|The sign says it all. Let's make it happen.|
by Richard Mellor Afscme Local 444, retired
AC Transit workers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union 192, rejected a contract yesterday by a vote of 576 to 257. The local's executive board had recommended the contract by a 8 to 5 majority. This is an extremely important result in that BART workers are also still in contract talks although the state has stepped in and imposed a 60 "cooling off" period preventing a strike. The train operators at BART are members of ATU 1555, the bus driver's sister local.
The no vote reflects the strong opposition to a concessionary contract and an organized campaign for rejection among the ranks of local 192. A solidarity committee composed of workers from other unions and the community also provided support and solidarity to local 192 members.
As I stated in an earlier piece on this issue, I do not believe much more can be gained at the table in these situations but a new opportunity opens up here. An important next step would be a mass meeting of the members of all BART and AC Transit workers. There is an opportunity here to turn the tide more in labor's favor as out of such a meeting, a rank and file strike committee could emerge that can prepare for a transit strike that can actually have a chance of victory, not just for transit workers, but for transit users and workers throughout the Bay Area.
The bosses have waged a ferocious war against BART workers in their media and this has to be countered in a serious way by building links with the communities (not the business and "official" leaders but those who are fighting at the grass root level) in which we live and work. A powerful combination of public sector workers and the community can literally change the balance of forces between capital and labor in this country but it is important for the unions to place demands on the table that are relevant to the public and as things develop, bring elected community activists from the strike committee as well as representatives of the unemployed, the unorganized and youth in to the talks at least as observers. We have given some examples of this in earlier commentaries but free fares for seniors, half fare for the unemployed and those on assistance. Increased services for the disabled and increased services in general and the jobs to provide them. (see earlier articles) are issues that would be popular with the public that matters.
This is an opportunity for labor to go on the offensive and to do that we must raise our expectations.
By this I mean reject the propaganda from the bosses and their media (and echoed by the union officialdom) that concessions have to be made and that there is no money in society. The last 40 years have shown that this concessionary bargaining has no end to it---damage control doesn't work. The more we give, the more they want. Transit unions should demand that public sector pensions and benefits that are being blamed for the crisis of capitalism should be expanded to all workers. Sociey has the money, it's simply a matter of what we do with it.
I was a delegate to AFSCME District Council 57 for many years and recall getting a resolution passed at that body for a Public Sector Alliance in the Bay Area. As usual, the officials never acted on such an idea but it is something that should be re-introduced in to the consciousness of the public sector worker and such a formation would play a huge role in revitalizing the labor movement in the US.
Any time the rank and file of a union rejects the leadership's recommendation in instances like this, it is no small matter. This vote will send shock waves in to the boardrooms of the corporate and investment community we can be certain of that.
In the aftermath of this vote, the bosses will be working with the union hierarchy behind the scenes to get something passed and put an end to this. The membership must be brought to their senses as defined by the 1% and their representatives. Any sign of unity in action between the various unions will be met with counters by the employers. Attempts to divide the workers, blue collar against white, bus drivers against train operators, must be fought. One local will be offered the carrot in order to break intra-union unity. This will be done through the leadership and the ranks that have spoken through this vote must ensure this is not successful. The involvement of the community will also increase these divisive tactics from management as well and the best way to combat this is through active committees of rank and file workers and the community.
Congratulations to ATU members who have taken a stand and have no doubt given a great boost to our brothers and sisters at BART. But the war will heat up now. The dirty tricks, lies and propaganda will intensify in subtle and not so subtle ways. The union officialdom at the international level and throughout the AFL-CIO will be working behind the scenes with their allies in the Democratic Party to derail what could develop in to a movement that would undermine their view of the world, and that threatens the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace. Any union official that breaks from this approach would be a positive but the best security is the conscious intervention of the rank and file.
The next steps are crucial and we should not underestimate the determination of the bosses to defeat both the BART and AC Transit workers in this struggle. I urge AC Transit workers to join the solidarity committee set up to help us win this battle, your presence can enrich and strengthen it. We don't all agree on everything but we all agree that the present situation cannot continue and that we have the power to change things if we use it. The solidarity committee was formed out of the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee and can be reached at: email@example.com or contact us here at firstname.lastname@example.org
No more concessions no to austerity. It stops here
For a public sector alliance
Rely on our own strength, workers and the community together
No reliance on Democrats and the party of Wall Street
For a $15 minimum wage
Expand public sector pensions and benefits to all workers
End all wars and occupations bring the troops, and the money home.
We bailed out the banks, the money is there.