Saturday, August 3, 2013

BART Strike lessons: The media is not neutral.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

At the height of the Occupy Movement the support for these mostly young people was considerable.  They were attacking the 1% and speaking out for all workers.  Here in Oakland I remember being on the back of a flatbed truck about to speak on the day of the big strike that shut down three shifts at the port of Oakland and felt a tug at my ankle. It was my former boss.

As I looked out in to the crowd, some estimates put at 30 to 40 thousand I saw co-workers and management personnel who I never see at events like these.  People have had enough.  Thousands of decent jobs lost, people thrown out of their homes in to the street, poor people cut off from public assistance and those protesting the shutting down of fire stations in their neighborhoods or the state parks where they took their families for the only affordable vacation around, were there looking for some solution to this crisis that is being shifted on to the shoulders of workers and the middle class. And this, after we bailed out the bankers and dragged their system from the edge of the abyss.  Older people, the disabled, youth, a Lucky Stores worker earning $21 an hour after more than 40 years on the job described how powerful the feeling was to be there that day and shut down the docks.

The wages of US workers have been driven so far back we are now becoming attractive fare for global investors. Italian manufacturers have threatened their employees that they will move to the US if they don’t accept cuts.  US firms in Canada have shut plants and headed south in order to benefit from wages that are half that of our Canadian brothers and sisters.  The 1% in the US has, with the help of their media waged an unprecedented war on US workers and our organizations aided also by a leadership atop organized labor that has cooperated all the way in the hope of a return to the good old days.

Power attracts as they say which is why the Occupy Movement gained such widespread support among the population.  Somebody was fighting back and fighting back in a way that we would have to fight if we want to win. Defiance of the law and mass action, occupations, pickets, generalizing the struggle and stopping production is what works, it always has and always will in a society where the wealth of that society has its origins in the labor process. (Occupy made some serious mistakes too)

So we must recognize it for what it is when we read in their mass media the not so subtle attacks on BART workers here in the Bay Area.  Bart workers are not even the highest paid workers but it is not in our interests, any workers interest to help the 1% drive wages of any of us lower.

I have been a wage-worker all my life. I retired as a public sector worker here in the Bay Area and I have a retirement I can live on, I am not ashamed of it. I don’t clip coupons and earn a million a year doing that. I don’t buy and sell currencies or speculate on the price of food, a human need. I didn’t earn $5 billion dollars one year betting some older person, some poor person wanting a roof over their heads would be overwhelmed by interest payments and be kicked out of their home like John Paulson, a major coupon clipper did.

I am like millions of us out there and very much like a BART worker. We are not fools.  I ask all my class brothers and sisters to consider this.  The Daily Review continues the propaganda war against BART workers that another bourgeois rag the Chronicle has been doing all week.  It has all sorts of figures out today showing how most members of the public oppose the workers and support BART management. 70% oppose the strike and 30% support it.   53% feel BART workers are overcompensated 16% think they’re undercompensated. These papers are organs of the 1%. The contents are not written for them by them, they are written by their paid mouthpieces for us, to influence our views of the world around us.  al Qaeda is out to get us.  Foreigners are jealous of us.  The wars abroad are about freedom and defensive wars as opposed to predatory offensive actions. There is no money in society to provide a decent life for all, education, mass transit, health care etc. The figures above come from the Bay Area Council, a business group. It is profits, profits, profits, they care about, not inconveniencing the public.

The bosses are determined to win this one as they did with auto and as they did with the events in Wisconsin where a movement of thousands of workers was derailed and directed in to electoral politics and that black hole we call the Democratic Party.  This was the strategy of the labor leadership and still is.

Negotiations are continuing through this weekend but the unions are outnumbered as other representatives of the 1%, state and federal mediators are in the room.  The point has been reached where nothing can be gained at the table if it is not backed up by the power of the workers and our communities, as George Schultz pointed out, “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.” We can learn from our enemies.

It is still possible that the union leaders could agree to continue working and avoid a strike or California governor Jerry Brown could intervene and call a 60-day cooling off period.  The Union leadership of the entire Bay Area are responsible if the bosses have their way and defeat the BART workers.  The objective is to privatize public transit and at the same time undermine the workers in this field by introducing anti-labor legislation. “Working class people can’t afford this (strike)” says a representative of the business council, “Our region can’t afford it”.  Once again, he is referring to the business community, to profits and the incomes of the wealthy and the 1%.

The present situation cannot go on indeed, it has to won by them or by us but we can’t win it unless we change course and we know the union leadership will not do that so the rank and file of the Unions cannot remain passive followers when it comes to the policies of the leadership that have such a profound affect on our lives.

What must be done if working people are not to suffer another defeat in the bosses’ war on our living standards is that serious demands must be put on the table including demands that relate to the traveling public like free transportation for seniors, half fare for the unemployed and those on public assistance. The corporation’s can pay and fares can be lowered for all. We have to raise the stakes and demand what people need to live a decent life as opposed to what is acceptable to the 1% and their representatives in the Democratic Party. (If you would like a pdf of the flier we handed out at Thursday’s rally explaining our views in more detail send an e mail to

As I explained in a previous commentary, bus drivers should strike with BART workers.  They are in the same union. What good is a union if we can’t have this basic solidarity, if we don’t take advantage of the power we have as workers to force the 1% to back off. The leadership of the ATU at the highest levels refuses to do this because they are unwilling to fight; they have the same world view as the 1%, they worship the market and see it as the answer to all things including mass transit and water. It’s like entering a boxing ring with one hand tied behind our backs. A mass mobilization of workers can only lead to chaos from their point of view and they will resist it ferociously.

This is why they appeal to mediators and the politicians as opposed to relying on their own members and the power of workers in general. Jerry Brown, a union busting Wall Street politician is supported by Bank of America, Wal Mart, Facebook and billionaires like Steven Spielberg and Ari Emanuel who is the brother Rahm Emanuel , Obama’s buddy who is savaging Chicago’s public schools planning to close 150 of them.

Yet unions will support Brown in his efforts to stay in the governor’s seat and some are like SEIU 1000 (SEIU also represents BART and City of Oakland workers) that represents state workers who Brown has waged a vicious war against.  The policies of the present heads of organized Labor have been a disaster for us. We cannot buy the favor of Wall Street politicians like Brown or any of them.  We can’t defeat capital with capital because they have more of it.  That’s why they’re called capitalists. We can defeat them with labor, we have more of that, much more which is why they divide us along race, gender and religious lines and why they blame the poor for our predicament or public sector workers, immigrants or foreigners, anything to turn one section of the working class against the other, union against non union.  Al Qaeda would wish it could inflict the pain and misery on US society and workers that our own 1% do.

Rely on our own strength. Demand what workers’ and the public need not what is acceptable to the bosses, Wall Street and the Democrats and use our power as workers to win it. Build a mass workers’ party as an alternative to the two parties of Wall Street.

We are witnessing an historical battle going on in the Bay Area. But we're fighting it with one hand tied behind out  backs.

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