Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BART Strike fears: The bosses' propaganda war heats up

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The San Francisco Bay Area papers are on the offensive this week as the cooling off period that ended a four and a half day strike by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) workers ends in two weeks.

The bosses have had time to prepare for an all out war if necessary, meeting with the developers, bankers, investors and other representatives of capital who make the decisions behind the scenes.

"BART worker Costs Soaring" is the front page headline in today's Oakland Tribune.  "Rail Line's Employee Costs Soar Even as Pay Remains Flat" says the Daily Review.  The Oakland Tribune has conducted its own investigation and there is no surprise at what this mouthpiece of the 1% tells the public the problem is, "Half of the $69 million in new revenue BART raked in since 2010 has gone toward the rising cost of employee health care and pensions."  the paper writes.  As the war for the heart and soul of the public heats up, the bosses turn to their paid flunkies in academia to bolster their position.

"Something has to be done. If we keep kicking the can down the road, then our children will pay for it," Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford, one of the most famous institution of capitalism tells the tribune.   Us and our children are being forced to pay the cost of bailing out the banks as well as the cost of the 1%'s predatory wars amounting to trillions of dollars.  The massive cuts in social services and public employment are a product of this wasteful spending of taxpayer funds as is the general offensive of all the gains workers have made since the 1930's. But Mr. Moe puts our BART workers in the firing line. 

Another academic, Sarah Anzia, is dragged out to add credibility to the argument that society can't afford to provide workers a decent life: "It seems like the large majority of the public is upset with the unions for being rigid" she says, "...compared to what I contribute to my retirement or health insurance this is nothing.". Ms. Anzia is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and it is quite clear which public she represents.  I'm not a professor and never even went to college but I couldn't use the words "health" and "insurance" in the same sentence without explaining how ludicrous it is that such a system exists.

So we can dismiss them for what they are, soldiers in ideological warfare which is part of the general plan to defeat yet another group of workers daring to fight back.  The goal to put the US working class on rations to pay for the crisis of capitalism must not be sidetracked.

Everything is the workers' fault.  BART wants to add new train cars that will "provide a cleaner and more reliable ride"  but that will only be possible if they "keep overall compensation the same over the next five years." The management wants to do that by having workers pay more for their health and pension benefits and, get this for generosity, treasure this idea so much, they're "willing to give small wage bumps so each employees net take-home pay would stay the same."  Try preventing the bosses' from making profit for 5 years and they'll kill you. Can't pay your rent? Lost your job? you're put on the street.

We should understand clearly what's at stake here. This is not just about BART. As I have said many times before, this assault on the public sector, our jobs and our social services, comes on the heels of a successful war on the section of the working class who were once the benchmark for a relatively secure, long-term job, the auto workers.  With the cooperation of the heads of the UAW, their wages have been cut in half and benefits savaged. Caterpillar recently closed a plant in London Ontario and moved it to Illinois where wages are 50% lower. That's what they're after here make no bones about it.

Barely 7% of the US working class is in Unions. It would be even less than that if the public sector, which is around 35% unionized, is taken out of the picture.  The public sector's wages, benefits, relatively decent pensions by most standards must go as they are a benchmark that can be used for all workers.  This war against labor has continued for decades so that we can have a 40 year Safeway worker earning $20 an hour in the state of California in 2013.

The BART board hired a union busting negotiator Thomas Hock at a cost of $300,000 according to reports. Hock works for a notorious anti-union private transportation company called Violea transportation. Veolia operates a local transportation company called MV transportation, one of its slogans is "We provide freedom". It is presently in the process of firing workers and weeding out warm bodies as bosses like to call workers in jobs as opposed to empty positions.  MV pays its drivers less than public transportation drivers at AC Transit or San Francisco's MUNI. Getting wages, benefits and conditions down to these private sector outfits is what this is all about. The workers at MV transportation are unionized but there is no attempt by the leaders of either union to bring these workers' wages and benefits up to those at BART and MUNI which is a shame because the bosses as we can see are certainly working on bringing BART and MUNI's down to MV's.

I explained in a previous commentary that it was a mistake to end the strike and enter in to mediation with representatives of the state picked by Jerry Brown, the Union busting California governor.  We can only rely on our own strength. Mediators immediately imposed a gag order which restricts the union from making its arguments in public or mobilizing the public in order to generalize a strike and make gains for BART workers and our communities.  Employers never obey the law so they are not restricted in the same way. The offensive in the papers today with two weeks left in the cooling off period is orchestrated and in coordination with Bay Area movers and shakers in the big business world. This is a small lesson in understand the fallacy behind freedom of the press.  It depends who owns the press and its not us.

It was also a mistake that AC Transit workers who operate the buses and are in the same Union as the train operators at BART did not strike with BART despite being legally able to do so. City of Oakland workers also could have struck and through a joint strike and united campaign could have linked with the communities they serve to force BART to not only back down but make other concessions.

It's not too late to turn the tide. The ILWU local 10 passed a resolution calling for a labor solidarity rally with BART workers on August 1st that I believe the San Francisco Labor Council endorsed. The resolved reads:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Local 10 supports ATU Local 1555's call for a labor solidarity rally on Thursday August 1 at Oakland City Hall across the street from PMA. This time BART workers will not stand alone. We will march under the ILWU banner “An injury to one is an injury to all” to BART headquarters and then to the Oakland Port Commission, protesting these anti-worker attacks, 

FURTHERMORE, we will join with the BART workers unions ATU Local 1555, SEIU Local 1021, AFSCME Local 3993 and ATU Local 192 seek the support of all transport unions and those affected by austerity cuts as well as the Alameda, San Francisco and South Bay Labor Councils in a show of solidarity in the BART workers fight for a decent contract. A victory for the BART workers is a victory for all of labor!

This is a positive step but I think any activist who has been around for any time at all recognizes that the bosses are not moved by rallies and protests; more has to be done.   The full weight of the Bay Area trade Union movement has to be brought to bear if we don't want to another setback. In order for this rally to be successful it must be attended not merely by the faithful and the layers of staff and Union officials but an attempt must be made to reach in to the depths of the labor movement to reach the ranks.   The resources that the labor movement has, money, full-time staff, meeting places, printing facilities can be used to organize meetings in the workplace, outside of work, at the union halls and explain how we can start down the road toward the end of austerity and union busting right here. But a campaign can't be built around solidarity in the abstract. It has to be concrete.

We cannot win without the communities in which we live and that we serve.  The problem is that a strike is disruptive and that is what the bosses are playing on through their papers and mass media.  Also, as public sector workers, our wages, benefits and  conditions tend to be somewhat better than the private.  Too often I have been on picket lines handing out official union fliers asking the public not to cross or shop at the facility because the employer is eliminating benefits. "What are benefits?" so many workers will say, "I don't have any benefits and where has a Union been for me?".  We have to have an answer for this other than it's the right thing to do not cross a picket line. I was discussing with a young worker the other day who was complaining about the benefits BART and the dockworkers get and how they earn so much more than him. 

"Wouldn't you like to have those wages and benefits?" I asked him

"Well, yeah...er"   Enough said.

We had a good discussion after that as to where the money comes from and it's not our children as the bourgeois academic says.  There are plenty of billionaires in this country for one thing.

We counter the bosses' anti-union anti-worker propaganda by making every labor dispute a social issue.  Every labor struggle is left to fight bosses alone despite us belonging to national organizations.  We are told by labor officials how powerful the boss is and that we can't break the law or our contracts although the bosses do that as soon as the ink is dry.  If we want the public on our side and expect them to endure the losses they incur in a strike we have to offer them something.

We must use the power of organized labor to demand what we need not what bosses, their politicians and their academic allies say is realistic. More jobs through a shorter workweek is a start.  We must demand increased bus routes free transportation for seniors. We must demand a $20 an hour minimum wage. How can anyone earning over that deny it someone else? We must stop the privatization of public services and property and transform education from a business to the social need that it is under control of those who use it rather than functionaries of the 1%. We must make organizing the unnorganized a priority and we won't be successful at that without fighting for them and that means standing for something, not sending an e mail to a Democratic Congressperson. We reject that there is no money as opposed to where capital is allocated. We demand a massive injection of capital in to social infrastructure.

Labor must be a champion of social causes and in the fight to end racism and sexism. It is shameful to to put it mildly that the heads of our movement did not call a press conference and unequivocally condemn the Zimmerman verdict. Oscar Grant was also a worker killed by the police, shot in the back. These issues, just like the trillions spent on the corporations wars abroad are Labor issues. 

Bay Area Labor has an opportunity now to change the balance of forces in US society in favor of workers and the middle class. We cannot allow their media to gag us.  It must be made clear that this is a war of our own against austerity and the stripping of all the gains workers have made over the last decades. Unions weren't built by obeying the law and they won't be saved by obeying it either.  

A dominant factor holding back this approach on the part of the heads of organized Labor is  their support for the Team Concept. This is the view that bosses and workers have the same economic interests. They are restrained by their own consciousness form organizing a generalized offensive against a force they consider a team mate and against a system, capitalism, that they consider the end of civilization.  They apply the Team Concept on the job with the employers and in the political arena through their support for the Democratic Party, one of the two Wall Street parties. We also cannot build worker solidarity with accepting this world view 

It is obvious form the amount of press the BART workers got prior to their 4 day strike and the intensifying propaganda against them in the media that will continue over the next weeks that the bosses recognize the potential power of this section of the working class, that's why they are so determined to bring them down a peg.  The bosses are also aware of the resolution passed by the ILWU and are always hoping that the officials will be sure to keep things under control and within the bounds of nicety; but they know history and are also aware of the anger that exists under the surface of US society and in this case among the workers in transportation; anger that might not be contained.

Lets not let another opportunity pass us by.

No comments: