Monday, July 8, 2013

BART Strike: Bosses relieved as the state comes in to make a deal

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

This blog has been covering the dispute between employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) management. The workers struck for four days and have since returned to work after Union leaders appealed to the state to intervene.  Both sides have agreed to extend the contract for 30 days or what is also referred to as a "cooling off " period. It is hoped that a resolution of differences can be made during this period. As we commented in a previous post, this is a mistake.  Not only were the BART workers on strike, but contracts were up for AC Transit workers who operate the buses and who are also in the train driver's union, the ATU, although a different local. In addition, City of Oakland workers who have also taken big hits over the past period are also legally able to strike and did strike for one day after their contract expired; they are represented by SEIU 1021 which also represents station agents and janitorial staff at BART.

Both BART and AC Transit contracts ended on June 30th. There should have been a coordinated union wide strike of all public sector unions under attack and in contract negotiations at the present time; it was a great opportunity. In fact, all these unions should have been coordinating a union wide offensive in conjunction with the communities we serve months and months before the deadlines.

The leaders of organized labor in this area refuse to take this road because they have the same world view as the bosses, they worship capitalism and the market and have no alternative. For them, mobilizing workers against the bosses' offensive would only lead to chaos. The BART strike, like all of them these days, is a defensive struggle. 

The bosses have waged their usual media offensive portraying these workers as greedy and unwilling to help out in times of need.  Their media portrays BART workers as uncaring and selfish when "shared sacrifice" is necessary and that many workers would willingly accept a job like that at BART.  Right wing anti-union mouthpieces fan these flames but every worker, if we stop to think for one minute, knows that it is not us that are closing fire stations, pricing education out of reach of working people, denying health care to those that can't afford it or throwing people out of their homes on behalf of the bankers who we bailed out not so long ago.  Even their trillion dollar wars that we are being forced to pay for through cuts in social services and living standards are hugely unpopular. We know that it is not the public the BART bosses care about, it is profits. It is big business and profits that is getting hurt by a BART strike.  As we pointed out previously, Jim Wunderman, the head of the Bay Area Council,  made this clear when he told the San Francisco Chronicle . “It would create a regional paralysis….it would put us in a world of hurt.”

The hope on the part of the union hierarchy is that some compromise can be made as it states in the flier above that is being distributed at BART stations by ATU 1555, the train drivers local.  But what's a fair compromise?   I will answer my own question. It is slightly fewer or less aggressive concessions than the bosses want.  Most workers earn much less than BART workers with no benefits at all. The flier says that everyone should have a good job but then why wasn't a demand for jobs a major issue in this dispute and why didn't all the unions that could legally strike for gains like this do so making them an issue. This would go a long way in drawing in the community and winning public support. At the very least, the buss drivers should have joined BART, they would have both benefited for it.  All indications prior to the strike showed that there was a strong mood for unity and united action between AC Transit and BART workers.

To counter the bosses' lies and to win support from the public who obviously are inconvenienced by a stoppage of this sort, the Unions should have had the demand for more jobs through a shorter workweek on the table and a call for a crash public investment injection for mass transit, infrastructure etc.  It was a mistake that BART, AC Transit and City of Oakland didn't come out together with concrete proposals aimed at the riding public like free transportation for senior citizens and improved service for the disabled.  There's not enough bus routes and not enough buses.   

The flier raises the issue of safety and BART workers having to work in high crime areas (or in this case stations) were they are assaulted.  As a former public sector worker I am well aware of this issue. Crime which makes victims out of travelers and BART workers is overwhelmingly a product of the mass unemployment of youth especially youth of color and our proposal for dealing with it and assuring the safety of our members and the general public should be jobs like those at BART, EBMUD (the water utility) where I used to work and other public sector workplaces. A job that can put food on the table would eliminate much of that crime. It is in our (unionized better paid workers) interests to oppose increased police presence as a means of making people safer.  Workers are never made "safe" by increased police presence which will be used to break strikes as they have historically and crush youth movements etc. What will make us safer eliminating poverty and despair and linking with the communities and especially the youth and that means we have to offer them something at contract times.  

The flier does make a very weak attempt to counter the bosses' media offensive portraying the  BART workers as uncaring but it is not enough. Our power lies in our ability to halt production and shutting down transportation shuts down or seriously impedes production and therefore profit taking. It is by relying on our own strength that we have won in the past and the way we can win in the present and in to the future, not by appealing to the state and the politicians of the 1%. 

Strikes have declined drastically over the last 20 years due to the bosses' offensive in the workplace and through anti-union legislation, but the events here in the Bay Area could have and still can change the balance of class forces and make some gains but the union leadership, by asking the state to intervene and halting the strike instead of spreading it has weakened us all; only a movement from below can change this situation. The bosses are intent on driving us back to conditions that existed prior to the great upsurge of the 1930's that built the CIO, they are driven by the crisis of capitalism to do this and the BART workers by striking have challenged this agenda. No matter what happens we thank them for taking a stand.

A setback for BART workers would be a set back for us all.

Read all our blogs on the Bay Area strikes in order from the oldest to the most recent:

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