As the GOP convention nears, New York’s uniformed-services unions are taking a good-cop, bad-cop approach in their long-running battle for new contracts. In the streets, New York City police and firefighters are playing it tough, vowing to imitate the successful campaigns of their union counterparts in Boston by staging picket lines at welcoming parties for state delegations.
“We are looking at the possibility of emulating what the Boston police did,” said Al O’Leary of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “They got information on the welcoming parties for delegates, and they asked those delegates not to cross their picket lines. We’re looking to do the same.”
In Boston, those tactics worked. On the Democratic convention’s eve, both unions reached deals after some muscular last-minute arm-twisting by Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (a Republican), hometown senator Ted Kennedy, and the top leadership of the AFL-CIO, who were all in town for the convention.
Republicans, of course, aren’t as sensitive to picket lines. What New York’s unions have on their side here, however, is the potential for some red faces once the GOP invokes one of its strongest images, that of a grim-faced George W. Bush holding a bullhorn at Ground Zero, surrounded by police and firefighters.
“If I’m the current president coming to town to accept my party’s nomination amid pictures of police officers and firefighters covered in the grit of the collapsed World Trade Center, I don’t want to be having to say, ‘This is me that day, and here I am today,’ ” said O’Leary.
Both unions have reached out to the White House to ask it to intercede with Mayor Bloomberg, say sources familiar with the unions’ efforts. “We have been in communication [with the Bush campaign]; that is all I’m going to say,” said O’Leary. “It is pretty clear they are not pleased with the situation.”
But the first question that Bush political mastermind Karl Rove would be likely to ask is whom the unions intend to endorse. Although the PBA stayed out of the last presidential election, a Bush endorsement is easily foreseeable.
The case of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents New York’s workers, is a little more problematic. Their national parent union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, is a strong backer of John Kerry (IAFF members were prominent onstage at the FleetCenter). But there’s nothing to stop the UFA from breaking away. “We are the largest local union in the country, and only our executive board has the authority to make an endorsement,” said UFA spokesman Tom Butler. TOM ROBBINS
Come blow your horn
In a dank basement in DUMBO, a ragtag group prepares to protest the RNC with trumpets, drums, and whatever else they could scrounge from high school marching band. They’re the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a “radical brass band” of a few dozen recruits, running the gamut from bright-eyed teenagers to gray-haired folks. Some are pros from other groups, like Brooklyn’s Hungry March Band; others haven’t picked up that tuba since the eighth grade.
“We want to take activist culture away from the usual boring folk songs,” says Michele Hardesty, 26, one of the group’s founders. They take their inspirations from a global stew—Mediterranean street bands, Indian wedding bands, the New Orleans second line. Some toot piccolos; others practice dance routines like the “booty fu,” which member Permafrost explains “combines booty and kung-fu.” In a corner, a 16-year-old kid is transcribing Turkish disco tunes for flute. Another wonders how to construct holsters for her traffic batons.
At the RNC protests, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra will join other protest bands, such as the Infernal Noise Brigade and Brass Liberation Orchestra. “I think there’s a Baton Liberation Front—or maybe it’s the Baton Liberation Army,” muses one member.
Auditions and weekly practices happen Thursdays. Meet at 8 p.m. at Pedro’s on 73 Jay Street, Brooklyn. GEETA DAYAL
Marching to Gotham
Two groups of anti-war demonstrators finished their week at the Democratic National Convention by beginning marches toward New York, and the Republican National Convention, which starts August 29.
One of the 50 marchers, a shirtless young anarchist who goes by the name of Clever (rhymes with beaver), said the marchers will enjoy the support of many people along their estimated 258-mile route. “I’m just worried about what will happen when we get to the RNC,” he said.
On July 25, a dozen family members of 9-11 victims left Boston on foot, lugging a 1,400-pound headstone on a cart behind them. The Stonewalkers will exhibit the shiny black monument—honoring civilian casualties—in towns and cities along their route. “It releases a lot of energy and sadness,” said organizer David Potorti, whose brother was killed on 9-11. “It’s not like we are changing the world by pulling a stone, but we are changing ourselves.” MARK BAARD
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2004