Feb. 2 saw a groundswell of support for the striking school bus drivers and matrons in New York City. Rallies burst out, in both Manhattan and the Bronx, while marches through the streets as well as car caravans went to the East 79th Street mansion of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and to bus yards in the South Bronx.
United Steelworkers Local 8751 — which represents Boston school bus drivers and matrons — not only passed a resolution in support of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 strike, and donated $500 to the strike fund, it sent a busload of its members to walk the picket lines and join the protests on Feb. 2.
Mayor Bloomberg has refused to bargain with the union since it went on strike Jan. 16, disrupting access of 150,000 students to their schools. About 55,000 of them are students with special needs. Bloomberg has said granting union members job security, in the form of an Employee Protection Plan, would violate the law, although unnamed members of his administration have told the press the real reason is that an EPP would cost more.
The bus companies tried suing the union through the National Labor Review Board, claiming they were the target of an illegal, secondary strike. But the NLRB hearing at the end of January stated that the drivers and matrons had two employers — the city and the bus companies — which made the strike legal. If, however, the bus companies were out of the picture, the strike would be illegal under the reactionary Taylor Law.
Bloomberg still remained intransigent after the NLRB decision. He even rejected the union’s offer of a cooling-off period.
Parents to Improve School Transportation, a two-year-old advocacy group, refuses “to let Bloomberg throw children under the bus.” In conjunction with ATU 1181, PIST decided to go ahead with a day of actions to support the drivers and their union.
Caravans target Bloomberg, South Bronx bus yards
After the Boston drivers, who left at 4:30 a.m., arrived in Manhattan, vans and cars began gathering on the east side of Madison Square Park in midtown. Banners and placards were taped to the vehicles, while PIST members, ATU 1181 and USW 8751 set up a militant and vigorous picket line. The main slogans were summed up by the sign that read, “Safety for children, justice for workers, EPP.”
There were a few spontaneous marches around the neighborhood before the car caravan took off for Bloomberg’s mansion. To the surprise of many veterans of long years at protests and marches of all sorts, the cops provided an escort for most of the caravan. There was speculation about why this happened, with a number of participants feeling the cops and their bosses had noticed that public opinion has decisively swung toward supporting the strikers.
After an hour or so at a rally near Bloomberg’s mansion, another caravan was organized to go to the South Bronx, where the ATU pickets bus yards on Saturdays.
The caravan’s first stop was right after the bridge to the Bronx, where it was greeted by community members organized by the Mujeres por las trabajadores por la paz (Women Workers for Peace) and Movimiento Poder Popular (People Power Movement), which had endorsed the caravan. Sara Catalinotto, an organizer with PIST, told WW: “It was a warm greeting, filled with solidarity and hugs.”
The caravan then moved on to the Pioneer and Reliant bus yards in an industrial area on Zerega Avenue. Four hundred people gathered there to hear Larry Hanley, the international president of ATU; Michael Cordiello, the president of ATU 1181; and Steve Kirschbaum, of USW 8751, speak. Milagros Cancel spoke for PIST in Spanish, and the Boston drivers led the crowd in union songs. The Boston bus drivers and matrons felt their solidarity was well appreciated.
“It was a victory,” Catalinotto said. “The rank-and-file and the parents showed they wanted to fight for safety for the children and justice for the workers.”