AC and BART Contracts – What Can Be Done?

Workers at AC Transit are voting on the latest contract proposal this Tuesday. And for BART workers the clock is ticking with the cooling off period ending at midnight on October 10. For months now the bosses have mobilized their forces to try to impose takeaways on Bay Area transit workers. The heads of BART and AC have stalled and refused to meet or made insulting offers that they knew would not be accepted.

The politicians have helped the bosses out offering carrots and sticks. Mediators have been used to supposedly help the negotiations. They have used Governor Brown to prevent a strike for 60 days. And now some politicians in Sacramento are pushing to pass a law to make transit strikes illegal.

The corporate-owned media has played its part as well. Day after day there are stories on the news about riders who may be inconvenienced by a strike and about the supposedly high paid transit workers.

All these forces have lined up against the workers. We should expect that. They are the forces of the wealthy. They are well organized and know what they want – to profit at our expense.

On the other side stand the workers. BART workers were forced out on strike in July, when a takeaway contract was thrown at them. AC Transit workers voted down a contract because that would set them back again, after years of takeaways. Saying NO! is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t a fight. It just sends the same union officials back to the bosses to try to get a better deal. The results can be seen in the current contract proposals.

Those in power, those who control the wealth, have waged a relentless war on us. We have paid for their economic crisis with home foreclosures, loss of jobs, cuts to education and social services. We have been made to feel like we are meaningless in our own lives – subject to the whims of the bosses.

Workers everywhere have been losing ground – with layoffs, worsening working conditions, increased health care and pension costs, not to speak of wages that are often frozen or don’t keep up with the rising cost of living. What is happening in transit is only too familiar to hospital workers at Kaiser or the airport workers at Oakland, or Fed-Ex workers, and state and city workers – all of us. We all face the same tactics and can understand why the transit workers may end up having a takeaway contract forced on them because nothing else seems possible. Many understand what we are up against, and don’t see a way forward. We wait on the bosses, their politicians and union officials who often feel they are also at the mercy of the bosses.

But is that the only choice? Clearly it is not. If transit workers used their forces and their power, imagine the result! If the BART and AC workers months ago had begun talking to people they know and riders about the true situation and linking our concerns – imagine what might happen.

While looking to others for solutions, we have ignored an enormous untapped force – ourselves – the power of the people who REALLY make the Bay Area run. The bosses may have millions or billions of dollars. But without the workers, nothing happens. That is why the current attack on BART and AC workers is so important. Transit workers are the most visible workers in the Bay Area. They are the workers hundreds of thousands rely on and see each day. Our links are clear.

If each worker today who is frustrated and angry started meeting with other workers on their job, and if they formed a network of organizers, and if they did the outreach to riders – the situation could change a lot. Maybe not quickly enough to change the outcome of this contract fight – although you never know if you don’t try.

This is the only way workers can organize a real fight, by showing the important role we play in producing all the goods of society, providing all the services and making all the transit and communication run. But we have to organize that fight ourselves, from the bottom up, to force the bosses to give us all what we deserve.