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Related Categories: U.S. | Labor & Workers
Mediator imposes contract on SF Muni workers after they reject it.
by Richard Mellor
Tuesday Jun 14th, 2011 1:53 PM
This is where the concessionary policies of the Union hierarchy have led us. The Bay area Labor movement has the potential power to turn this tide, but the leadership will not fight until a movement from below forces them. This is what activists have to help build.
A mediator has stepped in and imposed a contract on the San Francisco Muni operators, the very same contract they rejected last week. http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/2011/06/muni-operators-reject-another.html I always opposed arbitrators and mediators interfering in our contract negotiations when I was active in my Union as a steward, official or negotiator. Mediators are not independent players. In such a dispute as a contract between employers and workers, the role of the mediator is to obscure the class nature of this conflict and in fact ensure that the dispute is settled to the advantage of the bosses.

The imposed contract contains the same concessions as the one voted down last week and represents, "the best resolution of these protracted labor negotiations" says the arbitrator Carol Vendrillo, "the contract is in the "best interests of both the parties and the riding public. " she added. This is not true, it is in the interests of investors, speculators and other non productive individuals. It is bad for all workers when any group of workers have their wages frozen and their benefits reduced.

Muni operators drive San Francisco's buses, trams and cable cars and carry about 700,000 riders a day. It is not likely we will hear much from the heads of the local Labor movement. The leadership of TWU 250-A recommended the contract and when rank and file members have rejected concessionary contracts in the past, both in the TWU http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/2010/02/san-francisco-muni-operators-take-stand.html and SEIU http://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/2009/05/yet-another-blatant-betrayal-by-heads.html which represents SF city workers, the leaders of the locals with the help of the heads of the San Francisco Labor Council eventually wore the ranks down and forced concessions on them for the employers. SEIU leaders suggested their members may have been “confused” when they rejected the concessions and Tim Paulson leader of the San Francisco Labor Council publicly stated that if the workers approved the concessions, "the mayor will rescind the layoffs.” The Labor hierarchy and any local leaders or activists that refuse to challenge their policies, are like Seinfeld and his friends in that last episode where they watched the man get robbed. Unfortunately, weakness breeds aggression and this concessionary strategy has brought us to where we are today.

After they rejected the contract last week, the San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/14/MNRD1JTCEI.DTL the bosses' propaganda sheet accused Local 250's members of exhibiting "Union power run amok”. Three individuals earning $10 billion between them in one year---- hedge fund managers and the like, people who do no productive work------that's what amok is. Shifting a few trillion dollars of private debt on to US workers and the middle class is what running "amok" is. The bosses nationalized the debt, made us pay the debt, of the Savings and Loan fiasco some years back too; that's running "amok" It's capitalism, their beloved free market that's running amok.

Some of Local 250-A's members were visibly angry at the situation according to the Chronicle, "you don't represent us" one member shouted at the Local's president Rafael Cabrera who categorized the concessions as a "win for our members on wages, benefits and pension issues". How a three year wage freeze amid creeping inflation is a win on wages escapes me but this is the line from the strategists atop organized Labor; they call defeats victories. And when the ranks move in to a serious struggle against the employers, one where victory, where some gains are clearly possible, they leadership become masters at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

After years of defeats from PATCO to the California grocery strike and the absurd lockout of hotel workers in San Francisco a few years ago when Union leaders made deals with the police and the city politicians not to impede scabs in any way and showed their loyalty by laying tape along the sidewalk telling their out of work members not to step outside of it*, the rank and file members of organized Labor are understandably a little cautious, have low expectations. But the more the Union hierarchy appease the bosses, the more aggressive the bosses become, the more they want next time. And for Local leaders and activists that go along with this the more difficult a hole we dig for ourselves to get out of, the weaker we will be, the more difficult the struggle, when the average member, backs against wall, recognizes that there is no alternative but to fight.

Socialists, anti-capitalists, activists of all types can play a major role in transforming the trade Unions and draw some of the best rank and file workers in to such a struggle speeding up the development of real oppositions, but we can't do it if we are not seen as significantly different from the present leadership. We cannot do it if we do not openly campaign against their policies and offer an alternative. The present officialdom are not threatened if we belong to groups with revolutionary sounding names or because we use revolutionary rhetoric in our own meetings attended by our own milieu. Too often, leftists within organized Labor orient to the left bureaucracy in the workers' movement rather than rooting themselves firmly among the ranks, this is what has to be done.

The average dues member will not take that step to join an opposition group that simply has the issue of democracy as its banner, no matter how militant they sound at anti-war demos. Expecting someone to get involved with an opposition that claims we have to overthrow capitalism but refuses to openly challenge the obstacle of our own leadership and more often than not is indistinguishable from them doesn't appeal to the rank and file worker who knows in their gut that it means a battle, that the leadership will fight back. The workplace is not school, your job might be at stake.

Over the last couple of years, members of the TWU 250-A and SEIU 1021 have shown a willingness to fight only to be undercut by their own leaders. There is clearly a mood out there that can be tapped in to by a serious opposition with a very basic program and a direct action method for winning it. Such demands could include depending on the situation:

No concessions
Jobs for all and a $20 per hour minimum wage or $5 an hour increase whichever is greater
A massive program of public works paid for by ending all wars and occupations and taxing the rich and corporations.
Take back all the bailout money and use it for public works
Free public education---hire one million teachers immediately---class sizes of 15 in all schools
More mass transit
A thirty hour workweek with no loss in pay
Jobs for all
Cancel all student debt
An end to foreclosures, put people back in their homes, affordable housing for all
Make public the books of any corporation claiming bankruptcy---take in to public ownership bankrupt ones
No support for Democrats or Republicans, build a mass workers party-----repeal Taft Hartley

*I was on these picket lines and there were many new immigrants involved. Myself and another supporter expressed our constitutional rights and picketed in front of the hotel door on the sidewalk only to be told by the cops that the Union" had agreed not to do that." We explained that we weren't part of any agreement to give up our first amendment rights and continued picketing. The tragic consequences of the Labor leadership's deal with the enemy was that many of the immigrant workers thought it was illegal to picket there.
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