Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why BART Workers Deserve Right to Strike

On the same day that it ramped up its anti-labour rhetoric at the close of a BART strike with a vituperative editorial attacking the right of transit workers to strike, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story which strongly implied that on Saturday two BART workers were killed by a train operated by an under-qualified manager being trained as a strike-breaker.  And the transparently untenable position in which the two dead employees were working was precisely one of the situations that a union could address by taking recourse to strike action in the face of management indifference.
By no stretch of the imagination were the two dead men the shiftless malcontents of the editorial page’s fevered brain, or of the sort being pilloried by angry commuters whose liberal credentials are clearly based more on convenience than conviction, and which extend no further than the maintenance of their own comfort.  The two employees were experienced engineers, according to a third article in the paper published the same day. 
Under BART’s rules, workers on the tracks are not even warned of oncoming trains.  According to the Chronicle, a safety trainer “said the men may not have known that trains would be running during the BART strike and so may not have been using a spotter”.  The paper also suggested that the men had been asked to do a two-person job and so did not, in any case, have the personnel to mount a watch.
The Chronicle also reported that the Los Angeles transit system operates under a more rigorous safety system than that practised by BART, which has been fined and criticised for “depriv[ing] employees of (information about train travel) intentionally”. 
In its editorial, the Chronicle denounced the “egregious and most counterproductive overreach by the unions... Why”, the paper asked, “should workers in a service so essential to Bay Area life and safety even be allowed to strike?” 
The deaths of two employees during negotiations which included concerns about worker safety provide a ready answer to the paper’s absurd question, even putting aside what should be workers’ right to demand a living wage while living in a prosperous society.
I can only suggest that the Chronicle’s editorial staff read its own reporting, and that those engaging in shrill, anti-labour rhetoric think about the consequences of asking people to give up the right to ask for fair and safe working conditions in a job for which they are adequately compensated. 
And as for anyone who resents the ability of BART workers to make basic demands about safety and compensation...they should stop responding by trying to drag down their fellow workers and organise and democratise their own workplace the better to improve their own condition.  I suspect they would be greeted by unionised workers with solidarity rather than the suspicion that currently divides the working class of our country against itself even as our democracy is dismantled by plutocratic interests. 

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