Tuesday, August 6, 2013

BART Strike: BART workers come under assault from the state

CA. governor, Jerry Brown, former left demagogue, organic farming advocate and seminarian. Uses his legal power to stop the BART strike. Who passed that law I wonder?  Do we think  for one minute they'd pass a law forbidding the closing of fire stations and health centers? Laws have a class base just like everything else. It's not against the law to throw people out of their homes. The Democrats are not our friends. Never have been.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The much anticipated strike of BART workers here in the Bay Area was called off at the last minute after California governor Jerry Brown stepped in and imposed a seven day break. He has appointed a three member board of inquiry to find out the facts from both sides apparently.

As I pointed out last week there are some important lessons that arise in situations like these, one of them being the class bias of the mass media. In US society there is a massive and permanent ideological war waged by the mass media that Wall Street controls aimed at obscuring and actually denying the class nature of society, and indeed, that class struggle even exists, but when workers are forced to defend our interests in the way the BART workers are presently doing, the class nature of society is laid bare for all to see.

Jerry Brown, a politician representing the interests of the bankers, hedge fund managers and other coupon clippers----in short, the US capitalist class-----claims he stepped in to this dispute to save us all hardship.  If the dispute cannot be resolved in this seven days through the intervention of the board of inquiry, then “Brown is expected to make a swift decision on seeking a 60-day cooling off period.”, the San Francisco Chronicle reports this morning. Brown will ask the courts to impose this 60-day cooling off period and if the court decides that a strike “Will significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public’s health, safety and welfare.”, a strike will be illegal.

But Brown’s justification for stopping the strike at the last minute Sunday night was that the strike would, “significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public’s health, safety and welfare.”.  Why would the courts reverse that? Is it likely that a strike deemed by the state through one of its major representatives a threat to our health and safety last Sunday, will be declared fine and dandy a week later or 60 days later?

We are not stupid.  In our communities, Brown and other representatives of the 1% are ordering fire stations closed because we can’t afford to keep them open they say. Might this be a tad dangerous for us; put us at risk?  Might closing fire stations, schools and health care facilities in a society where national health care is dismal,  “..endanger the public’s health, safety and welfare.” We know it would.  Brown knows it does but it is a political decision Brown and his class colleagues make as a necessary part of their agenda to put the US workers and middle class on rations. It is necessary to shift the crisis of capitalism in a global economy on to our backs and take back all the gains that have been won by working people over a century and a half of struggle. It is part of the declining influence of US capitalism on the world stage.  We have to be more competitive and that means, work cheaper, faster and without unions that actually go on the offensive to oppose this strategy. Profits come before safety in capitalist society.

The BART workers have been demonized daily in the mass media. They’re lazy, greedy, get paid too much etc.  But they don’t want to go backwards like any of us. They want to keep at very least their pensions, benefits and wage rates. Workers should support this as their loss will simply increase the downward trajectory Wall Street has for all of us. The 1% uses the most extreme violence to protect their interests.  But for the 1%, a strike is mass terrorism because it hurts their profits, the public’s health and safety be damned.

The 1%’s public voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, reports that the strike earlier this month “plunged the Bay Area into a morass and congestion.”  The strike cost $73 million a day “…in lost time, productivity and wages.”, the Chronicle adds.  But what about profits?  It is profits that are the issue and profits are severely affected when workers cannot be brought to the workplace where profits are born or to the stores where we are to buy stuff. So in a society where profits are everything they are left out of this equation. 

We only have to stop and think for a second to remind ourselves amid the mass of lies and propaganda that their claims of public safety are a smoke screen. Every American worker knows that the people in power in this country don’t give a damn about the rest of us. Everything we have in this country, every social benefit, every political advance, every material gain, has come about by doing what the BART workers are doing.  The capitalists have capital, the media, the police and the courts, and the military when they need to call on troops to fire on their own kin, ( a risky business) but we have labor power.  Without the ability to strike we are left to the mercy of the institutions of the 1%. 

The 1% is using all their “legal” tricks to halt the possible success of a BART strike.  It’s profits yes, but there is the effect on morale as well as after years of defeats and declining living standards any victory by labor over the forces of capital would inspire all of us, would show us that we can win, that we can make gains, that we can drive back this offensive and austerity agenda of the bankers, the hedge fund wasters and all the coupon clippers who plunder the wealth of society. 

The US bosses actually fear the potential power of the US working class, fear that the stifling bureaucracy at the helm of the trade union movement might not be able to control their members and derail and undermine every movement from below as was done in Wisconsin, the strikes of the 1980’s and the Occupy Movement and its attempts to build strong links with organized Labor. This is what’s at stake here for them.  It was to stem that power that Taft Hartley legislation was introduced after the mass strikes of the 1930’s and the huge strike wave of 1946. We have to have a mass defiance of these anti worker laws.

The Chronicle in today’s editorial warns that “shutting down this transit lifeline will send shock waves throughout the region” and appeals to Brown to ensure that he must use his political power to ensure a strike is prevented. 

As is always the case the strategists atop organized Labor (and lets not kid ourselves, the bigwigs at the AFL-CIO and the CTW coalition in Washington are in on all this behind the scenes) are doing what they can to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.  Our power lies in our ability to stop production and draw the rest of the working class and our communities in to this struggle. I was at a solidarity meeting for the BART workers over the weekend and when I left that meeting with 7 hours to deadline, representatives of the union representing BART train drivers and Station Agents as well as the Executive Director (Sounds a bit like a business doesn’t it) of the Union representing other staff like custodians for example, stressed that they were in strike mode. They were going to strike at midnight as management was not showing any effort to negotiate in good faith.

In fact, this is what the Executive Director of SEIU 1021 repeated on the TV news a few hours later; management was refusing to negotiate in good faith.  These are two major themes that arise, the bosses won’t negotiate in good faith and we want a contract. He nor any other official had anything to say about workers needing to fight for more at the expense of the 1% or the public’s needs and how the union was fighting for more transit, free fares for seniors, half fare for the unemployed, more jobs, 24 hour trains or increased routes and transit for the disabled and how this can be paid for by the rich and ending trillion dollar wars. 

He certainly never mentioned any solidarity committee and how the public could get in touch with it to join organized labor in our struggle for a better life for all. This is because the official union strategy doesn’t include an agenda for the working public so they have no intention of broadening this struggle to include the communities. The appeal to the community is merely a tactic to get some (normally well meaning leftists and some not so well meaning ones) to help organize a few rallies and such here and there to pressure the bosses to be a little less aggressive. Many seasoned leftists/activists know this but refuse to point this out so the left bureaucracy can play this game safe in knowing that the strategy will not be challenged.

The response to these two points the officials raise should be obvious: (1) the bosses never negotiate in good faith. (2) They want a contract too.  The difference is what is in that contract.

This is at the heart of the matter. This particular dispute is not about the right to a contract but what’s in the contract.  The problem is that the Union officialdom from all three locals immediately involved do not want to discuss this issue in depth.  Like the leadership of organized Labor as a whole, they accept that some concessions have to be made, or more accurately they have no intention of doing what needs to be done to make gains, not just for the BART workers but for workers as a whole including those that have to use BART every day and who will be adversely affected by a strike. The president of ATU 1555 made that clear when she told the SF Chronicle earlier this month the Union“would sign a contract today if it keeps up with the cost of living in the Bay Area and gives us health and safety protections.”

Yet a short while after that as the intransigence of management became obvious, the solidarity committee was formed to help draw in the rest of the labor movement, the communities that BART serves and working class and poor communities in particular. I attended the first meeting of this solidarity group at ATU 1555’s hall where 1555’s Recording Secretary made it quite clear that “We have to get our message out to the public”.

When I asked what that message was, it amounted to this: “An attack on BART workers is an attack workers.” This is a good start but if we are to build a genuine union rank and file/community support network that actually gets involved in this historic struggle between capital and labor we must offer something in return.  We cannot be seen as we so often are as simply at the table with the boss defending only our own narrow interests.

The reality is this.  We cannot counter the massive propaganda war against the BART workers in the media if the Unions aren’t fighting for those workers who depend on BART as well as those who work for BART.  We have given many examples of some issues that can be raised. But not only must these issues be raised in the media, they must be raised at the negotiating table on behalf of the communities and with real rank and file community activists involved which they can be through a real solidarity support committee. I say this as when the Union hierarchy talks of linking with the community, they generally mean with leading business or religious and pro establishment figures in these communities rather than the folks at the grass root level who are serious about changing the present situation.

At the rally for the BART workers last week we heard the same generalizations but no specifics about what we must be done to win.  Leaders of unions as far away as Wisconsin and even Danny Glover talked of the need for solidarity with the BART workers, but what does this mean without a program and strategy to win it?  It’s empty rhetoric and I’ve heard it for 30 years.

Here are some examples suggested on a flier we published on this issue, some issues the the unions should fight for and what steps that can be taken to build something real:

* Free transportation for all senior citizens
• Half fare for the unemployed and all those on public assistance, welfare etc.
• Increased and free transportation for the disabled.
• A massive increase in bus routes and in areas where seniors live, shorter distance between stops.
• Job training programs in conjunction with the unions to be set up in each community and a $20 an hour minimum wage
• End the Team Concept, no more labor/management cooperation--peace through strength. Start by firing consultants Cornu and Mooney as their negotiators (both are big players in the California Democratic Party)
• A shorter workweek with no loss in pay to create jobs
• No to austerity----end all wars and occupations bring the troops home

The bosses are serious about taking away from us as all the gains made through the great struggles that took place with the rise of the CIO in the 30’s and the Civil Rights movement. We cannot defeat them alone, no one local can stop them in isolation nor can individual communities.  We have to start where we are, if in a union by building rank and file opposition caucus based on a program and strategy that demands what we need rather than what is acceptable to wall Street and a “fight to win” strategy for accomplishing these goals. In the communities we do the same and in each case we link these struggles together as well as reach out to workers internationally.

The AC Transit drivers (also in ATU but a different local) contract ends at midnight on Wednesday and they are threatening a strike if their issues are not resolved although there is no reason to think they would strike when they refused to at the time they were strongest.  When BART workers struck, under the direction of the leadership, the AC Transit drivers union weakened the strike and their own member’s interests by picking up some of the slack. Only a short time before, the unity and mood between these two groups of workers was strong and there was no doubt in my mind they would have used their united power to win a better contract for all had the leadership been willing to lead. (We should not discount the role of the International leadership in these instances as they undermine any local leadership that violates the relationship they have with the bosses based on Labor peace by going on the offensive.) The leadership atop these organizations are deathly afraid of their own members.

We cannot win if we blindly obey laws that are made by politicians of the 1% in the interests of the 1%.  Mass violation of the law is unavoidable if we want to stop this assault on workers and the middle class.  We all want a peaceful life, but they won’t let us have a peaceful life, unless we passively agree with their agenda which is to drive us down to the wages and conditions of third world countries.  They’re already on the way to doing that here in many industries especially the service sector and industries that employ women and minorities.   But they have also successfully cut wages in half in auto with the help of the leadership of the UAW leadership.

If they are successful in defeating the BART workers especially if they successfully deny them the right to strike which Governor Brown is doing temporarily but is on the cards in a more permanent fashion, it will be a huge setback for all Bay Area workers.  A strike is disruptive, not just for the public but for the workers involved, and it is obvious that I am critical of the how the heads of organized labor conduct these affairs as well as their role in general. But we must sift through the rubbish we hear and read in the 1%’s  media and support these brothers and sisters.


Corey Mondello said...

Why don't people just strike like they do in other countries. It's almost like using the threat of a filibuster when politicians can tell people when they can strike. They is not how people on USA got 8 hour work day, 5 day work week, at least I don't think so, why else would some of them been gunned down in picket lines and/or for rallying for unions and strikes?

Anonymous said...

BART doesn't want the Gov to completely take away the Union's ability to strike, because through binding arbitration, they would then be forced to open their books for all to see. And that is one threat BART and it's Board wants to avoid. Instead, they would rather hold the public hostage, negotiate in the media rather than at the table, and drag this thing out for months rather than keep their promises (made in previous contracts with the unions) regarding pensions, health benefits, and address the very real safety concerns the unions are fighting for. What makes the workers safe, ultimately, makes the passengers safe also.