Thursday, August 1, 2013

BART Strike: Bosses want to end the right to strike to curb transit unions' power

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Given the politics of the San Francisco Bay Area and the relatively high union density compared to other areas of the country, it appears no official spokesperson for the Bay Area Rapid Transit Agency (BART) dare raise the need to introduce legislation to prevent BART employees from striking, this doesn’t mean they don’t privately support such legislation.  Many of the liberal politicians who receive union money won’t say much either although they can’t be relied upon to defend our right to strike.

In such cases these representatives of moneyed interests have other means by which they can influence public opinion, the mass media.  The front page headline in the San Francisco chronicle today reads: “BART Unions’ BIG Weapon”.  The “big weapon” this organ of the 1% is referring to is the right to strike.

The article refers to the BART strike earlier this month that was halted by a 30-day cooling off period agreed to between the parties.  The strike, “..generated  a lot of anger and frustration and caused many consumers to question why transport workers are permitted to strike in the Bay Area when transit strikes are illegal in major cities..” the Chronicle says. The paper even stresses that the San Francisco public transit system is prevented by city charter from striking.

There is no doubt a strike of this nature is disruptive and causes hardship for other workers and the population that uses the system; a strike is always a sacrifice, especially for those who participate in it.  But the truth is that the Chronicle piece is written in order to tap in to this frustration and offer a solution to it, legislate the right to strike away or, even better, deny the right to strike on grounds that the BART strike, or any strike for that matter, “would create a substantial and imminent threat to public safety.” If it is determined, and the Chronicle’s piece aims to drum up public support for it if a strike is deemed an act of terrorism or a threat to the public, workers face serious charges or worse, perhaps jail time. Most importantly though, the union hierarchy will face jail times and fines or their property taken.  This is who the threat is directed at, the weakest link in the union chain.

In the Wisconsin events, all the concessions that affected their rank and file were agreed to by the leadership of the unions and their allies in the Democratic Party.  The only issues they opposed were the elimination of dues check off, where the employers collect the members’ dues for them, and the right to bargain which eliminates the officialdom’s role as negotiators even though they willingly negotiate their members rights and benefits away. These are two issues that involve revenue, one for the officialdom the other for the Democrats who receive hundreds of millions of union members dollars at election time.

The Chronicle is a liberal bourgeois rag so it selects its words carefully. Its aim is undercut the strong pro-Union and liberal attitude among its readership by implanting the idea (after months of propaganda about how overpaid and greedy BART workers are) that the strike really does put the public in imminent danger.  After all, if you can’t get to work it’s taking food off your table, it’s an attack on the family.

We have witnessed over the past period savage attacks on the poor, the disabled, and the wages and benefits of better unionized workers.  We have seen fire stations shut down, access to health care and supplemental benefits curtailed.  People lost their homes, driven out of them by sheriffs on behalf of the bankers.  We read every day about fraud and corruption on the stock exchange and the embezzling of billions by the 1% and corporate powers.What is this activity but one that harms the public? But there's the public and the public. It is not workers and the middle class public the bosses refer to when they use such terms.

Surely, shutting down a fire station puts the public in danger. The 1% and their politicians clearly see it as a danger of sorts as they forbid firefighter to strike. Firefighters can’t strike but fire stations can be closed by the dictate of politicians, local state and federal as society finds itself "awash with cash" and profits galore not to mention the bank bailouts.

The truth is that the bosses and the politicians in the two Wall Street Parties are not concerned with how strikes affect the working public or our community access to health care or a crucial service like the fire department.  The poor, the disabled, young people and the elderly are already affected in terrible ways by the cuts in social services and highly inadequate mass transit. As I pointed out in other piece about a BART strike, it is the affect it has on profits. BART carries workers to the workplace for the owners of capital and the labor process (the boss). The workplace is the source of profits; it’s where profits are born. It is the disruption of business and profit making that they are concerned about.

We must not be fooled by their propaganda about strikes, lazy workers or welfare recipients and on and on. It’s clear they are determined to make it illegal for BART workers to strike in the future if they can. This would be a huge setback for all workers and the middle class.  If they attempt to use the courts to prevent a strike, the entire labor movement and its allies must be mobilized to violate such anti-worker laws.

To accomplish this,  leadership of the BART unions need to correct a major flaw in their approach. We cannot counter this ideological offensive by the 1% through their media with general statements about how an attack on BART workers is an attack on us all although it is. The union negotiators must also be the communities’ negotiators. As organized workers we cannot limit our demands to issues that only affect us.  In today’s Chronicle piece there are two columns at the end of it under the title “Talking Points”. There are two sub headings, one on the left in bold that says: BART  The right column has the sub heading Unions.

In the “Unions” column the talking points with one exception are all about BART workers, what they have given up and what they need.  Even the exception, “safety protections” applies mostly to the safety of workers.

What is missing is talking points that affect the public. There would be an entirely different game being played if added to the issues that affect the members were issues that affect the working public like:
Half fare for welfare recipients and the unemployed
Free travel on all transit for seniors
Massive increase in bus routes
Increased permanent hiring at union rates and benefits.

This sort of thing is what’s missing and what would draw the rest of the working class and the community in to this battle with the right strategy.  What the general public needs should also be "talking points" but these issues are not on the negotiating table and they should be. This makes uniting with the communities concrete.

The above is a small example to illustrate my point but we can’t expect people to sacrifice and do it willingly simply because it’s the “moral” thing to do.  We are talking bread and butter issues here. People are hurting for all sorts of reason, a strike will disrupt people's lives, that what a strike does, especially for those involved in it,  but if other workers and the community are involved and see that their involvement can lead to material gains it's worth it. Either we pay, or the 1% pays and we can make them pay if we build our forces and have the correct strategy and tactics.

Facts For working People has produced a flier for the rally in Oakland today that expresses our views in more detail (Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza 5 pm). If you would like that flier and most importantly, if you can distribute it as a hard copy or e mail it to your lists or friends please do so. Contact me if you know me or the other folks who write regularly or send a request to this blog’s e mail address at:


Mark Painter said...

I want BART workers right to strike to be taken away. They are abusing it and abusing me, an innocent rider.

Richard Mellor said...

Well, strikes are painful for all involved especially those whop are on the picket lines. But progress comes through struggle. If you look at all the progressive legislation that remains today, it was one in the 30's when workers were taking over factories and occupying their workplaces.

How do you propose we stop the decline in our living standards and the increased inequality ion society, massive accumulation at the top, decline in the middle and at the bottom.