Friday, August 9, 2013

BART Strike: BART workers left to fight the forces of Wall Street alone

by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

The San Francisco Chronicle this morning makes the point that politicians in California are “paralyzed” in the wake of the mass transit dispute and another possible strike after California governor Jerry Brown put a stop to the last one at the last minute.

This paralysis is due to “offending” voters on the one hand as the polls seem to indicate the management is winning the propaganda war, (with the help of the mass media) and, as Democrats, fear of losing union members’ money that the officialdom hands over to them for their election campaigns. They have no fear of that really as the heads of organized Labor have nowhere else to go politically.  Supporting the Democratic Party is better than running independent candidates which puts them in the hot seat as they’d have to produce the goods. They can blame the Democrats in the present set up.

“Most of the elected leaders have stayed on the sidelines” the Chronicle writes.  But they are not on the sidelines. Their silence has consequences and it shows how all the money these Democrats receive from members’ hard earned money doesn’t buy much when the fight breaks out in to the open and sides have to be taken. 

As things are, the BART workers are facing a formidable combination. They are at the negotiating table alone while the bosses have BART management, the imported union buster and privatizer Tom Hock from Veolia, and mediators.  Mediators are not objective; not neutral. Their job is to bring a settlement on the basis of labor peace, which means favorable to the bosses.  Mediators are a poor substitute for the power and conscious involvement of the union rank and file and workers in our communities.

These Democratic Party politicians who refuse to take sides have no problem taking our money. They are taking sides and they know it.  They are silent in the face of a war against workers’ living standards that is part of a general offensive against social services and the public sector which has a higher union density than the private and generally better working conditions. What friend, what sort of ally, stays silent when you’re under attack? 

These politicians, the Barbara Lees, Newsome’s and others are, by their silence, by their refusal to take sides, contributing to what will be a defeat for all workers, our communities and for the young people looking for decent jobs.  A politician or political party that claimed to represent working people or the poor, or claimed to be the party of the people as the Democrats do would be campaigning for the workers in this dispute.  Such a party and its political representatives should be countering the propaganda of the 1% that American workers are the problem and that society can’t afford social services or decent jobs. They would expose the “shared sacrifice” myth for what it is.

But as candidates of a party of the 1% and Wall Street, it is impossible for them to defend our interests.  The Democratic Party relies on the support organized labor gives it at election time, precinct walkers, phone banks, votes and of course money.  My former union, AFSCME provided some 40,000 volunteers for Walter Mondale’s campaign.  Who says we can’t have our own party?  Despite giving billions to Democrats over the years it has not stopped the assault on workers often led by the very people who received that money.  It’s no wonder some 138 million Americans opted out of the process last election cycle.

Barbara Boxer and the other multi-millionaire, Dianne Feinstein whose husband is the notorious coupon clipper and former sweatshop owner Richard Blum, sent a letter to what the Chronicle refers to as the “warring parties”  urging them to work together “negotiate in good faith” and all that rubbish.

The problem is that the our organizations are infiltrated by representatives of this Wall Street Party through the union officialdom. Chris Daly, the “political director” of SEIU 1021 is a Democrat and San Francisco supervisor.  Political directors in the union officialdom are all about integrating organized Labor with this party of Wall Street and ensuring that any movement form below that threatens this relationship is subverted.  The Democratic Party is the political agent of the 1% inside our organizations.

We cannot drive back this offensive of capital in a money war; they have more of it. That’s why they’re called capitalists.  Our power lies in building our movement, our unions and an independent workers political party, independent of the two capitalist parties, in open opposition to them and based on our organizations in the workplace and the communities in which we live and work. Our power lies in stopping production.  Let’s be a little clearer on that issue. Stopping production is not a problem for the 1% when they shut down factories or businesses or public services because there’s no profit in it.  Here’ they’re shifting capital to more profitable ventures like speculation of gambling for example, But when we do it, against their will, that is different. When they do it in defense of their economic interests it's good; when we do it in ours through refusing to work, that's bad. That's mass terrorism.

At every step of the way in this dispute the union leadership involved has refused to take steps that could win over the public and win advances for their members and the community at large. I have written about this in detail during this dispute. In the first strike at the beginning of July when ATU 1555, SEIU 1021 and Afscme 3993 struck, the drivers at AC Transit, also in ATU but a different local chose not to come out. Not being in that local I am not privy to the internal goings on but I was at a board meeting a couple of weeks earlier when the rank and file of both locals packed the room and there was a strong commitment to stand together, a strong sense of unity. How come this never came to fruition? 

Any activist knows that the international leadership in these situations keeps an eye on things and there is no doubt in my mind that the reason the BART workers struck alone was the leadership of ATU 192 probably in conjunction with the international leadership made sure AC Transit drivers wouldn't go out. All sorts of fears would have been fed.  The union hierarchy is very good at telling us what we can’t do.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no public criticism of this mistake from the leaders of ATU 1555, AFSCME or SEIU 1021. It is taboo in the labor movement for the leadership of one sector or local to criticize another but that’s a mistake too; it’s a unity of leadership against the ranks. On top of this, City of Oakland workers, also in SEIU 1021, could have struck and many other unions are or have been in contract talks in this period. We cannot win without mass involvement and mass action.

I cannot see the bosses allowing the BART workers to strike again and I am sure that the top officials will make some deal. However, we have to be conditional about such things as there is tremendous anger in society and among the rank and file of the unions so keeping things under control is not always possible.  There will be a sincere effort ahead I think to legislate the BART workers’ right to strike away and because the union has no real message for the public, has nothing on the table for the public (see other blogs under the BART label) and without a generalized struggle drawing in the communities and the rest of the labor movement, the chances of defeat increase if they walk off.

Because AC Transit drivers in ATU 192 have settled as have the SEIU with the City of Oakland (a huge victory according to a high level official but you have to talk to the dues payer to get a more accurate appraisal), this means BART workers are out there on their own.  This is what happens in all these cases, one local or one group of workers left to fight the forces of global capitalism alone.  Important union officials from higher bodies will talk about solidarity with BART workers or that they bring solidarity form their members but this is simply rhetoric. In most cases these days, their members don’t even know who they are.

We can’t win without changing course, without doing things differently. The union officials at the highest levels, committed as they are to the Team Concept and labor/management cooperation, will not wage a real fight and build an offensive of our own, will  not take any steps forward unless they are absolutely forced to do so from below. There is nothing they fear more than a victory that will unleash the anger and frustration that millions of American workers feel after decades of defeats.

The rank and file union member has to step up to the plate and transform this situation.

*If you are interested in discussing where we go from here, not simply in the Unions but what we can do to change the balance of forces in US society more in our favor, please contact us as we are considering where we go from here and want to discuss this with other workers and eventually have some sort of meeting as well as possibly set up some sort of listserve for those out of the area.  Contact us at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The public doesn't understand this is a fight for he middle class and not just for BART workers. Big money has managed to push the middle class down and the rich get richer. Most people don't understand this and are jealous because they don't have what BART workers have. But instead of wanting to bring BART down they need to try to bring the middle class back up. This fight for BART workers is a fight for the middle class to make a decent living, not just for BART workers. It always comes down to the bottom giving up more so the top and can have it all. What is management giving up? What is their contribution so BART can purchase these new cars? Are they losing wages or benefits? The more they can save on the workers the higher raise they get at the end. Why aren't their raises and benefits published in the papers and on the news? How about if whatever happens to the workers also happens to management? Benefits and the percentage of wages should be the same for both. Maybe then they would consider being fair and bargain in good faith.