Saturday, December 21, 2013

BART Union leaders give the bosses what they want without a fight.

Labor leaders had no strategy for winning
by Richard Mellor
AFSCME Local 444, retired

The Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky pointed out many years ago that the crisis of the working class was a crisis of leadership. It takes only a cursory glance in to the pages of history to see that, the Spanish Revolution, the German revolution of 1923 and countless, I mean countless of Labor struggles; struggles in which workers sacrificed everything for a decent life for them, their families and the future generations.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area after months and months of two aborted strikes and the refusal of the heads of organized Labor to fight we have seen yet another in a long list of betrayals.

I am referring to the months long back and forth between members of ATU 1555 representing train operators and SEIU 1021 representing Station Agents at BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.*  This could have been a struggle that Labor and all workers including those who use the system could have won; a victory that would have inspired millions and transformed the balance of class forces between capital and Labor on a national level.

I remind readers that in the end, a concessionary contract was finally forced on the workers and a long hot summer of discontent was over.  Tentative agreements were signed by negotiators on both sides and the management friendly agreement was ready to be signed by the Transit District’s public board of directors.

But there was a glitch.  Section 4.8 of the new agreement was not to the Transit Districts liking. Their negotiators had made a mistake, they said. Section 4.8 allowed six of the twelve weeks unpaid leave workers are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to care for a sick relative or bond with a new born family member, to be paid.

They had hired an expensive union busting hatchet man from a notorious private transit firm to negotiate for them and apparently a clause they would never have signed, was signed.  We were to find out later that the cowardly board and their union buster weren’t responsible for this, it was a low level temporary employee.  How nice of them, blame the guy with no rights.

The bosses refused to sign the contract, forced the union leadership back to the table and they meekly complied after whining about lawsuits etc. 

Given that the entire leadership of organized Labor support the Team Concept, the view that bosses and workers have the same economic interests and are therefore on the same team, I didn’t expect much, in fact I would have bet my childhood teddy bear the union officials would help the bosses out.

Well, here it is.  The officials have finally settled with the management, section 4.8 is history, it’s gone, (after all, anyone can make a mistake can’t they?) and in it’s place, some minor changes in the bereavement leave which most public sector workers have.

Here’s the new contract language: minus 4.8
Here is how the San Francisco Chronicle reported it:

Under the deal announced Saturday, the district's bereavement leave policy will be expanded to allow workers paid time off in the event of the death of a grandchild or step-parent of a spouse or domestic partner. The agency also agreed to build new break rooms for station agents at the Daly City and Millbrae stations and construct a break room at the West Oakland station, to be paid for through the district's existing station modernization program. BART will also allow eligible workers more flexibility in how they pay for the costs of their family medical leave.

The agency said there were "additional administrative changes" to the contract, but did not elaborate.

Here’s the new contract language traded for the previously agreed to section 4.8.

Crisis of leadership indeed.  I say again, we are in a war on two fronts. We are in a war against the bosses and the increasing capitalist offensive that intends to make us pay for their crisis through more austerity and taking from us all we have won over the last 150 years.  We are also in a more complex war and that is against the collaborationist policies of the head of organized Labor as seen so clearly in this example.  This is the more complicated war but we cannot avoid it no less than we can avoid the struggle against the bosses, they will  not stop; they are driven by the laws of the market to continue the offensive.

We saw the repeated failures to bring the power of organized Labor and all workers to the table in this dispute.  We have documented it on this blog and others have written about it. This clause should have been championed as a major victory in a generally concessionary deal.  It is a humane clause.  It is a clause that speaks of family values in the real sense and could have been a rallying cry for all workers to fight around among others. Society can afford it, society is, as the Wall Street Journal says repeatedly, "Awash with cash".

The struggle between BART workers and the Transit District is a lesson in how not to conduct one.  It lays bare the class collaboration and traitorous role played by the heads of organized Labor; they have abrogated their right to lead.  Rank and  file, members of the Unions and all workers must take a note of this betrayal, must recognize that we can't leave it to them any longer.  The top heads of organized Labor are not fighters, they worship the market and capital.  They sit on the commissions of the 1% and their competitive councils.  They attend their universities where they soak up their economic views like a sponge.  They view the unions built by the sweat and blood of generations of workers as employment agencies with them as the CEO's.  They are nothing but Labor Brokers.

Here in the Bay Area we should remember section 4. 8 as part of our history, yet another betrayal.

I would like to think that the rank and file of the BART Unions will reject this and revolt from below but I do not think this likely. It's Christmas, they've been through an exhausting six months, the leaders of our movement are entrenched for the time being.  Regrettably it will take further shocks to cause the long awaited rebellion from the depths of organized Labor and it will most likely be ignited from without.

To read more of this dispute go to the BART label on the right.

*AFSCME also represents workers at BART

No comments: