Thursday, November 21, 2013

BART bosses renege on a contract already signed. United community/labor action must defend the contract

Source: KTVU
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The saga of the struggle between transit workers and the bosses in the San Francisco Bay Area continues. Here’s what happened.  After two strikes and months of contentious negotiations and lost opportunities as union leaders refused to mobilize a general offensive against the transit authority, BART workers finally agreed to a deal after two scabs were killed while working on the tracks.  The tragedy was clearly the fault of management who allowed an unqualified operator to move a train.

So both sides accepted the deal and the contract was signed last month. The BART board of directors was scheduled to sign off on it yesterday. Instead, they voted to accept the contract minus a clause in the contract that they have decided, in retrospect, to renege on.

In their eagerness to force their employees out on strike as they waged a public campaign demonizing them in the 1%’s mass media, perhaps they overlooked it, or did not pay enough attention to the details.  BART officials have stated publicly that they didn't intend to have the clause in the contract, and that it was, “Inadvertently included by a temporary employee.”  according to KTVU news.

So let’s think about this.  The bosses, in this case in the form of elected politicians who are functioning as agents of the 1%, carrying out their policies of austerity, went and hired a union busting privatizer of public resources.  They spent or allocated more than $21 million of public funds in an attempt to bust the union and drive down the wages and benefits of these workers as part of the general offensive against all workers and our communities.  The man they hired, Tom Hock, was an “expert” a “professional”.

But despite all this, the transit agency is now claiming the management signed something they didn’t really mean to sign.  The mainstream media reports today that, “BART officials said they didn't intend to have that provision in the contract, and that it was inadvertently included by a temporary employee.”

Oh well, all that money wasted.  But whether they want to blame it on some poor subordinate or claim they didn’t mean it and it was a mistake is irrelevant; they signed it.

Union officials are outraged of course as despite their protestations beforehand the transit board ignored them and went ahead with their game plan as they have done all along. It’s a good bet that some of these board members received workers dues money in the form of political donations for their election campaigns.

Josie Mooney lead negotiator for SEIU 1021 told the media that the union heads will “discuss the matter with their attorneys and their members and will announce their ‘course of action’ soon.”. She went on to say that, “The board's action Thursday was illegal and constitutes an unfair labor practice”. Mooney also told the media that she had “ never before seen management approve a contract without approving a provision its negotiators had already agreed to.”

But a lot has changed in 20 years.  Union officials like Ms. Mooney have bent over backwards to accommodate the bosses’ agenda forcing concessionary contracts down members’ throats for so long that the bosses don’t fear them at all.  In fact, they hardly need them anymore.  The union officials made it clear to the transit board that they would be willing to talk to them about the controversial clause but they must sign the contract management and the union agreed to and the bosses told them to take a hike.

No doubt the next step for the union hierarchy will be to file an “unfair labor practice” lawsuit.

This is where years of conciliation and outright class collaboration on the part of the union hierarchy has brought us.  The period when the union officials had some room to maneuver, a period when they could to a certain extent pretend to be fighting for their members is history.  The one or two day strike, a letter or two to a Democrat who might walk the line for an hour, all that doesn’t work any more.

What we are facing is a coordinated and conscious offensive of the capitalist class as they aim to place US workers on rations. Hundreds of bases and thousands of troops around the world permanently occupying countries on behalf of US corporations and their profits costs money and they expect us to pay. Global competition and the rise of China, Brazil, Russia etc. has weakened US capitalism on the world stage despite its ability to blow the entire world to bits and this contributes to the drive to make us "competitive".

The crushing of the UAW that preceded the increased offensive against the public sector, both workers and services, is part of this coordinated assault. The increased militarization of the police and police violence in the communities and against social movements like Occupy are all part of this coordinated offensive.  We cannot win if we don’t build a united direct action movement that can unite all the isolated struggles that are arising as a consequence of this war against workers and the poor..

Section 4.8, the clause that the bosses are now reneging on should be pointed out as the huge gain that it is. Union officials should make a public issue of it and demand it be expanded to all workers, union and non-union alike. Look at the graphic I used in a previous piece on this subject and see how backward we are in the US when it comes to social services, rights and benefits when compared to other countries.  Thanks to the BART workers, their members who have sick relatives or a new child can spend six weeks caring for them or bonding with the child without losing income.  This is a wise use of public money and a huge victory for all of us.  It is a humane and efficient gain.

The rank and file of the unions involved must not allow their leaders to return to the table to make a deal on this clause which is what they will do if they can. The boss would likely offer a lump sum or some sort of monetary bribe to give up what is already a done deal or to drop a lawsuit.

There should be an immediate call for mass meetings of the transit unions to discuss this issue.  If the contract is open then the right to strike is there.  Even if it is not, a campaign must be built to build enough momentum and support to defy legal attempts to stop us using the strike as a weapon especially to defend a contract that’s already been agreed to.  If the bosses can renege on a deal so can we. But this time put some meat on the table, including increased benefits, wages, rights and gains like sect. 4.8 for all workers and other demands that benefit the riding public.

We are under a concerted assault and we have to change our tactics and strategy if we are to survive. 

Another point that needs making is this: newly elected socialist on Seattle City Council, Kshama Sawant’s response to the Boeing bosses threatening to leave town if workers don’t meekly hand over their living standards is for the workers to take over the plant.

This is the difference between a socialist or any genuine fighter for working people and our communities and the Democratic politicians who actually ally with the union hierarchy in order to suppress militancy and ensure lots of money and volunteers at election time.

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