The Taylor Law: Only As Strong As the Paper It’s Written On

Local 100 conducted a victorious strike in 1966 that was completely illegal. The Condon-Wadlin Law of that time banned public sector strikes, with mandatory firing of members and jail for the leaders being the punishment (that’s a lot harsher than today’s Taylor Law that threatens only fines).

Then-Local 100 President Mike Quill took the court’s papers banning the strike and publically tore them up! He knew that in the face of a powerful strike the law would prove no stronger than the paper it was written on. A little over a week later, Quill was out of jail, transit workers were back at work in triumph, and the Condon-Wadlin Law was a dim memory.

So far, Local 100’s current leaders have not been acting so courageously. They’re using the Taylor Law’s anti-“incitement” clause as an excuse to not come out in favor of a strike. But this sends the message that we should be scared of the Taylor Law.

This is wrong. The Taylor Law is only as strong as we let it be. Our power to shut the city down by striking is more powerful than any law the politicians and courts can come up with. If we strike, we should make amnesty from Taylor Law Penalties a contract demand: we stay out till the MTA and NY State government guarantee this. If we are forced to strike and shut the city down to win our demands, the Taylor Law can be exposed as nothing but a piece of paper and swept away along with all the bosses’ other threats.

This has been done before. NYC sanitation workers struck in the late seventies and demanded and won amnesty (from an emergency session of the state legislature). The Yonkers UFT (Teachers) has struck against the Taylor Law five times, and taken some fines while winning some victories. In recent years NYCT workers have pulled slowdowns and won, as in the RTO rule-book action against Pick take-backs. Management didn’t even try to use the Taylor Law in that case.

Bad laws are made to be broken. That’s always been the way for workers and oppressed people to overturn anti-working class and racist laws. Black people in the South, for example, smashed Jim Crow segregation by massive disobedience to “whites only” laws.

Fears of the Taylor Law should not stop us from striking, and we can’t let it be an excuse for our elected leaders to not organize an all-out struggle for our contract demands.