is only fair for me to comment in response that his interjection of the mafia was similarly tendentious.

  • Jimmy

    “act of unlawful thuggery”

    Geez! Cue the melodramatic music!

  • lisa

    What was bloomberg drinking or sniffing before he came to make his public announcement,how can he say he have been traveling by train and the subway is clean ,Bloomberg what are you talking about ,rats ,debris,shit,but I guess it will be very easy for you,I know for him its like visiting his family every now and then{rats}and to the young lady,I feel sorry for the small business man on the street but I recall when you start a business theirs some thing call your capital,liability and assets.With assets you put some aside which is call savings for days like these,what are you saying you as a woman live day by day and if youhave kids, you are more diligent for times like these?better known as rainy days

  • Gray_

    Carson, it would be really nice if you would think about the stuff you’re posting before you hit “post”, too. “it’s somehow a bit satisfying for conservatives to see some liberals sniping at other Democrats with the same slimy tactics used against conservatives as a matter of course.” hmm, I’m a bit dumbfounded about who’s the liberal here and who’s the democrat – normally, both words have the same meaning for rightwingers (demoncrat? ggg). All I know is that JJ is left of Zell Miller and right of Chuck Hagel, so he’s one of those voters who will be responsible for electing the next president. Maybe I should crawl into his behind to secure the next Dem president, but I’m too much of an honest person to do that. My fault. Imho it’s great that you don’t seize the opportunity, thx!

    Of course Bloomberg used “thug” simply to mean “bully”, just as you only mentioned the past use of the word mafia to characterize past views — not yours — of unions.”
    Hehe! Another mindreader here! Just to state the obvious: You don’t know s*** about the meaning of Bloomberg’s words, nobody knows, except himself. But if someone says ‘thug’ and all that is known about this person and the situation when he said that doesn’t add anything towards a better understanding, most will believe that he wanted to say that someone is a thug. And thug has the meaning of gangster, killer, a violent, brutal person who is often a member of an organized gang (Merriam Webster, btw). I guess Bloomberg is an educated person and not under drug influence (I hope so), so how do you come to your conclusion???

    Also, there’s nothing in JJ’s comment that gives any base to your interpretation that JJ “only mentioned the past use of the word mafia to characterize past views — not yours [JJ’s]— of unions”. He didn’t say anything pointing in that direction, so it’s fair for us to assume that he really meant it. And he didn’t deny that yet.

    “But precise meanings are no obstacle to angry partisans.” Amen brother. Pls check the beam in your eye.

  • TedM


    Can you believe this?

  • Gray_

    Hmm, I guess he does. I posted it, it’s in the comments, he’s a good, educated reader, I think he’ll believe this is my opinion. Do you have any specific questions, Ted?

  • Gray_

    Kk, I’m drunk, and then I’m becoming somewhat egocentrical. Maybe Ted wanted to ask Jeff if he believes what he wrote. Hell, most of us don’t know JJ, why shouldn’t we believe that he’s posting his real opinion? K, sometimes he’s ironic, but the other times? I’ve made my prejudiced opinion about Jeff up (and I won’t have problems with altering it in the light of new evidence), but I don’t think he’ll be posting something just to provoke his readers or to do his party a favor (what party?). That’s why I regularly check his blog: He isn’t a brainwashed republican, and I never saw him simply repeating GOP talking points.

  • Sarah

    Why isn’t anyone blaming greedy MTA management? They’re the ones that walked away from the negotiation table.

    The strike is not as much about race as class. I doubt that many people posting on this topic ever worked a blue-collar job. It must be nice up in that ivory tower.

  • Mike


    Could you be any more arrogant and ignorant in your posts?

    So Carson Fire can’t interpret what Bloomberg was saying, but you and Tyndall can interpret what Jeff was? How interesting.

    Regardless, unions ceased being effective groups for laborers a long time ago. All of them should have been fired for the illegal strike and be forced to realize how good they actually have it compared to the laborers they are transporting around.

  • Having jumped on my bike three days this week to cycle to work, also made me reflect on the union issues within the newspaper industry. If there was ever an industry and union-imposed rigidity were incompatible, it’s now (I ruminate a bit on this in my blog).

    And regarding the MTA/TWU thing, they should have fined them more. In the private sector, if unions lead to excess cost and inability to meet market demands, the company goes out of business and the union members lose their jobs — a free market correction. Or the company finds ways to outsource or offshore the troublemaking union functions. For public employees, no such downside exists and consumers simply can’t choose to use a “different” government, police force, etc. than the one they have (where there exists a minimal choice — education, transit — there are substantial switching costs). For this reason, public employees shouldn’t be able to strike and should face stiff penalties when they do. Don’t care about class, race, etc. — it’s the law and that’s how we do things (despite the recent actions of our imperial president).

  • kittenpie

    let’s just step back a few steps for a moment. REally, one of the few ways a union can really get the attention of the people they are negociating with (be it managment or government or what have you) has been by striking. Without that, they have little in the way of real power, no teeth at the table. So while this strike was indeed illiegal, what I am more interested in is how NY state is able to justify prohibiting public unions to strike in one blanket movement, effectively removing the negociating power of all public employees? Many public employees in NYC are paid shamefully (I am not commenting on the MTA workers here, I don’t know about their salaries, but NYC teachers and librarians, for example are paid like galley slaves) because they have no way to induce the state and city to raise their pay in negociations. So while the strike may be illegal and everyone may be annoyed because of the inconvenience to their lives, I think behind it there is this larger issue of the state rendering the unions and there workers impotent to improve their situations without an illegal action. In other cities where unions are permitted to strike, there rarely are in fact strikes, because civic unions are aware of their duty to the public and that they will not win public sympathy by striking. I’m guessing things would have to have been pretty bad in negociations for this strike to have taken place, especially as they knew in advance that the penalties would be heavy.

  • Bill Diggs

    When one of Bloomberg’s spokesmodels referred to the firefighters as thuggish, during their contract negotiation, when they threatened to strike; Bloomberg said he would not use that type of language to describe them. The fire fighters are overwhelmingly white. Yet, thuggish behavior by individual fire fighters is well documented– outside of union nogotiations. The same is not true of transit workers. Ergo, Bloomberg’s statement was racist, impolitic, and sadly, typical. It’s very easy to cast aspersions against black people, because whites think it’s courageous and/or cutting edge to be racist. They like to claim they are simply telling the truth. They believe racism is an excuse that black people make when they confront their race-based inadequacies. We who suffer from white racism know this. Those who make excuses for it, or re-interpret it as is done here, are guilty of perpetuating racism. They are neither intelligent nor incisive. They are instead, typical.