Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Needs to be Added to My SF Chron op ed piece on BART struggle

by Jack Gerson

Today's San Francisco Chronicle is running an opinion piece by me on the BART struggle  (it's on the op ed page, page A8 -- if you're an online subscriber, you can read it at sfchronicle.com, and I'm including the full text at the end of this post). I wrote the piece to try to get facts out and build Thursday's BART support rally (5pm at Oakland's Ogawa Plaza). But more needs to be said than could be said in those 451 words.

The op ed piece opens with a paragraph on Wisconsin. But while Wisconsin was a massive upsurge, the fact is that the Wisconsin workers lost. The union leadership – including the state president of the Wisconsin teachers’ union, the head of the Madison-area labor council (Kevin Gundlach’s predecessor as head of the South Central Labor Counci), and most of the rest – told  protestors to clear the streets and go petition to recall Republican state legislators and campaign for their Democratic opponents.

As the opinion piece says, ILWU Local 10 did shut down all Bay Area ports in solidarity with Madison on April 4, 2011. That graphic statement of solidarity resounded around the country. But much as another one-day port shutdown during the next BART strike would be welcome, it alone won’t be sufficient. More than one day will be needed, and more militant labor-community solidarity will be needed. That won't happen by putting faith in Democratic Party politicians and going back to business as usual, as happened in Wisconsin. How can we win? I don't have a blueprint, but I do have some thoughts:
First: a very big turnout by rank and file workers  and community at Thursday’s rally can be an important first step. So I think that it is important to really work at mobilizing for the rally. It’s important to get the word to rank and file workers, and to get it out to the whole working class community – employed, unemployed, and underemployed – and explain why the BART strike is in all of our interest. That’s what the op ed piece tried to do.

But that rally will just be blowing off steam unless the rank and file of key unions insist that their unions honor the picket lines in a next BART strike -- especially ATU 192, the AC Transit bus drivers. ATU 192 really ought to walk out with BART workers. 

There simply is no excuse for not honoring the lines.  Rank and file of AFSCME 3993, a smaller BART worker local, just set the example for that: they removed their president as their chief negotiator because she had told them to cross picket lines during the 4-day BART strike, and yesterday she resigned as their president. That's real rank and file solidarity, and that together with mass community support is what will be needed to win the BART struggle. In fact what's needed is a coordinated strike by all the BART unions as well as the AC Transit unions, and a joint strike committee to facilitate coordination and cooperation and to maximize the control of the strike by rank and file transit workers.
Further, the BART unions really need to embrace demands in the interest of the whole community -- employed, unemployed, and underemployed -- starting with free transit and more service to low-income communities. As my op Ed piece explains, the money for that is there, from the developers and corporations that rake in super profits from BART expansion raising their property values while paying virtually nothing in additional taxes and zero to BART.  This really is about the attacks on all of us. And that means that the strike committees need to work closely with the community and incorporate community militancy and militants directly into the strike.

A working class surge can stop austerity in its tracks right here in the Bay Area. That will have to come most of all from the rank and file, who in the unions and in the communities need to be prepared to do what AFSCME 3993 did -- hold their leaders accountable and throw them out when they act like sellouts. And more: they have to construct rank and file organizations -- caucuses, in the unions -- ready to lead in action. Joint strike committees are essential to  a winning strike, and they ought to provide a basis for real class struggle caucuses emerging from the strike that work with and embrace classwide social issues as well as union struggles.

Here's the text of my SF Chronicle op ed piece:

Labor makes a stand - first in Wisconsin, now BART
Jack Gerson

Two years ago, Wisconsin public workers and services were under assault. Hundreds of thousands of workers converged on the state capital, Madison, to fight austerity cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

The International Longshore Workers Union Local 10 shut down Bay Area ports in solidarity with the Wisconsin struggle. Now BART workers and the Bay Area are in the crosshairs of the national labor struggle, and Wisconsin South Central Labor Council President Kevin Gundlach has pledged solidarity with BART workers.

The BART unions' temporary work agreement ends Sunday night and a new strike is likely. During the BART strike in early July, media coverage suggested these were "greedy workers" making life miserable for the public and jeopardizing the economy. That's not what I found.

Workers told me, "We're fighting for all of us, to say 'No more cuts.' "

I'm convinced they are.

Four years ago, the unions agreed to wage and hiring freezes that saved BART about $100 million. Compared to 2009, BART has fewer workers; work-related injuries have increased. Those concessions were made in bad times. Now times are good (BART projects a $125 million-a-year surplus for 10 years). But management demands more concessions, seeking cuts to pensions, health care and compensation. BART management wants to jeopardize rider safety by cutting vehicle safety inspectors.

BART unions want a three-year contract with better safety conditions, no more cuts to pensions or health care and modest pay increases to keep them on par with the Bay Area's cost of living. The money's there, more than enough to improve safety and increase pay. Even a modest levy on developers and corporations, whose property values soar when BART expands, could reduce or eliminate fares.

Transit strikes make getting around a pain in the neck. But who's causing the pain? BART spent $399,000 on negotiator Thomas Hock, who has provoked strikes in several cities.

Wall Street and banks want to privatize and squeeze profits out of everything Americans have won through generations of struggle. We must fight back.

It will take solidarity from AC Transit and port workers, City College of San Francisco workers, teachers and students, city and county workers, nurses and postal workers, the unemployed and the underemployed. All of us.

The Bay Area has a proud tradition of labor and community unity going back to the 1934 general strike. The rank-and-file of AFSCME 3993, angered by their president, who directed them to cross BART strikers' picket lines, removed her as their chief negotiator in the BART dispute.

Let's turn the tide on austerity. Business depends on BART to deliver their workers and their customers. If BART workers shut it down and win a decent contract, it'll be a victory for us all.

Rally to support BART workers

Who: Called by Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 1555 and 192, Service Employees International Union 1021, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3993, International Longshore Workers Union 10
Where: Frank Ogawa Plaza, at Broadway and 14th St., Oakland
When: 5 p.m., Thursday

Jack Gerson, a retired Oakland public schoolteacher, lives in Oakland and rides BART.

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