• U.S.

LABOR: San Francisco Sandman

5 minute read

The four armed youths who invaded Johnny Kan’s restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown last week were in no particular hurry. They moved easily from table to table, taking every purse and wallet they could find among the 70 diners. Then they wrapped up their loot—some $5,000—in a tablecloth and walked out. The management asked everybody to remain seated—and served dinner on the house.

There was no point in calling the police. Some 90% of the city’s 1,935 policemen were out on strike for a 13% pay increase. It was the first such walkout in the city’s 125-year history. To combat it, Mayor Joseph Alioto took to TV to declare that the walkout “simply cannot be condoned and will not be condoned. I will not back away from this.” Buoyed up by a superior court judge’s ruling that declared the strike illegal and ordered the policemen back to work, Alioto also tried to preserve calm among the city’s 670,000 residents by strolling through the city’s seedy Tenderloin district to demonstrate that the streets were safe. Exuding the slithery self-confidence that marks his campaigning, the mayor passed out roses to women, stopped to link arms with a grinning transvestite, and reaffirmed his claim that there was “no need for panic.”

Matters soon looked more serious than the mayor admitted. A pipe bomb filled with black powder exploded on the front porch of Alioto’s home in the exclusive Presidio Heights district. Alioto’s wife Angelina was at home but was not hurt. A note left on the porch read: “Don’t threaten us.” The mayor announced that he felt that striking policemen were not implicated in the incident, and he resisted pleas that he call in the National Guard.

No Holiday. Though no thieves’ holiday came to pass, there were scattered acts of vandalism, looting and violence. Three Chinese youths opened fire on police picketing outside the Ingleside station. An angry motorist ran down two police pickets at the Mission station. In some cases, police used their guns to defend themselves. Requests for private armed guards soared, coming mostly from the city’s banks and financial houses. The guard-dog business was also brisk. Complained nonstriking Police Captain Jeremiah Taylor, with some exaggeration: “The kids—the kinkies —are tearing the town apart. We can’t handle it.”

At midweek most of the city’s 1,700 firemen also struck, demanding the same increase in pay as the policemen. (The city’s legislative body, the eleven-member county board of supervisors, had voted to halve the proposed increases for both groups to 6.5%, which would have increased annual salaries from $16,644 to $17,724, instead of to the $18,816 for which the uniformed officers were asking.) Police and firemen both argued that some city street cleaners, plumbers and carpenters make as much as $400 more per month than do policemen and firemen. “We don’t begrudge anyone else their wages,” said one fireman, “but when you get a burning building with people screaming, just try sending in a laborer.”

With protective services virtually halted, the board of supervisors passed a resolution on Wednesday requesting Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. to order in 200 highway patrolmen. It required Alioto’s signature, however, and he declined to sign the order, fearing that it would wreck the negotiations he was trying to maintain between the board and the strikers. “I’m so angry I can’t speak,” snapped Board President Dianne Feinstein, a candidate for Alioto’s job when the lame-duck mayor’s second four-year term expires in January. Replied Alioto: “That’s the best speech she’s ever made.” Somehow, though, the city’s divided authorities got together long enough to head off a strike by 1,900 transit workers that had been threatened for the end of the week. The workers were quickly granted a 2.3% pay increase.

While most San Franciscans remained calm and all 37 actual fires were extinguished, the uneasiness in the streets became obvious. Before dawn on Thursday, Alioto decided to shift ground and grant the strikers their full pay increase—with a compromise gesture delaying its enactment until Oct. 15. He did not inform the board of supervisors of his action until later that morning, Alioto told a news conference, because “I didn’t want to disturb their beauty sleep,” and he quietly hummed Mr. Sandman to the gathering .of reporters.

First Dictator. Furious at the mayor’s unilateral action, the board voted unanimously to reject his proposal, declaring that they would never “negotiate with outlaws.” Supervisor John Barbagelata, another mayoral candidate, denounced Alioto as “the first dictator in the United States.” Unruffled, Alioto, under the broad city charter provision that grants the mayor power “to do whatever he may deem necessary” to preserve the public welfare, declared a public emergency and ordered the increase carried out. Police and firemen went back to work almost immediately. Beamed the mayor: “The strike is over.”

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