"NEW YORK - Four days after the city's transit strike ended, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was still coming under fire for his use of the word 'thuggishly' to describe the actions of the leaders of a union that is mostly minority.
'Michael Bloomberg, don't be nasty and mean,' attorney Norman Siegel said Monday, standing on the steps of City Hall. 'Be positive. Together, we can improve race relations in New York.'
The civil rights attorney noted that more than 70 percent of the Transport Workers Union's 33,000 members are "of color." And while he didn't believe Bloomberg's use of the word was in itself racist, Siegel said, "The perception out there is that it is racist. And the reaction has enormous racial overtones."
Bloomberg used the word Dec. 20 during a briefing on the first day of the three-day strike that forced millions of riders to spend extra hours commuting. The mayor complained that union leaders had "thuggishly turned their backs on New York City and disgraced the noble concept of public service."
Some criticized him for using the word, saying it was racist in the context of a mostly minority union. A Bloomberg spokesman said it was wrong to bring race into the situation."
It's not only wrong but it's misdirected. In typical fashion liberals make the issue one of race when this is really about economics and economic power and race is just incidental. It is not that race and thug are often paired which should concern liberals but that union and thuggish are often paired. This is the stereotype that Bloomberg was playing to. And this stereotype does more to weaken the interests of working people than do racial allusions. If they cannot organize for their economic advancement and employ one of the few tools available to them to exert some kind of economic influence, their ability to extract fair value from their labor is dimished. While liberals play into the hands of economic power by agreeing that the essential conlicts in society are between races, they prevent any kind of alliance across racial lines within a progressive labor movement that might promote the interests of working people everywhere.