I never liked riding the bus as a kid. With its limited possibilities for adult supervision, the school bus was the venue of choice for kicking someone’s ass or exploring the more psychological expressions of adolescent torment. One day a boy my age looked at me defiantly across the aisle and set his jeans on fire. The first time I heard the word “cunt” yelled with real conviction? On a school bus. But had it not come, I would have been stranded without a ride. Which is, of course, exactly what happened to New York City’s 1.1 million public school children this January, when eight thousand bus drivers walked off the job, sparking a month-long standoff between Local Amalgamated Transit Union 1181 and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Daily News accused drivers of “leaving kids … and forcing their angry parents to drag them to school in taxis or the subway.” Brooklyn Ink asserted that the strike could damage the development of children with autism by interrupting the delivery of therapeutic services received at school. In an interview with the New York Times, a parent employed at a Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan vented: “I had to take a leave just for this. It’s ridiculous.” For weeks, overwhelmed families shouldered the burden of trucking their kids to school. Then five Democratic mayoral candidates wrote a letter to union members urging them to return to work. Not one of the candidates addressed Bloomberg or Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who had stripped a job-security provision from the unions’ contract, inciting the conflict in the first place. Both Bloomberg and Walcott had shrewdly taken to referring to the protests as “a strike against our children.”
The next day, the strike was off — another in a long line of Bloomberg’s victories against organized labor. “In the city’s entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today,” he commented, “and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it.”