Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Opportunity knocks (again) for BART Unions. Trayvon Martin murder is a union issue

Trayvon Martin. Caused his own death according to Florida court
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

As to be expected AFL-CIO and Change to Win leaders don’t have too much to say about the Zimmerman verdict and what I could find on the AFL-CIO website was pretty lame. I looked at the CTW website which while not quite so drab also had nothing on there about this defeat for workers in this country and for black workers in particular.  On the AFL-CIO page Randi Weingarten of the AFT issued the following statement:

 “While we believe in the rule of law and the jury has spoken, the implications of the acquittal are profound. It is very disappointing that a racially profiled, unarmed African-American young man wearing a hoodie can be shot dead and there be no consequences for the perpetrator. This case reminds us that the path to racial justice is still a long one, and that our legal and moral systems do not always mesh. The proceedings in the Sanford, Fla., courtroom may well have dealt with the criminal aspects of the case, as defined by Florida law, but we will continue to deal with the moral ones. As the AFT pledged in a resolution passed at our 2012 convention, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight for laws, policies and practices that will prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state and local levels.

“The disposition of this case is the antithesis of what we teach our children in school—that the law protects innocent victims and that no one has the right to take the law into his or her own hands. Everyone’s child matters. We pray for the strength of Trayvon’s parents and loved ones in this difficult time.”

Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME, my former Union says:
“AFSCME is calling for the Justice Department to immediately conduct an investigation into the civil rights violations committed against Trayvon Martin. We know that it will take federal intervention and a massive grassroots movement but justice and positive change is still possible.
Bottom of Form
“In the fight for justice, it is time to stand our ground. As we have throughout our history, AFSCME will work with faith leaders, community groups and civil and human rights activists to create a more just society for all.”

Ho hum! Reading this reminds me of Nina Simone’s words from Mississippi Goddamn:

Picket lines
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
For my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying 'Go slow!'
'Go slow!'

But that's just the trouble
'Do it slow'
'Do it slow'
Mass participation
'Do it slow'
'Do it slow'
Do things gradually
'Do it slow'
But bring more tragedy
'Do it slow'
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

Nina Simone

I checked the National Education Association’s website (NEA, the largest union in the country, and couldn’t find a word about Trayvon Martin and his murderer’s acquittal. I clicked on the link “Minority Community Outreach” and there was nothing there either. Like the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden affairs where heroic individuals are being ruthlessly persecuted by the state for making the public aware of the violence, corruption and lies that are the norm for this government, Trayvon Martin is a non issue even on a page that deals with minority community involvement. This is as these issues are topics in every workplace, every coffee shop, every dinner table and drinking establishment.

And what does Ms. Weingarten mean by the “Rule of Law”. Laws are made by politicians of the 1% and in the interests of the 1%.  Would she say as a union leader in Nazi Germany that “we believe in the rule of law”? And what about the Jim Crow laws in the US Apartheid South? They were changed through direct action and violating the law not praying. One sees this term in the big business press all the time it means to respect laws that protect the capitalist class and their system, that’s what it means.  If those heroic figures that built the trade Union movement in this country had that attitude we wouldn’t have unions at all. We wouldn’t have sick leave or unemployment benefits, meager as they are; the UAW wouldn’t exist.  The Apartheid South would still be thriving if people had respect for the “rule of law”.

The union hierarchy is the only force that slavishly obeys the law except when it comes to dealing with their own members and the internal life of our organizations that they head.  Wall street crooks steal billions, politicians lie cheat and live off the fruits of bribery and the Union tops claim sainthood.  The bosses pass laws that are clearly against the interests of union members and all working people and the union hierarchy ensures they are not broken; anything to avoid a fight; send an e mail to the president and vote Democratic. They are terrified of a victory as it would increase expectations and inspire millions of workers drawing them in to activity after decades of savage attacks on our living standards.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is the trademark of the Union leaders atop organized labor.

Here in the Bay Area, a 4 day strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers galvanized attention for a
ATU members on strike
period.  Due to the ability of the BART workers to cripple the local economy contract negotiations between these two forces always makes headlines.  The bosses went on the offensive and demonized these workers in their media.  The union leaders as I explained in an earlier commentary have no answer to this as their general approach is that concessions have to be made.
After all, we all have to share the pain, there is a need for “shared sacrifice”.

The decision to halt the strike for 30 days was a mistake as it is hard to get workers back on the lines once they’ve been taken off.  With a strike you either win one or lose one. The decision to end the strike for what is termed a “cooling off” period was in order for the union hierarchy and their political allies in the Democratic Party to make some deal that the members can accept, hopefully with minor changes that bring less aggressive concessions.  It is my view that they were forced to call one due to the anger from below and the pressure they were facing to let off some steam in case the pot boiled over. 

It is still not too late but the labor leadership will not act unless they are absolutely forced to from below or replaced. The anger in the ranks is significant for BART workers as they have not had a raise in five years but all workers have been savaged over the past period. There is a golden opportunity that must not be lost here.  The other transit workers that operate the buses have their contract up and could legally strike with the BART workers, they are also in the same union as the train operators, the ATU. SEIU 1021 also represents BART employees like station agents and janitors. The city of Oakland workers  also in SEIU 1021 have suffered serious cuts and can also strike.  Water workers are also in contract talks and their contracts expired at the end of May I think.

Unfortunately, despite a mood among bus drivers to support BART workers at a transit board meeting, the decision by union officials not to bring bus drivers out with the them was a serious mistake and made victory less likely for both. Both BART and AC Transit workers face aggression and acts of violence from the public. The same is true for teachers.  But labor’s response is not more policing. Increase policing never helps workers and the poor and certainly doesn’t help the most oppressed sections of our class. All the ills and pressure of society weigh heavily on public sector workers like transit, city, teachers and water workers as we deal with the public every day. Our response must be jobs for all, housing, education, urban renewal, wages and an end to racism and sexism.  This will strengthen us with the public and will unite the class rather than dividing it.  Unity is not an abstract thing.  What are we uniting around?  It has to be made concrete. We cannot win without building links with the communities in which we live and work.

A strike by BART, AC Transit and the City of Oakland workers would open the door to the transformation of the mood among workers in and outside the unions. You want public support?  Here’s your chance. Taking a major public stand against the Zimmerman verdict and against the ongoing murder and incarceration of black youth will get a tremendous echo in this community along with a call for community involvement and help to win the strike around such demands as:

No to the 1%’s austerity agenda

No more police, no more jails but a massive hiring and job training program under the direction of the unions and community organizations.

A $20 an hour minimum wage

Free public transportation for all seniors

Increased services in mass transit (especially buses) including for the disabled

Free public education at all levels, reopen closed schools reduce class sizes and hire one million teachers

For a national public health service

Organized the unorganized.

The money fro these basic things can come from making the rich pay, ending all wars an occupations and nationalizing the banks to suggest a few.

These are just a few small ways a movement can be built around such a strike that would undoubtedly challenge the 1%’s austerity agenda and drive back their offensive. The slogan should be No more business as usual, it stops here in the Bay Area, the home of two huge general strikes.  

No more Trayvon Martins—no more shared sacrifice. Jobs for all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article makes all its points to be well taken. workers in the Bay Area have the opportunity to make a big step to turn the cutbacks around for the whole working class. Just as we did in the 1934 San Francisco and the 1946 Oakland general strikes, we can unite behind a union call to for strike solidarity as the BART contract extension ends on August 4th, 2013. An injury to one is an injury to all. Out on strike now.