Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
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THE PUBLIC BE DAMNED!

As of this writing, there's a transit strike going on in New York City. It'll undoubtedly be long-since settled when this appears - but the causative factors will continue to exist, and can predictably be expected to bring about other strikes in other places. The cause rests in a false cultural philosophy; until that philosophy is changed, the situation simply continues to manifest itself.
Basically, the transit workers in New York City are striking against the people of New York City. That's the real target of the strike; the Transit Authority of the city is the legal target, of course, but that's largely a fiction.
New Yorkers are fairly familiar with the background; for others, the sequence goes like this:
Mike Quill, of the Transit Workers Union, started "bargaining" with the Transit Authority of the City of New York, which operates the subways and buses in the city, some months before January 1, 1966 - the date on which the newly elected Mayor, John Lindsay, was to take office. From the beginning, Mike Quill insisted that Mayor Lindsay had to come into the negotiations. Now Mike Quill is an intransigent, rebellious, and remarkably undiplomatic man and offensive. This was, of course, a serious handicap to the negotiations.
And John Lindsay, as of late November 1965, had no authority whatever in the city, and none with respect to the Transit Authority. Legally, he had nothing whatever to say and had no place in the negotiations.
So why did Mike Quill want him hauled in?
Because for all his personally infuriating characteristics, Quill is not a fool; he was fully aware of what the situation was, and what would have to be done.
The problem is political, and only a political solution is possible.
The Transit Workers have a legitimate beef; a motorman for the Transit Authority's subways gets about fifty cents an hour less than a motorman doing precisely the same work for the Port Authority Trans-Hudson subways, which run from New Jersey into Manhattan. A mechanic working for the city's Transit Authority gets about fifty cents an hour less than a mechanic doing similar work for the Police Department.
Clearly, there's. legitimate grounds for the TWU to demand a major increase.
However - the New York Subway system is operated by the City, which took it over several years ago from private operators, because the cost of running the subways exceeded the revenues produced by the city-permitted fares. The subways were losing money, and the only possible way to keep them running was to get more income - or else cut down on wages, which wouldn't have been exactly practical in the current cultural atmosphere.
The old five cent fare, got boosted, after the City took over, anyway. As of January 1, 1966 it's fifteen cents.
When the city took over the subways, the rolling stock was in rather sad state; it was overaged and under-maintained. A company that's losing money tends to try to cut costs in such ways. The City's been replacing some of the worst cars, and doing maintenance work - but New York can still boast of having about the dirtiest, ugliest subways of any great city in the world. The subway guard forces were cut to a minimum - until the high incidence of muggings, knifings and assorted JD crimes got so high that the guard force was increased again.
There's no way to save money left; there are no (anathematized) profits to be cut into. The Transit Authority is broke, and going into the red steadily.
The Transit Workers wanted a $600,000,000 a year increase.
The Transit Authority turnip simply wasn't in a position to yield much blood.
And the perfectly obvious solution - raising the subway fares to about thirty cents, so that decent maintenance, wages, and rolling stock renewal could be maintained - is a suggestion that brings shrieks of anguish and howls of anger from the voters of the Great City of New York.
Everybody wants to charge high for what he does, and pay low for what he gets. And what people want is always fairly easy to determine; getting them to accept what they need is something else again. The people want that old five cent fare. They need a thirty cent fare.
The Transit Authority doesn't dare order it - it's a political issue that's far too hot to touch.
The Mayor doesn't dare order it - not when the voters would react with the most violent sort of anger and anguish.
Mike Quill knows perfectly well what he's asking for; the TWU is officially asking for a wage increase from the Transit Authority, but they're actually asking Mr. J. Q. Public to accept that a thirty cent fare is proper.
The result is that nobody can act to break the strike until the public says "Oh, for Pete's sake - give 'em their money, dammit, and get these blasted subways running again! This walking to work is driving me nuts. Driving in costs me three dollars or more every day and I can't afford it! Give 'em their money and stop this damn nuisance!"
When Johnny Q. Public, in other words, finally acknowledges that he has to pay for what he gets - then he'll get what he wants.

Thus Mike Quill & Co. are not striking against the Transit Authority; they are striking against the People of the City of New York.
Their strike is directed at forcing the people of the City to grant the workers higher wages - at the expense of the people of the city.
Now when a Union strikes against a company, people tend to identify with the union men. That's easy, because they're happy to spend the other guy's (the company's) money. The fact that Mike Quill has a manner that infuriates isn't helping the TWU a bit, because the people of the City aren't at all happy anyway, and Quill makes a good villain. The basic trouble is, however, that Quill and the TWU are forcing the people into the position normally assigned to the Company, to Big Business, to Management - to traditional villains who refuse to spend their money to pacify the workers. This time, the people have to spend their money if they want the strike settled.
Of course, it's perfectly obvious to any economist that any time the Unions get more money, it actually comes out of the pockets of John Q. Public - but when a private company, such as an automobile manufacturer, is the immediate source of the money, J. Q. can kid himself that he isn't paying for it.
And since people act not on the Truth, but on what they believe - no matter for what reason! - the truth to be, they are not seriously concerned with wage increases in private business.
At the present stage of the TWU-TA negotiations, the politicos are making a great to-do about getting the needed hundreds of millions per year from sources other than the subway rider. "The State government should supply it!" "The Federal Mass Transit funds should pay for it!" Basically, "Some other guy ought to pay my debts!"
The State isn't going to, because Buffalo, Syracuse, Ithaca, and other city residents elsewhere in the state don't really care if New York City residents do have to walk to work, or pay several dollars tolls and parking fees to get there. And the upstaters somehow don't see why they should pay the New Yorker's debts for him.
However this particular hassle is settled, the problem remains - and grows. It's the problem inevitable when the democratic people insist on getting what they want and refuse to acknowledge that what they need may be different. Nobody wants lower wages; if there isn't enough money to go around, somebody else should have to give it up, not me! Nobody wants to have to pay the full price of the services he likes. And they will, therefore, vote for the demagogue who soothes them with promises that they can get what they want and not have to pay for it, if they just elect him.
That demagogue type can get away with it, so long as he can force private companies to pay the bills. That puts the cost so many stages removed from the public that the public doesn't realize they're still going to pay.
Do that a few times, and the companies go bankrupt, and either cease to exist or, in the case of essential service companies - like subway operators! - have to be taken over by the government. As soon as the government does take over, however - the government now becomes the villainous hated group that gouges the poor, infuriated public out of higher rates. I. e., the government is now revealing that the public does have to pay, thus shattering all the demagogic promises of non-payment.
The Public Utility Commission system is a sort of compromise. A private company owns the utility, whatever it may be, but the government fixes the rates. A rise in rates is, then, less apt to bring the seething wrath of the voters down on the politician's head, since the utility company is sending the bills, yet the government is fixing the rates.
This can lead to some fancy strike maneuvers, too. Again, the workers must strike against the public, not against the utility (though, of course, the strike is directly aimed at the company) because a political goal must be achieved.
For example: Suppose the local electric power company's workers demand a twenty-five per cent wage increase. Now the power company's rates were fixed by the Public Utility Commission on the basis of allowing the company to collect enough from its customers to pay for its equipment, fuel, depreciation, taxes of course, the wages of employees, and a "reasonable return on investment." (Chop that off, and banks, insurance companies, and mutual funds would start folding; utilities are the blue-chip investments that such institutions put most of their funds in. If that happened, the wrath of the voters would be most violent!)
Now the utility company accountants and executives laid their books before the Commission, and showed what their costs were, what their invested capital was, what all expenses were, and convinced the Commission that a certain rate, X cents per kilowatt-hour, was necessary and proper.
So now the Union wants a twenty-five per cent increase.
If the utility company management grants it, it must mean that, somehow, they had deceived the Public Utility Commission, and really had padded their expenses so slyly that they were able to pay their workers twenty-five per cent more without losing money. In other words, that they'd made fools of the Commissioners.
This would (1) be highly improbable, and (2) highly unwise, if it were true. It means that the utility company can not raise wages.

Before a utility - electric power, telephone, gas, water, whatever it may be - can raise wages, it must get the Public Utility Commission to allow them to do so, with the understanding that the company's rate structure will be changed upward to compensate. If they don't need that raise in rates, it means the Commissioners didn't know what was going on when they originally established those rates.
But the Public Utility Commission is a politically appointed group - it represents political thinking. And the Great Public does not like to have to pay for things. It's politically most undesirable.
So, because the required upward rate revisions are considerable, the Commission says "No!"
So the Union strikes against the company.
So the public gets its services turned off, or more and more poorly provided.
So finally the public gets so angry and irritated that any reasonably keen political ear can hear them saying "Ah, for Pete's sake - give 'em their money and let me get some service around here!"
Whereupon the Public Utility Commission says, "O. K., you can have a rate increase," and the utility company can now say "O. K., boys - back to work. We are allowed to pay you more now."
When people think that they can escape paying for what they need, they're deluding themselves, of course.
When they believe that wages can be increased without increasing costs, and without introducing labor-saving automation...
Funny how a people that delights in quoting Lincoln's famous "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" never think of it as also applying to government expenditures!
Government expenditures are just as "of the people, by the people, and for the people" - but the people prefer to go on thinking that the government's money is, somehow, not out of their pockets.
The more government gets into business - the more we'll have strikes directed at inconveniencing, harassing, or angering the people. A union can gain nothing whatever from applying pressure against a management which cannot set its own rates, has no money to spend, and no authority to spend it if it could get it.
Under those conditions - when rates and operating policies are set by governmental agencies - the Union has to strike against the public.
The New York City transit strike will be ended when a keen political ear can clearly hear the New York City public saying, "Oh, for Pete's sake - give 'em their money, dammit. I'd rather pay thirty cents for a subway or bus ride than put up with this nuisance!"
But even Mike Quill refrains from coming out and saying: "You're gonna have to pay our higher wages! You, the public, that needs our services - and whether you like it or not!"
The nation will see more and more such strikes against the public - for the simple reason that, when the public takes control of businesses, then the public must pay the bills. If the public takes the authority - the public must be forced to accept the responsibility, willy-nilly, like it or not. And the labor strike was invented as a weapon to force those in authority, like it or not, to accept responsibility.
It's also fascinating to observe that Labor, which made such frightful gestures of shocked amazement when a capitalist of a generation or so ago said: "The public be damned!" is now in precisely the same position.
Now they're saying "The public be damned - until they pay for what they need!"
When the public is the group that must be made to recognize the realities of a problem - the public must be made to accept the bitter dose.

May 1966

END