The BART strike that started this morning is a major inconvenience for me—totally screwing up a work project. Still, I support the workers in this conflict. Sadly, I think that most American workers look at strikes from the standpoint of management and this is perverse. I see it as akin to a San Franciscan (or anyone, really) supporting the Dallas Cowboys.
Strikes are rarely about what they seem. In this country, they are usually about management trying to put workers in their place. It’s about power. It’s about control. In fact, this is why companies like Walmart are so much against allowing unions. It isn’t that the unions would be that powerful and “steal” all their profits. It is mostly just about keeping workers as helpless as possible so that the management is in control.
A good example of this is Milton Hershey during the first half of the last century. He is a legend for having treated his employees really well. But he was totally against allowing them to unionize. In his mind, he was the patriarch and the workers were his children. He wanted to be nice to them, but he did not want them to think of themselves as peers, much less equals. He wanted to give them good wages because he wanted to, not because they demanded them.
We are seeing the same thing going on in the BART strike. The two sides are in agreement about the economic issues. The negotiations have broken down over the issue of work rules. As it is now, if there are changes to how the work gets down, management and the workers must agree. Management claims this is hurting their ability to manage work. That seems like a reasonable complaint. Management needs to be able to manage, right? But that’s a great overstatement. Their prime example is that if they decide to run extra trains for a special event, then they would be required to do that every year. Okay. But if that’s their best example, I’m not too sympathetic.
The union rightly worries that if management can just change the work rules willy-nilly, they will do so to punish workers who have filed workplace complaints. But the union did give on this issue. They agreed to allow binding arbitration on such matters. That would seemingly address the concerns on both sides.
Unfortunately, it looks like management is engaged in a gambit. They have been pretty reasonable on the economic issues but are sticking with this one issue that they know the union hates. It is terrible but entirely typical. If there is one thing that has been destroying America for the last 60 years (first slowly and then quickly), it is the erosion of unions. What we are seeing in San Francisco is part of that. And this is what happens when the workers still have a strong union; it is much worse for most workers. As annoying as this strike is, we must support the workers.