Any history of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union of America, which has for more than six decades represented the transit workers of New York City, must be prefaced by some of the tumultuous events that lead to establishment of the union in 1934. The New York City transit system goes back to the early part of the 19th century. Horse drawn carriages were followed by electric-powered trains, then elevated and subway trains and finally by gas and diesel powered buses.

Transit companies were then owned by powerful and wealthy private interests, which kept wages pitifully low and working conditions abysmal. Most transit workers labored seven days a week anywhere from 8.5 to 11.5 hours a day. In desperation, workers tried in vain to organize uni ons in 1905, 1910, 1916 and 1919. Strikes in those years were brutally suppressed by management goons, anti-worker courts and government officials.

Part of the reason for the early failures was the attempts to organize along craft lines. James Connolly, the great Irish socialist labor leader, whose writings and philosophy would eventually inspire the founders of TWU, believed that industrial unionism was the answer to organization.

While constant attempts to unionize continued without real succe ss, a 10% pay cut in 1932 and thousands of layoffs, necessitating speed up of the remaining workers, proved to be the final launching pad for establishment of a real and lasting labor organization. Seven subway workers who were members of a secret Iris h organization -- Clan-na-Gael-- all veterans of the Irish Republican Army-- met in a coffee shop across the street from a meeting of that organization. They resolved to organize a genuine trade union to improve their situation.

Since most of the tran sit men were Irish and Catholic, they sought help from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. These groups turned them down, stating they couldn't be involved in controversial labor matters.

While pursuing fellow workers on a man-to-man basis, the early organizers sought help from the U.S. Communist Party. And the party promised and provided help. Maurice Forge was assigned to edit the union's periodical, "The TWU Bulletin." Harry Sacher, a labor lawyer, and John Santo, and Austin Hogan, organizers, were made available. A young Railroad Clerk by the name of Michael J. Quill, however quickly rose to the ascendancy with his winning oratorical style, his dedication to industrial unionism and his courage to risk all to attain the workers' goals. Date for the founding of the Union was set at April 12, 1934, which was when Santo and Hogan first met with the Clan's transit organizing group in Stewart's Cafeteria at Columbus Circle.

Dues were initially ten cents a week. And as the membership was relatively small, financial help was needed from the outside. Some was provided by the Communist Party, other from brother unions and liberal friends. Early goals were clear and simple: 1. Return of the 10% wage cut; 2. Increased wages to meet the cost of living; 3. Introduction of the forty hour week without loss of pay and hiring of additional workers to stop the speedups; and finally 4. Safe and sanitary working conditions.

The TWU Bulletin announced that: "We believe in o ne union uniting all transport workers including all crafts, departments, and lines-- IRT, BMT, Independent, buses, and street cars etc. "We recognize that the interests of the transport companies who own and control the lines and the interest of the w orkers who possess nothing else but their labor power are directly opposed. Gains for the workers can only be gotten by militant struggle and organization."

Each and every worker was called upon to be an organizer. They were urged to meet in small grou ps of trusted friends to frustrate the efforts of the companies' "beakies" who were ordered to ferret out all friendly to the union. The small groups were urged to report their progress to a small Union office at 80 East 11th Street.

TWU spotlighted the fallacy of the phony IRT company union, the Interborough Brotherhood, which all employees were forced to join and to sign a "yellow-dog contract," pledging not to join any other organization. By early 1935, TWU no longer had to work in secret. And late r that year the organizing was bolstered by passage of the Labor Management Relations Act. The LMRA-- popularly known as the Wagner Act-- prohibited certain management practices that hindered the organization of labor, established election machinery to se ttle controversies concerning the representation of employees, and created the National Labor Relations Board of three members to execute these provisions.

A Delegates Council was formed in the Spring of 1935. Sections were formed in various locations and each section selected representatives to the Council. Although TWU was not on the 5th Avenue Bus Property in June of 1935, workers there learned of the Union's Commitment when TWU men turned out to join the Amalgamated's picket line in the fight to save 25 men fired for union activity.

On July 9th, 1935, and incident occurred that proved to be an important turning point of the fledgling union. Six men at the IRT's Jerome Avenue Barn were fired for refusal to clean wet windows with enlarged "squeegees" on a rainy day.

When General Manager Keegan refused to meet with a committee formed by the men and would only meet with individuals, a two-day picket line was conducted at the Barn and at the IRT offices at 165 Broadway.

The July "Bulletin" reported: "The men carried the day with what is considered the first successful strike on the IRT of any proportion since the union is in existence. Not a single man was discriminated against and they were taken back in groups according to classifications . Not a single scab was taken on while the men were out, although the company did try to recruit some who refused to take the jobs." Stimulated by the success of the "squeegee strike," the Union had grown strong enough to hire two full-time organizers . The August 7, 1935 meeting of the Delegate's Council appointed Michael J. Quill and Douglas MacMahon to the post by a unanimous vote.

One month later, the Union moved to its new headquarters at 153 West 64th Street, destined to be its home for the next 19 years.


The second confrontation fueling TWU's growth occurred on August 10, 1935. A group of Union men returning from a picket line at the IRT headquarters at 165 Broadway were jumped by a gang of management goons called "beakies" in the tunnel to the shuttle in the Grand Central Station.

Five TWU men- including Michael J. Quill- were arrested. The beakies got off scot-free and perjured themselves in court without punishment. But after a tough court fight, the Union quintet was freed.

This incident gave TWU organizers more ammunition in their efforts to convince the workers that membership in the Union was the only way to counter the company's harassment, abuse, and violence.


Most of 1936 was dedicated to the man-to-man organization of the Union on the IRT, BMT, and IND systems. As a result of these efforts, a TWU mass meeting on September 17, 1936, voted a ten-point program of demands on the IRT.

This program called for a restoration of the 1933 pay cuts, an additional ten percent increase- with a guaranteed 25 dollar a week minimum- reduction of the work week to 48 hours for those working more than that and to 40 for those who work 48, one and two week vacations, seniorit y rights, an end to the phony pension, and creation of a genuine one, no layoffs, reinstatement of blacklisted union activists, time-and-a-half for overtime, and recognition of the Union.

In March of that year, TWU had received a charter as a lodge of the International Association of Machinists, AFL. But that association didn't last long because IAM officials started objecting to TWU's militant approach to organizing.


The IAM connection began to unravel when TWU was compelled to stage a sitdown strike in January 1937 at the Kent Avenue Powerhouse in Brooklyn after two Union organizers were fired on trumped up charges.

Although there were only 34 TWU members in the p ower plant when the sitdown began, there were 498 when it ended two days later. This was another key step in TWU being recognized as the real representative of the workers in the New York City transit system. But the Union's actions were too much for IAM and AFL. They insisted that TWU chop itself up into 14 different craft unions of the AFL. That type of organization had failed miserably in the past. TWU was not having any of it. <


New York City Mayor Robert Wagner and his Transit Labor Committee stepped in late December of 1964 to help hammer out a $42 million package for both TA and MABSTOA workers, after the Authority had initially balked at including the latter in the negotiatio ns.

But 1966 was a totally different story. The new Mayor John Lindsay, in an ill-advised refusal to get the intransigent management to bargain seriously, let TWU's strike deadline come and go so a 12-day walkout ensued. Within three hours and two minu tes, the world's largest subway and bus systems, serving eight million people daily, came to a complete halt.

When TWU, and the Amalgamated Association, which joined in the stoppage, refused to obey a judge's injunction to stop the strike, eight of the two unions' leaders including TWU President Michael Quill, were seized and hauled off to Civil Jail.

Even though President Quill collapsed shortly after he was jailed and had to be treated as a cardiac patient, the unions' second line of leadership and solid memberships carried on. A mammoth rally of strikers and supporters from all AFL CIO unions girded City Hall on January 10 and convinced the Mayor that the unions were prepared to stay out "until hell freezes over."

A $6 million dollar wage and benefit package was won on January 13. But it was a costly victory. TWU's inimitable International President Michael J. Quill succumbed just 15 days after the settlement. He had persisted to the end, giving his life for TWU.

(for more information about Mike Quill, read this Acrobat file)

Secretary-Treasurer Matthew Guinan succeeded him and with the aid of the new Secretary-Treasurer Douglas MacMahon, who had been reactivated into union leadership after a long exile, and Executive Vice President James Horst, built on the strong foundation established by Quill.

Me anwhile, the rapidly growing New York Bus unit of Local 100 won a tremendous victory after a five day strike in May of 1966, granting them rates and benefits equal to those paid at the transit authority.

The winning of the 12-day NYC strike brought no relief from attacks on Local 100 by its well-entrenched and financed foes. In a sneak attack in April of 1967, the New York State Legislature shoved through the slave labor Taylor Law. Harsh penalties- unheard of in private industry- were mandated on both Union and members in event, the workers were forced to withhold their labor because of unbearable conditions. Two years later, the Union had to pull out all the stops to secure an agreement reached three hours after strike deadline. The outstanding ga in in this pact was the 20-year, half-pay pension for TA workers while on MABSTOA, pensions were increased 50 percent and the retirement age reduced to 60. Private lines members also had their pension plan substantially improved.


In May of 1979, Matthew Guinan, who had guided TWU through the years following the death of Michael J. Quill in 1966, decided to relinquish the reigns and was succeeded by Air Transport Division Director William Lindner. Local 100 President John Lawe doubled as Executive Vice President and Roosevelt Watts, Local 100's Secretary-Treasurer, assumed that post for the International Union. Shortly after their taking office, the new TWU leaders sprang to the defense of the NYC's subway and bus workers who we re being scapegoated in the rash of derailments and accidents. They provided solid evidence before a National Transportation Safety Board hearing that the real cause of the mishaps was the stretch-out of inspections and poor management practices. They als o carried the fight before New York State legislative hearings and mobilized support for a $500 million transportation bond issue which resulted in the purchase of 260 new IRT cars and the rebuilding of 280 older ones.

Meanwhile, officers and members w ere busy drawing up demands and preparing for negotiations for 1980 contract improvements. This prompted the TA and the anti-labor media to press for huge service and worker cutbacks- especially "thousands of unneeded token sellers"- to finance any increased costs.

When the Union finally served its reasonable demands, the Authority responded with a laundry list of takeaways including slashes in weekend and night differentials, retirement benefits, combining of job titles and an end to Accumulated Vacati on Allowance. Management refused to concentrate on TWU's demands and instead insisted on workers' acceptance of their drastic takeaways.

TWU was joined by members of other city unions in one of the largest City Hall demonstrations in history on Marc h 27, 1980. MTA and Mayor Ed Koch waited until the day before strike deadline to make a skimpy, totally unacceptable offer tied in with enough takeaways to more than pay for it.

When the Union struck for 11 days, Mayor Koch and the city's news media had a field day vilifying the strikers and their Union. But fortified by the support of the NYC Central Labor Council and the regional Teamsters Council, the Union overcame and won a substantially better contract than was offered before the strike and the Authority got none of their major takeback demands. Sadly, there was a price to pay for this victory. The Union was assessed a $1.5 million Taylor Fine. Workers were viciously penalized two days' pay for each day on strike, a total of $18 million. This intensified TWU's determination to get the legislature to seek changes in the Taylor Law to improve impasse procedures and to remove the unfair penalties that hit both the Union and the members.

Even after the MTA workers returned to work, Local 100 membe rs on Queens Division Lines had to stay out for three more days before they got a settlement of their contract dispute. In 1982, after long and arduous efforts, the Union was able to get through the legislature and signed by the Governor a bill providing arbitration of any contract dispute on the NYC transit system. That success paid off a year later when a stalemate occurred in negotiations with the Authority. Again management insisted on almost 100 takeaways while the Union asked for only a 25 percent i ncrease.

The arbitration panel came down with a 21.5 percent boost over three years.