Friday, August 2, 2013

BART Strike: BART workers must not be left to fight the 1% alone.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I attended last nights “solidarity” rally with BART workers in Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.  Amalgamated Transport Union 1555, the union that has done the most organizing for it and that had initiated it, had the most members present from what I could see. I shot some video as you can see above but couldn’t stand listening to the speeches for long.  While many of the workers there attending such an event for the first time would naturally feel inspired and hopeful, I have heard it all before and if we take time to think about what was said form the podium we see clearly it amounts to empty rhetoric.

I was also at the first planning meeting for the rally when Chris Finn, ATU 1555’s Recording Secretary talked of the need to “get our message out to the public” but when I rose to ask him what that message was, he was reluctant to open up a discussion on the subject. In fact, there was no message to the public except to announce repeatedly that an attack on BART workers is an attack on all of us. From the podium last night the president of the ILWU whose officials remind us time and time again of 1934’s General Strike struck the same message telling the crowd that “An injury to one is and injury to all” and other speakers including the actor Danny Glover continued in the same vein.  I could stand it any more as no one raised what we must do to win this historic struggle between capital and labor that is taking place before us.

We are only two days away now from another strike and the war being waged against the BART workers in the 1%’s press is heating up as I write. The main offensive is to turn the public against the BART workers through their media. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle attacks the BART workers because of their benefits.  “Most public employees in the Bay Area contribute far more for their medical insurance and pensions than do BART workers..” the Chronicle reports, adding that they,  “…pay nothing toward their pensions and a flat $92 a month for medical care for workers and their families.” .  Why would we oppose that?  We need to be defending it and extending it and more, to all workers. It is not in workers’ interests to help the 1% attack those of us that are somewhat better off, have higher pay and better benefits or benefits at all. We want to raise us all up not help the 1% push us all down.

Making the 1%’s arguments like a good propaganda outlet should, the Chronicle whines about how medical insurance costs have increased and how pensions have risen 126% in the last 8 years. “This next contract must address the skyrocketing cost of employee benefits…” says a mouthpiece for the agency, “…and we have to have employees share in some of that risk.”

Many workers have chosen to seek the easy life, the line of least resistance as workers throughout the country have had their wages and benefits savaged over the past period. The auto-workers went from $28 an hour to $14.  The US is becoming attractive as a low waged economy and we reported on this blog about the Caterpillar factory that shut its doors in London Ontario and moved production to LaGrange Illinois where wages are 50% lower. The US “has become much more efficient, making it more attractive for global manufacturers.” the Wall Street Journal reported.

We must not kid ourselves, the bosses are serious about crushing the public sector and the Bay Area is in the eye of this storm. 

The bosses have brought in Tom Hock who is president of labor negotiations for Veolia transportation. Veolia is the largest operator of private public transit in the world and a major privatizer. Its is also connected with MV transportation, the private outfit that operates transit for the disabled.  The Teamsters represent these workers and where were they yesterday? These workers earn less with fewer benefits than MUNI or BART. They need to be brought in to this struggle to strengthen it and raise their wages and benefits to the higher level.  Hock has been on a 10-day vacation as negotiations have continued. He is expected to return to the bargaining table Tuesday, which is an indication of the contempt the bosses have for the workers and the public and further illustrates their strategy which is to force the BART workers in to striking, isolating them from the public making their defeat certain.

Veolia’s has its origins in the French water company Vivendi Universal that had a third of its directors under investigation for corruption in 1996. It has been notorious for corruption, fraud and putting profit before the public in its global privatization spree. 
Veolia settled out of court when sued under the Clean Water Act for dumping more than 10 million gallons of wastewater and untreated sewage over a 5-year period into the San Francisco Bay after creating an inadequate improvement project. You can read more about Veolia here.

This struggle is about privatizing our public transit system. We have written numerous pieces about this strike over the last week or two and I recommend people read them.  But let’s keep the right perspective here. The Chronicle doesn’t remind the public day in day out of the massive increase in corporate property values due to the BART system that is a publicly built and funded system.  Less than 5% of BART’s revenue comes from property taxes but corporate property and real estate values have sky rocketed thanks to BART.  I have given numerous examples of other sources of waste and funds. We know in our gut that there is plenty of money in society and plenty of thieving at the top.

The trade union leaders involved have asked the BART Board of Directors to investigate Hock and threatened a lawsuit if Hock is not removed.  And here is where I have to be blunt as the stakes are so high.  We cannot win by asking the very forces that are in the forefront of the war against us to help.  We have suffered defeat after defeat, setback after setback not because we are weak, but because of the failed and what have become, catastrophic policies of the heads of organized labor that have led to these defeats.  Individual locals are left fighting what amounts to global capitalism alone.  We cannot win that way.  The labor officialdom is asking the Board of Directors to help them?  They are appealing to the courts?  This doesn’t scare the 1%. They own the courts and the judges and the politicians in the two Wall Street parties represent their interests not ours. The power of workers to stop their system from functioning is what will bring them around. Force matters.

The problem is that the bosses don’t fear us because they know that the labor leadership from the top on down will not bring the power of labor and the working class as a whole to the table. We explained that if we want to win the unions must put on the table issues that affect the public. In the interests of space I won’t repeat it but I commented on this here.  The Unions must fight for the public, not talk in abstract phrases about us all being in this together and how we need to have solidarity.  Solidarity around what issues? What is the union movement offering the public concretely for their support?

At yesterday’s rally as our flier said, instead of empty phrases the union leadership should have been announcing the formation of a joint strike committee including members of the public and community and youth organizations.  It is my guess that the AC Transit bus drivers who are also in ATU but different local will not strike with the Train Operators. This is a huge mistake and the reason for it is the leadership does not want to wage a real war.  They are terrified of a victory as they have, like all of them, built a relationship with the employers based on cooperation and Labor peace. They see nothing but chaos coming out of a real victory that will inspire their members to get more and question the obscene salaries and perks that the heads of organized labor receive.

I was at the board meeting when AC Transit drivers, station agents and train operators packed the room and the feeling of unity and fighting together was strong. But the leadership refuses to lead. But a strike can be won; we have the power in the workplace and the community.  ATU 1555, SEIU 1021, ATU 192 representing AC Transit drivers, AFSCME representing supervisors and the Ferry operators should all come out together.  Mass meetings should be held to discuss tactics and build the strike for a victory. People can be sent out to other workplaces like the city of Oakland and other corporation yards and encourage workers to get involved, whole families should get involved around offensive demands, jobs, free transportation, 24 hour trains etc. Mass meetings can be held in the communities. The line against their austerity offensive can be drawn here in the Bay Area.

It was clear from the speeches at the rally that the present leadership as is always the case has no intention of launching a real fightback, the bosses know this which is whey they are so confident and are taking the opportunity to crush the BART workers.  We don’t need solidarity in the abstract in this situation; we need concrete and militant direct action, not letters to our Congressperson. They only listen to us if we hurt their bottom line.

Brothers and sisters that pay the dues in the unions, you cannot sit idly by and allow the leadership of these organizations that were built over a century and a half of sacrifice to continue their disastrous concessionary policies of cooperation and appeasement, of calling a defeat a victory because we lost slightly less than the boss wanted. The days of us paying dues and them producing the goods are over. We have no alternative but to fight. We owe it to our ancestors, to our children and to ourselves to drive back this offensive of the 1% with an offensive of our own. The money’s there, we know that in our hearts.  We are dealing with some ruthless people but we have been in worse situations before.
It’s time to seize the time.

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