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

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 27, 2017
Edward Curtin
The Deep State, Now and Then
Melvin Goodman
The Myth of American Exceptionalism
Nozomi Hayase
From Watergate to Russiagate: the Hidden Scandal of American Power
Kenneth Surin
Come Fly the Unfriendly Skies
Andre Vltchek
Philippines: Western Media is Distorting Reality, People and Army Unite to Battle “ISIS”
Robert Fisk
Out of the Ruins of Aleppo: a Syrian Community Begins to Rebuild
Andrew Moss
What is Adelanto?
Thomas Mountain
Free Speech or Terror TV? Al Jazeera’s Support for ISIS and Al Queda
Robert J. - Byers
Jamboree Travesty
Thomas Knapp
Send in the Clown: Scaramucci Versus the Leakers
Rob Seimetz
Because the Night Belonged to Us in St. Petersburg (Florida)
Paul Cantor
Momentum Not Mojo
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone (Part Two)
July 26, 2017
John W. Whitehead
Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind
Pete Dolack
Trump’s Re-Negotiation Proposal Will Make NAFTA Worse
George Capaccio
“Beauty of Our Weapons” in the War on Yemen
Ramzy Baroud
Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syrian War?
John McMurtry
Brexit Counter-Revolution Still in Motion
Ted Rall
The Democrats Are A Lost Cause
Tom Gill
Is Macron Already Faltering?
Ed Kemmick
Empty Charges Erode Trust in Montana Elections
Rev. William Alberts
Fake News? Or Fake Faith?
James Heddle
The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California
Binoy Kampmark
Slaying in Minneapolis: Justine Damond, Shooting Cultures and Race
Jeff Berg
Jonesing for Real Change
Jesse Jackson
The ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission Itself is Fraudulent
July 25, 2017
Paul Street
A Suggestion for Bernie: On Crimes Detectable and Not
David W. Pear
Venezuela on the Edge of Civil War
John Grant
Uruguay Tells US Drug War to Take a Hike
Charles Pierson
Like Climate Change? You’ll Love the Langevin Amendment
Linda Ford
Feminism Co-opted
Andrew Stewart
Any Regrets About Not Supporting Clinton Last Summer?
Aidan O'Brien
Painting the Irish Titanic Pink
Rob Seimetz
Attitudes Towards Pets vs Attitudes Towards the Natural World
Medea Benjamin
A Global Movement to Confront Drone Warfare
Norman Solomon
When Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me
William Hawes
What Divides America From the World (and Each Other)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Was the “Russian Hack” an Inside Job?
Chandra Muzaffar
The Bilateral Relationship that Matters
Binoy Kampmark
John McCain: Cancer as Combatant
July 24, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Robert Hunziker
Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Ron Jacobs
Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Dan Glazebrook
Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Ellen Brown
Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail