Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill (September 18, 1905 – January 28, 1966) was one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expanded to represent employees in other forms of transit, and the President of the TWU for most of the first thirty years of its existence.
Mike was born in Ireland and was a dispatch rider for the Irish Republican Army from 1919 to 1921 while still a teenager; then a volunteer of the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War that followed. He was brought to the United States in 1926 by his uncle Patrick Quill who was a conductor in the subway and got him his first job. He followed his brothers, Patrick and John.
The union grew out of a unique mixture of two revolutionary traditions: the Irish insurrectionary history of Connolly and the IRA and the Communist Party. The IRT was, in fact, filled with veterans of the recent Troubles in Ireland, to the point that some jokingly referred to it as “Irish Republican Transit”. The Communist Party, supplied organizers, operating funds, and connections with organizations outside the Irish-American community. Quill broke with the Communist Party after disagreements on benefits for members.
Quill proved to have great leadership potential and was a persuasive speaker, willing to “soapbox” outside of IRT(MTA) facilities for hours, and capable of great charm in individual conversations. He often got along quite well with Mayors of NYC, except Lindsey. Under Lindsey, the TWU went on strike. In 1966, Lindsay decided to take on the TWU, provoking the twelve day strike. The world’s largest subway and bus systems, serving eight million people daily, came to a complete halt. The City obtained an injunction prohibiting the strike and succeeded in imprisoning Quill and seven other leaders of the TWU and the Amalgamated Association, which joined in the stoppage, for contempt of court. An end to the strike was mediated, but Quill died 3 days later after an initial heart attack while in jail.
You can find Mike Quill corner in Kingsbridge under the 1 train.