For those of you not living in the Bay Area, you may or may not have heard about our exciting transit strike- or, if you have, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Basically, the union of BART trainworkers, ticket takers, etc, all the folks who make BART run, have gone on strike due to refusal of BART management to grant them any meaningful pay raises (after years of cuts and stagnation) or to address serious safety concerns relating to the crew and public. As of this writing, the strike is entering it’s fourth day, and while both parties have returned to the negotiating table, there is yet to be any agreement.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am completely on the union’s side of this debate, even though I have myself been more than a little inconvenienced by the strike. I take BART three to four days a week about seven miles to my office; this week I’ve been biking instead, and though it’s definitely a good thing in the long run, my bike-seat-bruised behind is sad about the cold-turkey approach to public transit.
However, the thing that has struck me most in all of this are the people (mainly on twitter, because that’s my social media of choice) who are either bemoaning their inconvenience (“I had to WALK for THIRTY MINUTES”) or declaring war on the BART workers (“Put them on the street for a few months then negotiate. Drains union of picket fees and let’s the brats know how the cold feels.”) There is an unsurprising, but still very disheartening, lack of understanding of a) basic math, b) basic economics, and c) basic human compassion among a great many of those who find themselves suddenly discomfitted*.
For your further rumination and edification-
An open letter from the workers of the union themselves explaining their position and requests- “We are deeply disappointed, but are willing to return to the table, bargain in good faith, and we hope to end this strike as soon as possible. But we need your help to make sure that we have a willing partner in BART in order to end this strike.”
The East Bay Express discusses the ongoing infighting over the causes and results of the strike- “even in the liberal Bay Area, traditional progressive constituencies — Democratic-elected officials and organized labor — are locked in a bitter fight over limited public funds, resulting in strikes, walkouts, and ugly feuds, and no one is seriously talking about the real problem we face: the devastation of the middle class and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.”
Mother Jones gives a quick summation of the numbers and demands involved, and also pokes at the larger relevance of the strike for other large population centers- “Commuters were scrambling on Monday morning as the main transit system for one of the largest metropolitan regions in the US came to a halt because of a labor strike. Here’s a closer look at what unionized workers are demanding and why you should care”
Alternet has put together the clearest outline of the basic facts that I’ve seen yet- “7 Key Things You Need to Know About the BART Strike in California- News and social media are awash in misunderstanding and dis-info about the strike. Here are the facts that matter.”
The Nation does a great job talking about the really lop-sided mainstream media portrayal of the strike as having its roots in class issues and sensationalism- “In all of these instances, the striking workers are presented as a nefarious force fixated on disrupting other workers’ commute for… some reason. Probably greedy motives. Usually, these kinds of articles open with a profile of some poor unsuspecting sucker who can’t figure out how they’re going to get to and from work because of the evil BART employees.”
My friend Stephanie hits the nail on the head in her discussion of the societal concept of “worthy” workers and the classist assumptions and declarations flying hot and heavy in the Bay air- “The white collar workers who trot off to our offices, we’re worthy. We’re not to be inconvenienced or have to face the reality of those who make our cushy lives possible. We’re never to be slowed down. BART workers, on the other hand, are supposed to be grateful. They’re supposed to accept whatever is given with humility, be invisible and not make a scene. After all, our cultural narrative goes, anyone doing a job like that must be stupid or unmotivated, or they too would have a cushy office job. They certainly don’t get to be entitled to respect, decent wages and a chance to build a middle-class life while doing manual labor.”
Susie Cagle (@susie_c) writes a great piece about how the BART strike just serves to highlight the many ways in which transit in the Bay Area is poorly planned and even more poorly executed for a metropolis of our size- “…beyond the labor dispute, the BART strike highlights larger problems with the way San Francisco and its surrounding region has developed. BART was planned in the ’50s to ferry workers from their homes in the suburbs to their jobs in the city and back again… Today the Bay Area is booming… With about 400,000 individual trips taken each day, BART ridership is at an all-time high. This past Sunday was the system’s busiest ever. During peak times, trains are filled to overflowing.”
And lastly, NYMag examines the transit caste-system that has developed as a result of both the tech booms and resulting “perks”, as well as privatization of transit- “The kudzu-like spread of private transportation companies in San Francisco has been good for city residents who can afford to use them, and the dot-com founders that have gotten rich by replacing public-sector functions with their own services. But yesterday, when a system-wide BART strike took down the Bay Area’s best form of public transportation, we saw the dark side of Silicon Valley’s obsession with privatizing everything. Namely, it has created a two-tier transportation caste system, where the private-sector solutions flourish, often at the expense of the public infrastructure that a large part of the population still depends on to get to work and go about their lives.”
*obviously not all BART riders are upper or upper-middle class, and for some folks, the strike is truly problematic in terms of them getting to and/or keeping their jobs. I in no way mean to belittle that truth. However, for the vast majority of folks I’ve seen complaining, this is very definitely not the case.