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Friday, July 5, 2013
BART Strike Called Off by Union Leaders
by Jack Gerson
Bay Area bosses must be jumping for joy! After four days, the strike by two Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) unions -- ATU 1555 and SEIU 1021 -- was called off last night by union leaders who had met yesterday evening with Jerry Brown's labor secretary, Marty Morgenstern. The strike was called off just as it was about to really put the screws to business in Oakland and San Francisco, who depend on BART to deliver much of their labor power and their customers.
Many workers take vacation or extended Fourth of July weekends for the first week of July, so everyone knew that the strike's impact was really going to be felt starting next Monday. The BART workers I spoke to on the lines knew it; BART management knew it; Jerry Brown and Marty Morgenstern knew it; Bay Area business bosses knew it; and ATU and SEIU officials knew it.
So why would they call off the strike just when its impact was about to hit?
Well, they will say, the strike wasn't called off. It was just suspended for 30 days. But lets face it, the union leaders have let the air out of the balloon. Under the best of circumstances it's very difficult to get workers to go out a second time when the time and effort they expended the first time seems to have been wasted. And with these union leaders at the helm, these are not the best of circumstances.
Then, they'll say, the public is upset because the strike makes it harder to get to work and harder to get around. The mainstream media has kept up a steady stream of editorials and articles savaging "greedy workers" who "hold the public hostage" with "outrageous demands". We've previously discussed how the BART workers' demands are not outrageous at all but rather are quite modest (see http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/2013/07/bart-workers-facts-about-why-theyre.html). And we know who's been doling out the pain for years -- home foreclosures, cuts to essential services, privatizing and downsizing public education, looting the public treasury (trillions to the "too big to fail" banks), destroying the environment and frying the planet, and it sure hasn't been "greedy workers". No, it's been the banks and corporations that run this country and ruin this world, and the politicians and managers who do their bidding -- and the mass media talking heads and assorted hacks who obediently do their PR work. The BART strike was a threat to the capitalists because here were workers who said, "Enough!" to attacks on wages, pensions, service, and health and safety. Because of this -- because it was a strike against cuts, a strike against"shared sacrifice", a strike against austerity -- this strike was in the interest of all working people, of the public at large. Sure, transit strikes are inconvenient and can make getting around a real pain in the neck. But if we don't start taking austerity on now, in the not too distant future we will have nothing left -- no social security or pensions, no jobs at adequate pay, no affordable health care or housing, no decent public education.
The way to minimize the inconvenience is not to give up and give in, but to stand together and fight: to (1) build community support by explaining widely and clearly why it is in the interest of the whole working class community to support this fight against austerity; and (2) spread the strike. The longer the picket line and the stronger the fight, the shorter the strike.
But alas, the ATU and SEIU union officials have done little to build community support and nothing to spread the strike. They did not actively portray the strike as a fight against austerity. Nor did they reach out to the community by demanding -- or even talking about the need for -- free and adequate expanded mass transit.
As far as spreading the strike, the most natural place to start would be to the AC Transit bus drivers whose routes cover Oakland and surrounding communities, as well as the routes from these communities to San Francisco. In fact, the AC Transit bus drivers, like the BART train drivers, are represented by the ATU (the bus drivers are in ATU local 192; the train drivers are in ATU local 1555). And the bus drivers contract has expired, so they could legally strike on 24 hours notice! But despite considerable pressure from rank and file bus drivers who wanted to walk out during the BART strike -- both to show solidarity and to maximize the strength of their own fight -- the ATU leadership blocked the AC Transit drivers from striking (as discussed previously on this blog -- see http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/2013/07/bart-strike-out-of-mouths-of-union.html)
The second most logical place to spread the strike would be to the Oakland city workers represented by SEIU 1021. Yes, that's the same SEIU local that represents striking BART workers. Like the AC Transit drivers, the Oakland city workers contract is expired. And in fact, they did go out on strike. On the first day of the BART strike, July 1. For one day. And then, after making many speeches and having let their members blow off steam, the SEIU 1021 officials marched them right back to work on July 2.
Why wouldn't they fight? Why wouldn't they spread the strike? Why wouldn't they promote an aggressive community alliance against austerity? Well, for the most part, union officials have long since made their peace with the system. They fundamentally don't believe that workers can defeat capital, and even more fundamentally they see themselves as part of the system. They have bought into the idea that workers have to sacrifice ("shared sacrifice") to fix budget deficits, just as the private sector union bureaucrats long ago bought into the idea that the unions have to help "their" corporations prosper. So the public sector union bureaucrats follow down the disastrous road that has led to the near-extinction of private sector unions: the "team concept" of class collaboration. They want to show that they're "team players", on the same team as Jerry Brown (and Barack Obama, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, etc.) -- just like UAW President Bob King strives to prove that he's on the same team as the CEOs of Ford, GM, and Chrysler.
But it's not the working class that's responsible for those budget deficits -- the culprits there are the banks and corporations that looted trillions over the past several decades in a gigantic expropriation of wealth from the working class, and who now accelerate this expropriation by gross privatization (trying to commodify education, water -- everything; trying to take back all the hard-fought gains won by the working class over decades). This is a society whose priorities are upside down. They need to be turned right side up, and that's going to require a complete break with the policies of nearly all of our current union leaders, "the team concept" that substitutes class collaboration in place of class struggle.