July 9 - Organizing ALL of NYC Transit
On this day in labor history, the year was 1935.
That was the day transit workers in the Bronx walked off the job in what is referred to as the Squeegee Strike.
These were the days when New York City public transit was barely organized.
Two of the three transit companies in New York City were privately owned, with entrenched company unions.
Up to this point, transit bosses had successful crushed every previous strike.
Now, six car cleaners at the Jerome Avenue barn had just been fired for refusing a management imposed speed-up.
Supervisors had replaced their 10-inch squeegees with those that measured 14 inches.
They expected workers to clean more in a shorter period of time.
According to historian Joshua Freeman, author of In Transit, when word spread that the six cleaners had been fired, others downed their tools in protest.
They demanded unsuccessfully to meet with the shop foreman.
After several hours of waiting, they discovered that management had removed their time cards.
That’s when the two-day walkout began.
As many as seventy workers stormed off the job.
Pickets went up at the barn and at Interborough Rapid Transit Headquarters.
The regional NLRB office quickly mediated a settlement that forced the IRT to reinstate the discharged workers and strikers, and answer their grievances.
Freeman notes this first strike, though small in scale and brief, was significant.
The victory of the Squeegee Strike immediately built the TWU’s authority citywide.
It quickly brought several hundred new members into the union.
New dues paying members provided a financial base for full-time organizers needed to organize New York City transit.
The union would grow rapidly and soon enjoy a number of organizing victories.