SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The ruling-class media has created a divisive, lynch-mob mentality against 900 Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station agents and train operators in ATU Local 1555 who stood up against a plan to blatantly rob them and other subway workers of $100 million over the course of a 4-year contract.
Newspapers called workers spoiled and lazy, while radio talk-show hosts called for workers to be fired and replaced. BART spokesman Linton Johnson suggested that passengers harass and confront workers who rejected by a 2-1 margin a 4-year wage freeze and take-aways of three
holidays, work rules, medical and pension benefits. The last BART strike in 1997 lasted six days and caused devastating traffic jams costing the capitalists millions in lost production and profits.
Feeding the fascist frenzy were the union traitors who openly cried about the “grim economy” and tried to convince their members that
“everyone must sacrifice” and take this junk. Linda Isler, the president of the mechanics, janitors, and clerks union, SEIU 1021, proudly claimed that a 4-year wage freeze wasn’t a wage-cut. The SEIU never taught her about inflation! The SEIU accepted it 3-1. ATU 1555 leaders shackled
workers’ hopes for a lousy 1% wage increase at the end of the contract to BART’s sales tax revenue, ridership totals and pension contributions.
Yet where was the vilification over the $100 million payout to Citibank trader Ed Hall after working-class taxpayers bailed out Citibank to the tune of $45 Billion? Apparently the life of one parasitic financier from a bank that helped ruin the lives of tens of thousands of working-class homeowners is more important than the future of over 3,000 transit workers. These transit workers actually provide a valuable service which is more than can be said for a “trader.” Such a rotten profit system must be eliminated!
The ATU and SEIU leaders are worse than dead. They are in solidarity with capitalism and complicit in the impoverishment of the working class. They cannot and will not fight for our interests. They don’t understand the long-run tendency of the rate of profit to fall and exploitation of workers to increase. They try to limit workers’ opposition only to the rotten BART managers instead of showing how capitalist crisis and their needs for war are the main causes of BART’s budget woes. Some of the opposition just wanted a two-year contract in the hopes capitalism will rebound.
We must carry on this fight ourselves with CHALLENGE, class struggle, and base-building. Bus drivers of ATU 192 (AC Transit) were building solidarity among workers by passing a motion not to work any scab overtime if their brothers and sisters at ATU 1555 went on strike. Their contract is up next July. Members of PLP passed out several hundred leaflets and sold CHALLENGES at the rejection vote. We called for no concessions to capitalist crisis and war budgets and for more workers to become communists. Our class must fight the media’s divisive attacks with communist class consciousness.
After the vote the BART board voted to impose an even worse contract on the workers and the ATU was forced to call for a strike — initially planned for the next morning. They changed their mind and delayed the strike call two days.
While the bus drivers and CHALLENGE sellers intensified their efforts over the weekend, BART bosses, Democratic party politicians, and union leaders united to thwart the strike. This time they came up with another tentative agreement that restored the three lost holidays and tied the pipe-dream of a measly raise to the savings of a union-sponsored plan to increase the time to qualify for retiree medical benefits from 5 to 15 years. This plan continues the union strategy of dividing the membership and making new workers pay for capitalist crisis.
We are planning more activities’ leading up to the contract vote. We are struggling with our co-workers to help us spread our analysis through distributing CHALLENGE and taking more leadership in the fight-back. Class struggle sharpens contradictions and we must engage it, develop it, and strengthen it through collective actions. J
Members of ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 1555 were angry and fired up as they walked into the union hall where voting on the latest tentative agreement took place. For several weeks, they had sustained vicious attacks by the Bay Area ruling class’s media. Management’s latest contract offer was a rehash of the same contract workers rejected by a 2-1 margin on August 10 (see article above). The strategy of management and their henchmen, the ATU Local 1555 leadership, to wear workers down with scathing attacks and litanies of “shared sacrifice,” won the day on August 26.
The victory, however, showed that workers’ support of the union’s leadership is limited, as the contract was approved by less than 50% (albeit 75% of those who voted) of the union membership. In any case, the role of the union hacks became quite clear. Instead of organizing workers to fight back, they threw the workers under the train by encouraging them to vote in new BART board members at the next election, saying this was the best they could do given the current economic climate. They spewed the empty promise of “we’ll get them next time.”
This latest attack on the working class of the Bay Area won’t be the last. One by one, under leadership of the hacks, unions are bowing to the demands of capital. One worker declared, “The union movement is dead!” At the first contract vote on August 10, a young black BART worker put it best. “You (all) are disgusting! You’ve sold us out!” as he called out the union misleaders. “You say you’re for us, while you sit there idling as we’re losing station agents. If one walks, we all walk, that’s what you should be organizing.” He went on to say that the union needed a PR person to go up against “these vicious dogs,” showing that some workers still have illusions in mistakenly thinking that union officials rather than masses of workers can win our fights.
Teachers at West Contra Costa Unified have been asked to “sacrifice” their medical benefits resulting in a cost of $900/month to insure their family. UTR (United Teachers of Richmond) members have authorized a strike, but once again, the union’s leadership has been passive at best. Instead of organizing teachers to build a strong strike, they’re giving management time to solicit scabs and prepare for the eventual strike. The unions push the electoral system, “sacrifice,” and wishful thinking as answers to the ongoing attacks.
PLP members wrote two leaflets and went to talk with BART station agents and operators. Several recognized one of our young teachers commenting, “Hey, you’re that teacher and you’re going on strike, aren’t you? We’ve got to stick together.” Our flyers called on ATU members to vote no and to join us in building a communist movement. The flyers sought to build class consciousness and empower workers with the analysis that we must fight back as a class.
Building solidarity with other transit workers is crucial and the Party members also helped organize a No Overtime (NOT) Pledge amongst AC Transit [bus] Drivers. Through our involvement, our politics influence these struggles. The president of another ATU local kicked out one of her own members for distributing our flyers at the union hall; saying he had no business “interfering with their [ATU Local 1555’s] business.” We later discovered that our flyer was faxed to all the station agents by one of their own!
We had successful discussions with various workers and distributed a modest number of CHALLENGES. These activities have reinvigorated several young Party members and a weekly
CHALLENGE sale is being organized. A young teacher brought a few students (Summer Project attendees) to distribute our flyers. There are signs of growth and development in Party members that bodes well for working-class people in the Bay Area.
This struggle is an example of what the working class is facing nationally and internationally. The current economic crisis will see another nine million families lose their homes by year’s end with racist, predatory lending practices leading to black and Latino workers bearing the brunt of these attacks, while banks rake in record profits. With the national debt forecast to reach 20 trillion in 10 years, capitalists will resort to wars to defend their imperial empire in Afghanistan and elsewhere, trying to avoid the bankruptcy of their system.
Workers must rely only on our class and not on politicians, elections or union sellouts. Only when we organize as a class and fight as a class can we accomplish any real change, a change that must ultimately be the creation of a communist world. Our involvement in this struggle has shown us that the opportunity for spreading communist politics and building our Party is out there. CHALLENGE is the best working-class PR there is and we will continue the struggle as the battle shifts from transit workers, to teachers, and eventually all workers in the Bay Area.