When city transit workers chose Roger Toussaint as their president five years ago, they knew exactly who they were getting. The native of Trinidad had honed his defiant style for years as a leader of a rebel faction with a reputation for militancy.
His faction ultimately wrested control of the Transport Workers Union from its old guard leadership. And now, Toussaint has taken his 33,700 subway and bus workers into the New York streets despite bitter weather, a lack of support from the parent union, and court-ordered fines of $1 million (Ђ840,000) a day under the state law barring strikes by public employee unions.
Toussaint is under personal attack, too. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has criticized the union boss two days running, and a tabloid editorial Wednesday urged, "Throw Roger Under The Train!"
The &to=http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/10/03/37680.html' target=_blank>transit strike is the city's first since an 11-day walkout in 1980. To older New Yorkers, Toussaint's pugnacious manner evokes comparison with Mike Quill, the bombastic Irish immigrant who founded the TWU in the 1930s, led a 12-day strike in 1966, and became famous for insulting the city's patrician mayor, John Lindsay.
The outspoken Toussaint may have stunned _ even offended _ some New Yorkers when he told Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002 to "shut up" after the city's chief official said the union should be fined heavily for a threatened illegal strike.
But blunt language has been the 49-year-old Toussaint's style since his boyhood in Trinidad, where he was one in a poor family of nine children. He spoke out as a youth against local politicians who replaced the British colonial government in 1962.