FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The BART Strike and Mainstream Media

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

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail