The BART strike in the San Francisco Bay Area is over (here’s a post from a couple of months ago about the strike...some of my thoughts then will undoubtedly be repeated in this post). But the shrill cries of inconvenienced commuters continue to reverberate, signalling the widening of the yawning gap between different sectors of the working class—a gap which plays into the hands of the real culprits.
Common complaints take issue with the high salaries of BART’s workforce relative to that of many other workers in the Bay Area and beyond, and the fact that one group of working people is demanding a raise in line with the cost of living at a time when the economy is sour. At a first glance, these complaints are understandable.
But they are harder to maintain if you consider the wages of BART employees and the majority of commuters alongside the wages of the new elites of Silicon Valley, or that higher wages and better conditions for unionised workers not only benefits those particular workers, but also lifts the workforce as a whole. The stagnation in real income and the decline in the standards of living for working people in the United States (at a time when worker productivity is at an all-time high) almost perfectly mirror the decline of organised labour in the country. This is something that the Republican Party and its corporate backers are well aware of, hence their efforts to destroy the remnants of union power in the United States in their bid to enshrine corporate rule.
It is also important to consider that BART workers are basically asking for nothing more than a raise in line with the cost of living. Unlike the corporate titans who think they are more deserving than hundreds of their employees combined, BART workers are asking that they be paid well enough to survive in one of the most expensive parts of the country. It is a telling—and distressing—indicator of just how right-wing our society has become that other working people, instead of deciding to emulate BART workers and ask for a living wage, are trying to weaken unionised labour, and therefore undermine one of their own defences.
In fact, it is critical that working people and unionised labour in particular hold the line during an economic downturn. Because as we have seen, corporate interests in this country, together with their wind-up Congressional representatives, will take advantage of the downturn to demand sacrifices. Curiously enough, they only demand sacrifices from people who already have a hard time making ends meet, while shoring up the fortunes of the already-wealthy. Our country remains spectacularly wealthy—the record profits of many corporations and the unprecedented compensation packages of their CEOs are a testament to that—and there is no reason why those in the working class should make sacrifices so long as anyone is raking in a seven-figure salary.
Finally, commuters complain about the disruptive nature of the BART strike, as though there could possibly be a successful strike which was not disruptive. The whole point of a strike is that workers can demonstrate their importance by withholding their labour and making the case for their demands.
It is telling that if the top layer of CEOs—the plutocrats who get fat bonus checks in good times and golden parachutes after they ruin our economy—all went on strike, their companies would probably be able to run as usual, whereas BART employees’ labour actually makes a big difference to a great many people by ferrying two million riders around the area during an average week.
So when a right-wing politicians attacks “greedy” workers who make a fraction of a hundredth of the salary of many CEOs for demanding a living wage, or when the Sacramento Bee uses its editorial page to bully Democrats into banning strikes, they are doing the dirty work—wittingly or otherwise—of people who are making record profits by trashing workers. They are driving a wedge between working people who in times past would have made common cause. And they are ensuring that all that trickles down, as they wage their class warfare, are the blood and guts of the working people who had the spine to stand up for themselves, and who in standing up for themselves, are helping the entire labour force.