Solidarity is key to the struggle at BART

August 1, 2013

The 2,400 union workers for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) look likely to return to the picket line on August 5 after a 30-day suspension of their July 1 walkout failed to get management to bargain seriously.

After four years of an effective pay freeze, work rule concessions, and givebacks on health care and pensions, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 walked off the job July 1 to prove their determination to get a new contract that reverses old concessions. The strike was suspended on July 5, but now, after negotiations reached a dead end, another showdown is looming.

Here, Bay Area activists Clare Dankoff and Alessandro Tinonga make the case for why all working people in the Bay Area need to support the BART workers' struggle.

THE OUTCOME of the impending new round of the BART strike could be a major victory for labor in the US or the 1 Percent, depending on which side comes out standing.

If the BART bosses win this fight, it will be another blow to a labor movement that has suffered numerous defeats. A win for the bosses would mean a step closer to privatized public transportation in the Bay, the dismantling of the BART safety oversight board and reduced possibilities for providing provide free fares for student, low income and senior riders. It would mean a big step backward for making Bay Area public transportation affordable, which is a vital need for hundreds of thousands of people who use the system.

A win for bosses would mean trashing the opportunities for a better-planned and well-run public transportation system in a time of global climate change, when such a system could help reduce fossil-fuel consumption. A win for the bosses would aid the Bay Area corporate elite's vision of a BART that facilitates the gentrification of working class cities and neighborhoods, and the flow of capital to the Bay Area's booming tech centers.

Striking BART workers take to the picket lines
Striking BART workers take to the picket lines (Labor Video Project |

It is for these reasons that people should support BART workers and the unions that represent them in their struggle for a fair contract. A victory for BART workers can open the possibilities for demanding even more from one of the most important transportation systems in the Bay Area.

We Demand a Safe BART

According to its own statistics, BART provides an average of 390,000 rides each weekday, an increase of about 6 percent over the prior year. The increase in ridership and train operating efficiency and a four-year-long hiring freeze has meant speed-ups, which have led to an increase in injuries and in crimes against workers and riders.

We demand that BART fund maintenance by hiring more train engineers and technicians to ensure the mechanical integrity of the train--and multiple station attendants after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m.

We demand a safe BART for riders and workers without the militarization of our public transportation system, our schools and our streets. Kenneth Harding was murdered in August 2011 in San Francisco by Muni cops for evading a $2 transit fare. Oscar Grant was murdered in Oakland on a BART platform by transit police. The 1 Percent guts infrastructure for public transit, along with our schools and communities, while sparing no expense to terrorize, murder and incarcerate Black, Brown and working people.

We demand that more workers be hired, not as BART cops, but to increase non-lethal safety assurance for riders and other workers.

We Demand Affordable Transportation for All

For decades, and most notably in the last four years, BART bosses have said they have had no choice but to cut the wages of workers and increase fares for riders. Yet times are actually good as BART, which is projecting a $125 million-a-year surplus in its operating budget for the next 10 years.

In the last contract, negotiated in 2009, BART claimed it had no choice but to pressure workers to give up $100 million in concessions over four years. Now, all the bosses can offer is a 2 percent annual wage increase over four years--plus greater contributions to health care and pensions from workers which would effectively cancel out a wage increase.

Some 87 percent of the BART operating budget is paid for through fares and sales tax revenue, which disproportionately affects the Bay Area working class and poor. BART management is selling its austerity agenda with the claim that their hands are tied, and that fixing the system's finances isn't as simple as just taxing the rich.

But it actually is in BART's power to make the rich pay--it could tax real estate that has experienced increased value due to BART's development. Under the California Public Utilities Code, BART could set up benefit assessment districts around Bay Area hot spots where property values are skyrocketing due to BART and pursue increased tax revenues--also known as "value recapturing."

Transit should be a right of all people. In the Bay Area, one of the wealthiest regions of the country, there is no reason why we can't remove the BART fare gates and fully fund public transit for all. For a start, we can demand that the money that BART spends on police terrorism be immediately cut and used to fully fund public transportation for all youth, seniors, disabled and low-income Bay Area residents.

We Demand More Green Transportation

Affordable and safe public transportation provides a much-needed alternative to vehicles that burn fossil fuels. More and better public transportation means that fewer people will have to brave the highways and toll booths on smog-saturated roads.

One of the most effective ways to reduce pollution is to ensure that the public transit system is efficient and affordable. Establishing a cleaner and safer way to travel cannot be dictated by what BART management considers to be profitable. It is possible to expand a greener public transit system without sacrificing the livelihoods of working-class people.

We Demand a Better Livelihood

Everyone deserves comfortable wages, free health care and a pension. Higher wages for workers means less time working and more time with family, more food on the table, more money saved for a rainy day. In the richest country in the world, access to top-notch health care is a human right. For every single person who spends decades of their life working for a boss, there must be the means to a secure retirement that can support them for the rest of their life.

It is often said that in a free market, a rising tide lifts all boats. But in the age of austerity, that will only be true if people fight back and demand concessions from the 1 Percent. For many workers in the Bay Area, BART workers have a high standard for pay and benefits, which is why they must be supported.

BART management is aiming to crush the unions. Capitalism compels employers to drive down wages and benefits for workers in order to maximize profits--so if BART is able to reduce employees' pay to the minimum wage, they will. We should defend the unions that still stand because with more organized workers, there is a greater possibility for future union fights and greater capacity for solidarity with other workers' and oppressed peoples' struggles.

We must hold help BART workers hold the line, because if they can fight and win, it will give us all more strength to do the same.

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