The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.62/No.26           July 6, 1998 
Philadelphia Workers Discuss Strike  

PHILADELPHIA - This week, supporters of the Socialist Workers campaign gathered 570 names on petitions to put congressional candidate Nancy Cole on the ballot. This brings the total as of June 24 to 1,340, well within reach of the goal of collecting nearly double the required 1,000 names by June 28.

While petitioning, campaign supporters were not only able to introduce the socialist platform to many for the first time, but also got a good picture of how many workers in this city are reacting to the campaign by Democrats, Republicans, and the big-business media to isolate the striking SEPTA unionists.

"They have to do what they have to do," said one shopper outside the ACME supermarket in South Philadelphia June 21. "They're working people just like me," said another. A clear majority of those asked readily signed the petition and indicated support for the TWU.

There is also a definite minority, especially among those who have been seriously inconvenienced by the strike, who express hostility to the union's struggle. One worker who arrived at the ACME with his two children and his wife - all on bicycles they said they had to buy because of the strike - was very vocal in shouting his opposition to the strike and urged people not to sign the petition because of Cole's pro-union stance. "Why should we suffer like this so that the drivers of busses and trains can endanger us by using drugs?" he argued, picking up on SEPTA's attacks on "irresponsible" union opposition to a proposed "zero tolerance" drug policy in the final contract offer.

Strikers on the picket line point out that SEPTA's demands exceed already existing federal standards enforced under the previous contracts and supported by the union. The new standards would do away with a worker's present right to enroll in rehabilitation programs aimed at helping them keep their job.

Among critics of the union who are Black, the most frequent argument is that SEPTA workers are too highly paid.

Striker LeRoy Bynum, who is Black, responds that "a lot of criticism in the Black community comes from people who aren't working. They look at our wages and it seems like a lot. But many of us started off at $2 an hour 30 years ago. Now we make more, but it's our position that we're still short of where we should be."

And SEPTA is proposing to cut pay for new employees from the current 80 percent of maximum to 60 percent, while stretching out the time to reach the top from three years to six.

The same government that is cutting hard-won social benefits in the Black community is also going after the SEPTA workers, Vaughan Stockton, an operator for 30 years noted. "They're trying to get out of pensions and benefits. It starts with the federal government on down. If they're cutting all these programs, where are the dollars going? Our taxes aren't going down! But they are cutting down on welfare."  
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