In Defense of Free Speech, Labor and Civil Rights in New York City
December 23, 1999
From Seattle to Singapore, demands for labor and free speech rights are the order of the day. In New York City, however, the First Amendment has been crippled by anti-union temporary restraining orders, issued at Rudolph Giuliani’s initiative, that have prohibited transit workers — or anyone else — from “voting to engage in, or otherwise in favor of engaging in, causing, instigating, encouraging or condoning, or lending support or assistance of any nature to any strike.” For breaking this order, Transport Workers Union Local 100 was threatened with a fine of $1 million on the first day, and double that amount on each subsequent day. Individual transit workers faced imprisonment and a $25,000 fine, subject to the same “daily double” threat aimed particularly at, but not limited to, the union’s New Directions caucus.
This blatantly unconstitutional order is without parallel in the modern history of New York City. Although now withdrawn, it has served to deprive transit workers the right to meaningful collective bargaining, and reflects the Mayor’s all-too-familiar “zero-tolerance” for what he perceives as dissent of any kind.
Victims of the administration’s intolerance include advocates for the homeless, for children, and for people with AIDS; activists protesting racism and police abuse; independent-minded politicians and government officials; artists and museums — even those seeking to hold an all-night vigil in honor of John Lennon. It is no accident, therefore, that the Mayor has lost nearly all of the two dozen civil liberties lawsuits brought against him.
Unions have long been a favorite target of Giuliani’s assaults. At the Reagan Justice Department, he played a leading role in breaking the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike. As Mayor, he has violated the collective bargaining rights of Legal Aid Society staff, refused to renegotiate fraudulent contracts imposed by corrupt municipal union leaders, eliminated thousands of union jobs through a “workfare” system designed to impose substandard wages and working conditions, and implemented union-busting privatization that benefits the rich.
In 1999, encouraged by these unrestrained assaults on labor, Giuliani ran the trains on time by mugging the First Amendment. The Transit Authority’s order, with similar restrictions, remains in effect.
On April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “mountaintop” speech, in which he called for resistance to an “illegal, unconstitutional injunction” against African-American municipal sanitation workers in Memphis. The Giuliani/MTA 1999 order against NYC transit workers — who are also overwhelmingly people of color — is strikingly similar to that Memphis injunction of more than 30 years ago.
We, therefore, seek to honor Dr. King’s final battle by condemning these unconscionable orders and by demanding that such egregious violations of free speech, labor, and civil rights never again be permitted to occur.
Initial Endorsers (List in Formation)
(*Organization listed for identification only)
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325 (AFL-CIO)
Center for Constitutional Rights
Class Action/Teachers for a Just ContractCUFT (AFL-CIO)
International Socialist Organization
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Gerald Lefcourt, Esq., Past-President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers*
Global Sweatshop Coalition
Ray LaForest, Staff Representative, DC 1707, AFSCME (AFL-CIO)*
Ray Markey, President, Local 1930, DC 37, AFSCME (AFL-CIO)*
National Conference of Black Lawyers/NYC Chapter
National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights
National Lawyers Guild/NYC Chapter
New Caucus of the Professional Staff Congress/AFT (AFL-CIO)
New Directions Caucus, Local 100, TWU (AFL-CIO)
New York Taxi Workers Alliance
Mark Rosenthal, President, Local 983, DC 37, AFSCME (AFL-CIO)*
Rev. Al Sharpton, President, National Action Network