Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bart Strike: Unions offer accepted in wake of worker deaths.

Source. SF Gate.com
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

"This has got to be the last time that this happens,"

These are the words of California's Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom.  Newsom, is the dashing millionaire and former Mayor of San Francisco.   He has been regularly supported by the Union leadership despite attacking their members wages and benefits.

Newsom is referring to the end of the transit strike here in the San Francisco Bay Area after two workers inspecting the tracks were killed by a scab manager operating a train. The company admitted it was training managers to operate trains despite the Union warning of the dangers and trying to stop it. A day after the deaths, the Union leadership agreed to work rule changes that were preventing management from introducing new technology that "enshrined inefficiencies" according to the main stream media.

In the tragic deaths of these workers, (I assume they were scabbing on the strike though I don't know which union they belonged to if any at all) the union leadership has found a way to capitulate to the demands of the bosses although the new offer has to go to the membership for ratification. The unions involved are SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555. 

What the bosses call efficiency and what workers mean by efficiency are two different things.  It is not efficient to close schools, hospitals, state clinics or fire stations, or to savage the wages and working conditions of workers but the bosses do that as the crisis of US capitalism which is global in scope, is shifted on to the backs of workers, the middle class and the poorest among us. BART workers represent a somewhat better paid sector of the working class with relatively more humane working conditions and better benefits, the result of having a union and being public sector; they had to be brought down a peg.

This blog has covered this dispute over the past 6 months or so and it is clear to anyone following events that from the outset, the strategy of the labor leadership from the internationals on down was to fight this battle with one hand behind their backs, or more accurately, to ensure the dues paying members fought a battle with one hand behind their backs as top union officials and their army of staff rarely if ever have to live under the conditions of the contracts they recommend to their members.

They called off the first strike after four and a half days in July and were even appealing to the vicious anti-union Democratic governor of California, Jerry Brown to intervene. The ATU which represents other transit workers that drive buses and whose contracts were also up refused to wage united struggle against the bosses war on the living standards of their members.  SEIU 1021, which also represents BART workers and City of Oakland workers  refused to do the same.  The reader can go to the BART label to the right to follow these events as they occurred.

The usual scenario played out here.  The bosses use all of their forces against a local in these situations, the courts, the police and in this case a massive propaganda war was waged against BART workers in the local media.  The labor hierarchy has no answer to this.  Given their deafening silence in the face of this ideological assault, it is amazing that there is the support there was among the public.  Facts For Working People has argued all along as have other forces like the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee that simply saying this attack on BART workers is an attack on all of us is not enough.  There was no serious attempt at all to draw in the unorganized and the communities in which we live and work.  No demands were raised that would appeal to the public, free transportation for seniors, cheaper fares for the unemployed and those on assistance.  There was no serious public debate about the need for increased services, more jobs, for BART wages, benefits and health care to be expanded to all workers.

All the public sector locals that were free to strike during this period were dealing with the bosses in isolation yet we all have the same employer.  Mass meetings of transit workers alone should have been occurring months before the contracts expire and strike committees should have been set up that would include members of the public.   None of this was even seriously considered, just the opposite.

The labor officialdom refuses to wage a real fight because they basically agree with the employers that workers need to make concessions, just slightly less offensive ones than the bosses demand.
The pressure of the ranks in both BART and AC Transit the bus drivers union, both ATU locals, is what undoubtedly pushed the leadership to come this far, workers in both agencies have made major concessions up to now and were resisting more.  The AC transit drivers in ATU 192 rejected this offensive of the 1% voting down two concessionary contracts brought to them by their leaders.  In a tragic sense, these deaths which are the responsibility of BART management and the union buster they brought in to force this strike have given the union leadership a way out.  It remains to be seen if the members will accept the deal.

The importance of Newsom's statement above cannot be understated as the next step is to introduce legislation to make transit strikes illegal.  I was on strike in 1985 when it was illegal to do so but the California Supreme Court changed that as we walked the picket lines.  The public sector is under assault and until there is a serious movement from below that arises to drive back this offensive of the 1% the bosses will continue to take back all the gains we have won over the last 60 years.

No comments: