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"Things We Had When New York Was a Union Town"
By Dr Mark Naison
Dec 24, 2005, 11:50am

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Reprinted from Danny Schechter blog- NewsDissector, December 23, 2005

Another letter circulatinga round from Dr Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University,tackles the subject of the good that unions have done for New York. It's called: "Things We Had When New York Was a Union Town."

"One of the most disturbing things about the public discourse on the Transit Strike is that the media, elected officials, and many citizen are predisposed to see the Union as a disruptive force and the MTA as acting in the public interest.

Many people would not be upset in the least to see the TWU broken, or at least dramatically weakened, and think that if the TWA and the city could determine wages, pensions and working conditions without union interference, the city would be a better place I think this view of unions is extremely shortsighted, especially in the light of New York City's history.

Is New York a better city now than it was 50 years ago, when more than half the city's work force was unionized? Does it have better schools, public services, and better cultural and recreational opportunities for its poor and working class residents?

"Based on my own research in the Bronx African American History Project and the material offered in Josh Freeman's book "Working Class New York" the answer to this question is a resounding NO! Here are some of features of New York life in the 40's and 50's, which the city unions fought for. which are no longer with us today.

1. Supervised recreation programs in every public elementary school in the city from 3-5 PM and 7-9 PM, which included sports, arts and crafts and music. These programs were free and open any young person who
walked through the door.

2. First rate music programs in every public junior high school in the city featuring free instruction for students in bands,orchestras and music classes. Students in those classes could take home musical instruments to practice

3. Recreation supervisors, as well as cleaners, in every public park in the city, including neighborhood vest pocket parks, who organized games and leagues and prevented fights.

4. A public housing program that constructed tens thousands of units of low and moderate income housing throughout the city and staffed these with housing police, ground crews and recreation staffs to make sure the projects were safe, clean and well policed

5. Free tuition at the city university, at the community college, college and graduate levels, for all students who met the admissions standards

6. Parks department policies which made sure that parks in the outer boroughs were kept as clean and environmentally sound as Central Park or parks in wealthy neighborhoods

7 Free admission at all the city's major zoos and museums. These policies, all of which were eliminated during the 1970's, meant that children in poor and working class communities had access to recreational cultural and educational opportunties which are today only available to the children of the rich

These programs were not there because of the foresight and compassion of the city's business leadership. They were there because unions fought for them and demanded that elected officials they supported fund them

This is not to say that unions are right in every dispute, or that they are immune from arrogance, greed and corruption. But it should give pause to those who think that our lives would be better in a union free environment

Let me leave you with a some numbers. In the early 1950's when 33% of the American work force was unionized, the United States had the smallest wealth gap ( between the top and bottom 20 percent of its population) of any advanced nation in the world. Now, when 13% of our workforce is unionized, we have the largest.

"Is this progress? Let's think long and hard before we blame unions for city's and the nation's economic problems"


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