FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The BART Strike and Mainstream Media

by DAVID MACARAY

On July 1, the unionized employees of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) went out on what became a four and a half day strike. Despite the melodramatic tone of the media—practically depicting these transit workers as a group of ungrateful renegades—it was the first shutdown of BART since 1997.

Although no agreement was reached, the union (Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555) willingly returned to work, willingly extended the existing contract (which had expired) for 30 days, and promised to continue to bargaining in good faith.

In the absence of a “live” contract, the union was not legally required to give advance notification of a strike. But in order to ensure an orderly shutdown, they thoughtfully did so anyway. If the transit union were half as militant as suggested, they would have pulled the plug without notice, and then rejoiced in the chaos that ensued. But they didn’t do that.

When I was a union negotiator, pulling the plug without notice was exactly what we did. We’d bargained for more than four months and gotten nowhere. While our strike was not totally unexpected (after all, management was aware the contract had expired), suddenly hearing machinery being shut down and seeing workers march off the job definitely got their attention. But the transit union didn’t do that. They played it courteously.

As for the sticking points in BART negotiations, the issues are pretty much standard boilerplate agenda items (e.g., pay raises, job security, protection of medical benefits, etc.), along with some miscellaneous safety concerns (e.g., requesting thicker glass for ticket offices in high crime areas). Nothing unreasonable, nothing unexpected, nothing from out of left field.

One thing is clear during a strike: You can’t believe anything you read in the mainstream media. Not only are reporters too gullible or lazy to check out management propaganda, they seem to take perverse pride in automatically siding with the company against the union, even when they themselves belong to a labor union.

On the first day of our 57-day strike, some years ago, local TV showed up to interview our negotiators. It was a three-person crew: a photogenic woman reporter, a camera guy, and a sound guy. While the woman was interviewing our spokesman, the two guys casually asked why we struck. We told them what the issues were. They wished us luck, bumped fists, and exchanged solidarity handshakes with us. Power to the people!

But that evening, in addition to showing the interview with our spokesman, they ran footage of an interview with “Betty,” an hourly worker we weren’t aware had been interviewed. They must have caught her at the back picket line. I knew Betty. She was a smart, efficient worker. But because she had a mic and a camera jammed in her face, and an aggressive, sharp-eyed reporter peppering her with questions, she was extremely nervous. Who wouldn’t be?

Unfortunately, the reporter got Betty to say some things that made her sound not only woefully ignorant, but made her sound as if she were being held captive. When Betty was asked what the main issues were, she said she didn’t know. This after weekly updates posted by the bargaining board!! Betty said she didn’t know why we were on strike, but that she’d been told to stand picket.

My heart sank when I saw that interview. This bright, presentable woman came off as some sort of proletarian automaton. “Yes, comrade. I will do as commanded.” When our chief negotiator, an officer with the International old enough to be our dad, heard about the interview, he went absolutely ape-shit. He actually tried to blame us for it, arguing that we were responsible for educating the membership. It was a very bad scene.

The local newspapers were worse. They fell for the oldest trick in the book, allowing the company to add up every dollar in compensation (including wages, health insurance, pension, overtime pay, vacation pay, holiday pay, meetings, safety shoes, cafeteria chits, you name it), and then present it in the form of an hourly wage, making it sound like we were making $75 per hour. The media ate it up.

The same thing is happening with the BART strike. Management is purposely inflating the union’s package and poor-mouthing its own predicament, hoping to crush the union by appealing to the public’s jealousy and resentment.

The LA Times (July 6) asked a regular BART rider what she thought of the strike. Having heard the union was resisting increases in healthcare premiums, and speaking of her own job, she said, “We don’t even have healthcare benefits.” Ah, yes, another case of the media taking the whip to us, urging us on in our race to the bottom.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  Dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 23, 2017
Chip Gibbons
Crusader-in-Chief: the Strange Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Michael J. Sainato
Cybersecurity Firm That Attributed DNC Hacks to Russia May Have Fabricated Russia Hacking in Ukraine
Chuck Collins
Underwater Nation: As the Rich Thrive, the Rest of Us Sink
CJ Hopkins
The United States of Cognitive Dissonance
Howard Lisnoff
BDS, Women’s Rights, Human Rights and the Failings of Security States
Mike Whitney
Will Washington Risk WW3 to Block an Emerging EU-Russia Superstate
John Wight
Martin McGuinness: Man of War who Fought for Peace in Ireland
Linn Washington Jr.
Ryancare Wreckage
Eileen Appelbaum
What We Learned From Just Two Pages of Trump’s Tax Returns
Mark Weisbrot
Ecuador’s Elections: Why National Sovereignty Matters
Thomas Knapp
It’s Time to End America’s Longest War
Chris Zinda
Aggregate Journalism at Salon
David Welsh
Bay Area Rallies Against Trump’s Muslim Ban II
March 22, 2017
Paul Street
Russiagate and the Democratic Party are for Chumps
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer, the Progressive Caucus and the Cuban Revolution
Gavin Lewis
McCarthyite Anti-Semitism Smears and Racism at the Guardian/Observer
Kathy Kelly
Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen
Kim C. Domenico
Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics
L. Ali Khan
Profiling Islamophobes
Calvin Priest
May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike
David Swanson
Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump
Dave Lindorff
There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin
Jonathan Latham
The Meaning of Life
Robert Fisk
Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman
Steve Horn
Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council
Binoy Kampmark
Grief, Loss and Losing a Father
Jim Tull
Will the Poor Always Be With Us?
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s “March Massacre” Budget
Joe Emersberger
Rafael Correa and the Future of Ecuador: a Response to James McEnteer
March 21, 2017
Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt
On Being the “Right Kind of Brown”
Kenneth Surin
God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte
David Rosen
Popular Insurgencies: Reshaping the Political Landscape
Ryan LaMothe
The Totalitarian Strain in American Democracy
Eric Sommer
The House Intelligence Committee: Evidence Not Required
Mike Hastie
My Lai Massacre, 49 Years Later
James McEnteer
An Era Ends in Ecuador: Forward or Back?
Evan Jones
Beyond the Pale
Stansfield Smith
First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump
Dulce Morales
A Movement for ‘Sanctuary Campuses’ Takes Shape
Pepe Escobar
Could Great Wall of Iron become New Silk Roadblock?
Olivia Alperstein
Trump Could Start a Nuclear War, Right Now
David Macaray
Norwegians Are the Happiest People on Earth
March 20, 2017
Michael Schwalbe
Tears of Solidarity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit, Nationalism and the Damage Done
Peter Stone Brown
Chuck Berry: the First Poet of Rock and Roll
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail