The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, in a saucy editorial entitled “The Planet of the Tapes,” made light of the New York Times’ ponderous concern over cosmic difficulties, suggesting that there was plenty going on in New York to inveigh against. Indeed that is the case, and the news is not merely infuriating, but deeply sad.
Last week in New York the firemen actually struck – literally refused to come to work. Oh yes, there was a complaint, and I do not pass judgment on it: Let us assume that the firemen were indisputably correct, measured by any standard, in their demands against those who were negotiating in behalf of the city. Still, they went on strike. It lasted only a few hours, as it happened, and during those few hours amateur city officials wrestled with a few fires – and the city capitulated.
Meanwhile, a strike had begun against the city’s hospitals. Twelve years ago the hospitals were organized. The unionization of hospital workers had been proscribed by law, but under the pressure of a strike, the law was changed to permit the hospitals to organize. As a condition of unionization, it was written into the contract that no strikes would be resorted to under any circumstances. Like the firemen, the hospital workers struck without consideration of the word they had given, and the story unfolds.
Whatever happens to us, we cannot, in good conscience, ask the help of Providence. We are not entitled to it.
The reason for the special tension is racial. The strikers are predominantly Negro and Puerto Rican, and the picketing force is strongly augmented by what would appear to be free lance toughs who specialize in the creation of racial odium. Ironically, there are no economic differences between the hospitals and the strikers. The strikers want a 7.5 per cent raise, and the hospitals are willing to give it. But the Cost of Living Council has ruled that hospitals may not break away from the national pattern of 5.5 per cent maintained under Phase IV of Mr. Nixon’s wretched price control program. The hospital’s management cannot risk defying the federal regulation. To do so, for Lenox Hill, would be to risk up to $4 million in fines.
Meanwhile – an excruciating irony – the strikers are being paid their salary. The management of Lenox Hill reasons that under the contract it is nowhere specified that for failure to report to duty because of a strike, the workers forfeit the two weeks’ pay they are entitled to for failure to report to duty on account of sickness or family emergency or whatever. Since strikes are prohibited, the contract for obvious reasons makes no mention of them: That much is logical.
Thus does it go in New York City these days. It is at such a moment as this that one truly wonders whether American society has reached that point of self-contempt that argues against the possibility of freedom surviving. That there are grown men willing if necessary to let women and children go up in smoke rather than help them; or sick people die for lack of medication rather than let the supplies go through. That there are men who call themselves public officials and fail to rouse the city to resonant, conclusive protest. These are the acid moments of democratic life in America when you find yourself thinking: Whatever happens to us, we cannot, in good conscience, ask the help of Providence. We are not entitled to it.
— William F. Buckley Jr. was the founder and editor of National Review.