Wednesday, April 24, 2013

AC Transit board backs off fare increases---for now.

Richard Mellor in Oakland CA

I went to an AC Transit board meeting tonight as I heard there was going to be a bit of a protest by some of the users of mass transit Oakland.  "Mass" transit is actually a misnomer as public transportation is not a priority in the United States, after all, the car is king. Readers are probably aware of GM's buying up of the electric tram systems and shutting them down in order to profit from the manufacture of gasoline powered vehicles.

The event was organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, (ACCE).  It was a small gathering of about 25 people at the most, people who rely on the bus system to get around.  The board is considering raising fares but there was a resolution on the agenda to "defer" the July 1st fare increase "pending further analysis" by the transit district.

As a former rank and file Union activist in the public sector, I forgot what staged performances these board meetings are. The chair announced to the riders, overwhelmingly working class folks, older people  and people of color, that they could certainly speak but that they were "preaching to the choir" as the resolution was to "defer" the fare increases.

As I have not been attending these events I was not quite sure what to say when I was  called to the podium but I did talk to one of the women who organized the event and she said that the board was considering actually lowering fares in the hope that this would increase ridership, but she was not very taken in by this argument.

You get two minutes to speak at these things and I took the opportunity to inform the board that I did not consider them "the choir", and that the most likely outcome of their "analysis" would be the usual,  "Robbing Peter to pay Paul". I had read an economic report they handed out from one of these firms that present an analysis of the economy from the big capitalists point of view.  It was an attempt to portray a rosy future but repeatedly raised red flags, "uncertainty continues" and while there was  "modest growth" it comes with,  "a potentially serious upside or downside, depending how Congress decides (or doesn't decide) to act in the coming months."  One of the upsides was housing the report said but it also pointed out that in Oakland 42% of foreclosed homes between 2007 and 2011 were bought by investors. I made the point that investors are flocking in to single family foreclosed homes and renting them out, sometimes to the people that were driven from them by the bankers. This is driving up prices to some extent and the processes that brought us to this point are being played out again.  I read that some hedge funds are spending $100 million a month buying foreclosed properties.

The boards analysis then will depend on capitalism producing the goods which isn't likely to happen. I made it clear that in this scenario they will do what they usually do, set riders against the union workers that operate the system, turn one section of the working class against another, the youth against seniors, make sure one way or another we pay.

I pointed out that only by linking our struggles, relying on our own strength rather than these politicians whose job it is to implement the austerity agenda, can we turn the tide. We must build a united mass action movement out of which independent political candidates can arise.  I gave some examples of the money that is in society like the $26  to $32 trillion that the super rich have stashed away in offshore accounts to avoid taxes. 

It was a small but spirited event and I had a good time chatting to folks afterwards.  Being with working people in these situations is always refreshing but one thing always comes to mind after I speak at something like this. The  politicians just stare at you, they want you to play the game.  But so many people came up and thanked me afterwards, shook my hand, gave me a hug. It's  not that I said anything profound, anything workers don't know in our gut. But people love it when they hear someone express the anger they feel inside, say what they feel and think about things that affect us and more importantly, have a go at the establishment as we used to say. There is tremendous anger beneath the surface of US society that cannot find organizational expression. 

We can see why the trade Union leadership is so terrified of their own members and of taking a lead in any way, of confronting the bosses and the politicians of Wall Street in any way; there is nothing they fear more than providing an outlet for this anger. Where might it lead?  They have the same world view as the boss, they accept the market and capitalism, they must bail it out, help it to its feet and if that means cutting bus routes, raising fares, closing schools, cutting wages, so be it.

This blockage will be overcome at some point. Needless to say, I am glad I got out tonight.

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