Friday, October 4, 2013

BART and AC Transit Strike, Time is Running Out

by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

Readers are well aware of the ongoing dispute(s) between the public sector bosses and the transit workers here in the San Francisco Bay Area .  The "cooling off" period imposed by the governor Jerry Brown will end next Thursday but despite the union leadership of ATU 1555 and SEIU representing BART workers, taking a more conciliatory tone, the bosses still want more.

This is not new of course as the organized sector of the working class here in the US has suffered setback after setback in the course of the capitalist offensive and the refusal of the leaders of our movement to do anything about it other than to appease the attackers.  Along with the train operators (BART) the bus drivers, also members of the ATU but a different local, recently turned down a second concessionary contract which could and should lead to joint strike of the two main forms of transit (the ferry workers should join them) the buses and trains.

Such a strike would not only aim to advance the interests of transit workers but also the communities they serve in the form of jobs, lower and free fares, increased services etc. This blog has numerous commentaries on this issue and what we believe needs to be done.

But weakness invites aggression as they say and the bosses are confident the union leaderships will wear the members down and eventually force a concessionary deal on them.  The bus drivers in ATU 192 that operate Alameda County transit (train operators are ATU 1555) rejecting two leadership endorsed contracts is not insignificant. These brothers and sisters should be congratulated for their courage and their stand against cuts as it affects all of us.

But if there is not a rebellion among the ranks, mass meetings of the locals involved where workers can participate in the actual development of demands, strategy and tactics needed to win and where outreach to San Francisco MUNI operators, ferry workers, the wider labor movement and the community can be set in motion, the workers will get worn down and be forced to take further concessions.

Workers cannot simply reject concessionary contracts through the ballot forever; at some point tactics have to change and the strike, direct action and drawing the wider working class in to the struggle must occur; must replace negotiations between "gentlemen" and all that "fair bargaining"  nonsense. And I will repeat what I have said (and I know others feel the same way) many times before here that the negotiating table is a trap when it is very evident that the bosses mean business, will not budge from their concessionary stance.  Every minute spent in a negotiating session is time away from organizing, agitating and bringing the ranks in to the fray. And again I repeat myself quoting one of the influential members of the US ruling class or the 1% as they are sometimes called, "Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast over the negotiating table." George Schultz

Of course, with the entire leadership of organized Labor from the top down in support of the Team Concept, the view that workers and bosses have the same economic interests, there is no desire to spend time with the members with the intention of mobilizing the tremendous power that, as Marx once described so beautifully when referring to our productive potential, "slumbers in the lap of social labor". The present Union leadership are terrified of casting the shadow of power over the bargaining table in the form of their members and their power to shut down production and in this case much of a local economy, because having the same world-view as the capitalist class and worshiping the market and profits as the bosses do, such potential power can only lead to chaos.

If we, the US working class or wageworkers,  had leaders like Schultz or Clinton who represent capital, we'd be in good shape. They defend their class interests with the most extreme violence when it is threatened.  And I don't mean by direct physical violence although they do that, I mean depriving us of leisure time, health care, an education, or the money to attain them, or a job,  etc. They put an obstacle in front of the "pursuit of happiness" that's for sure.  There are many ways to commit violence against people.

The longer this goes without a revolt from below that can change the concessionary strategy of the present leadership or replace them, what could have and still can be a struggle that transforms the local labor movement and changes the balance of class forces more in favor of the working class can slip away. It is not just the right wing bureaucracy that is an obstacle to a fightback, more insidious is the left wing of it, trendy and often former or (quiet) members of left organizations who are quite numerous in the lower ranks of the officialdom. They more often than not act as a "left cover" for the right wing power brokers.

The pathetic, and cowardly nature of Labor's hierarchy is driven home by the information I received today from the Alameda Labor Council which is the county arm of the AFL-CIO and in this case, the body out of which the Oakland General Strike, the last General Strike in the US was run (and betrayed). The Labor Council has about 100,000 workers affiliated to it or "represents" as the council says.  The leadership also represents the Democratic Party of course, and represents that party more aggressively than the workers who pay dues to it.

*From the Desk of Josie Camacho, Executive Secretary-Treasurer*

The Alameda Labor Council has been working hard to support the hard working men and women who make BART run by providing transportation services for 425,000 commuters throughout the region.

We have urged the BART Board of Directors to take a more "hands on" approach to what's happening at the bargaining table to assure that the workers are respected and bargaining is meaningful and productive.

No one wants a shutdown! The Governor's cooling off period expires next Thursday, October 10! We again urge the BART Board of Directors to make sure "bargaining in good faith" occurs; that the district's decision makers are close at hand to move viable proposals that can lead us towards a fair and just settlement.

We encourage all allies and supporters to join BART workers at this rally and march on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 5pm in Oakland.

This sort of nonsense has been coming out of these bodies for decades. The "Council has been working hard to support the hard working men and women who make BART run....."

The term, "working hard" as you can see means a phone call to the Board of Directors or a speech at a meeting threatening nothing, casting no power, just pleading with them to be nice, "bargain in good faith" when there is no such thing.

I hung out for a bit with some of my former co-workers today. It was refreshing; blue collar workers I've spent my life with day in day out and some new younger ones.  I want to write more about this but I have to stress to the workers that read this blog; there is no easy way out.  There is no going back to the good old days.  The US capitalist class, a more destructive force in US society than any Muslim fundamentalist group, is intent, seriously intent on driving us back to conditions that existed before the great uprising that built the CIO and the Civil Rights Movement that followed it. In many places and sections of society they are there already. Look at Detroit; this is the capitalist system at work. We can discuss all sorts of things in US society, porn, gender and what it is, what constitutes marriage. How we educate our kids.  But not the capitalist economic system. In fact,  there is no system.

But discuss it we must if we are to offer our youth a future.  I should add that there are other unionized workers in contract talks here including the water utility.  A public sector alliance is a major step to take for public sector unions. We have power we just don't use it. Yes it means breaking the law in a collective and mass way. Unions were against the law, and their legislators will always make laws that broaden their rights and restrict ours.

We have no alternative but to fight.  The capitalist class is driven by the inner workings of the system, of global capitalism, they need to bust the Unions ---they won't let up. The private sector must be crushed and privatization sped up.

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