BART Contract – A Lesson For Us All

This week BART workers will be voting on their contract. For four months they have faced an all-out attack by BART management. Management began by hiring Thomas Hock, a notorious union buster, at a salary of $400,000. The BART general manger didn’t show up at negotiations for months. Management refused to bargain for weeks at a time, and submitted contract proposals that were insulting and disrespectful. Twice the bosses provoked BART workers to go on strike. Management’s final act was the killing of two BART workers by running a train driven by a management trainee.

BART management has shown a lack of concern for the safety of both BART workers and passengers. They lied about money saying it wasn’t there. But after they had the blood of two workers on their hands, the money appeared in their contract offer – an admission that it was there all along.

Management represented and had the full support of the bosses in the Bay Area, throughout California and throughout the country. The attacks on BART workers, who are probably the most visible Bay Area workers who carry over 400,000 passengers on their system daily, is part of an attack that has gone on for the last decade. The bosses have tried to force workers to pay the cost of the crisis of this system.  They have often made an example of public workers, attacking wages, benefits, working conditions and even the right to a union, with attacks in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin and now attacks on pensions in San Jose.

The corporate media was used to lie and confuse the public, claiming that BART workers are lazy, overpaid and greedy. In fact BART workers barely make enough to even live in the Bay Area. These lies are meant to confuse and disorient other workers. The bosses want people to believe that because so many have been attacked and seen their standard of living cut, that BART workers should be cut too. Bringing BART workers down doesn’t bring anyone else up.  But that doesn’t prevent the bosses from spreading their lies.

While the bosses and their allies mounted their offensive, the union officials for the most part tried to act “reasonably” so as not to offend the public. That meant not meeting the bosses head on, exposing their lies and actively reaching out to the public. This “nice guy” strategy put workers in a weaker position. What was needed was to mobilize the BART workers to be really active in defending themselves. Even though the contracts of BART and AC Transit expired at the same time, there was no coordinated struggle proposed to the workers. The issues of the AC contract were kept separate from that of the BART workers, when both are facing attacks on their standard of living and working conditions. And many BART workers are in the same union as AC Transit workers.

A few rallies were held by the unions, but they didn’t propose anything for people to do. And no real effort was made to involve other workers in the Bay Area to support the BART or AC workers’ struggles. Every train and bus provides an opportunity for workers and their supporters to hand out fliers and talk with people about our common interests. For us to have a safe, affordable and efficient system of public transportation requires a respect for passengers and the workers who maintain and operate it.

Now BART workers face a vote on a contract that to many in the Bay Area, seems pretty good. There are still take-aways but fewer than what were originally demanded. Faced with the public backlash against them for striking it is understandable if BART workers feel that they can’t vote “No” and make a fight for what they need and deserve. But a contract settlement doesn’t mean that the problems are over.

Most workers confront the same problems today. To stop the bosses’ attacks we need to mobilize ourselves and reach out to others who have been attacked and victimized by the bosses’ system. We saw the power of the BART workers. If we unite our forces, just imagine our collective power!