Wednesday, August 07, 2013

BART UPDATE: Labor needs a strategy of political independence in order to win strikes and smash austerity!

Many leftists and working class militants are confused about why labor ends up on the losing end of nearly every confrontation. Why the “good guys” lose is not merely a question of poor tactics by well-meaning labor leaders-even when they do rise directly out of the ranks. The long term political subservience of labor to the Democratic Party (one of the two major parties controlled by and representing the capitalist class) acts like a ball and chain on labor preventing strikes from accelerating to victory. Only by going beyond the parameters set for labor by the bosses’ parties in power can labor mobilize the power of the working class to win-what are indeed class battles! Those “legal” parameters, set in stone by anti-labor laws, supported and invoked by both Democrats and Republicans, with the acquiescence of labor’s misleaders, prevent strikers from asserting their power to initiate and win indefinite, general and political strikes.

On July 5th, after 4.5 days of strikers shutting down BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), under threat of a government mandated cooling off period, both sides agreed to extend contract expiration for 30 days. Some see this as a tactical retreat or tactical mistake, but in reality it is emblematic of a subservient labor leadership whose strategy is to grovel at the feet of the state.

HWRS & LBB lick the tail of the bureaucracy*

In Class War #5 we raised the rhetorical question: was the collapse of the strike a tactical retreat or a strategic collapse in the first place (pg10)? It seems the HWRS/LBB has answered that ending the strike after four and a half days was a “tactical mistake.”

In their August 1st Statement “Transport and Public Sector Unions: Strike in Support of the BART Workers and Their Unions!” they categorize the bureaucracies’ capitulations in the first round of negotiations, which sent the strikers back to work without any gains for a 30 day cooling off period, as a tactical mistake. Trying to make lemonade out of lemons the HWRS/LBB state:

“Even now, the ATU 192 workers at AC Transit, and the AFSCME 444 & 2019 workers at EBMUD, still have not settled their contracts. This gives the workers an opportunity to correct the tactical mistake (our emphasis) made by the BART unions in returning to work before they had achieved the goals of their strike.”

So it remains for us in our lonesome to say this was a strategic collapse in the first place. We would not only want to make the points that the ICL (Spartacist) makes that on both sides of the negotiating table you have champions of the Brown administration, but that this is a cynical class collaboration against the interest of the workers and takes place against the backdrop where labor leaders of this kind across California and the USA have acquiesced in the bosses austerity, as has their beloved president Obama who is yet to make one practical move against the ALEC-inspired sequester.

This trade union misleadership has “thrown the fight” and left the membership on the ropes and it will be all California workers who take the resultant beating. To win labor needs to repudiate the bureaucracy, the Democratic Party and all of the false consciousness of capitalist ideology. As we said in Class War #5, workers must reject the compounding of “reactionary backward consciousness perpetuated by the media, the culture and the state [which] limits labor’s power to mobilize the entire class to win strikes.” It will take a general strike to win this battle. And right now is not too soon to realize this.

HWRS/LBB not only says this was a tactical error but proceeds to reduce the workers real grievances to a secondary order of importance, changing the subject to the also objectively necessary labor self-defense of oppressed communities. This wouldn’t be bad if they had raised demands that made either winning the strike or defending the oppressed an immediate prospect.

Replace the misleaders via a class struggle program to defeat the bosses and their politicians

Today the labor leaders still tell the workers there is no alternative but to acquiesce to the state’s demands that labor work without a contract. Thirty days after the end of round one, on August 4th, on the eve of the strike’s resumption, Governor Brown put a seven day halt to the strike to “investigate why” the negotiations are stalled. In both cases the government stepped in, not on the side of labor but to prevent the workers’ momentum from accelerating.

Marty Morgenstern, State Labor Secretary, with S.F. Mayor Ed Lee (right) at a news conference: “I don’t think the Bay Area should be on pins and needles. It’s time for this to end.” Photo: Sarah Rice, Special To The Chronicle
The governor, the Democrats and all the politicians in the Bay Area were gesticulating madly in front of the TV cameras, doing everything they could to berate labor and stop the BART strike from reigniting and gaining support. They know that AC Transit workers (who at this writing 8/5 have announced a 72 hour strike notice) and other city, municipal, county and state workers unions are also working while out of contract. The possibility of united strike action by multiple unions at this time could “legally” grow over into a General Strike. The Taft-Hartley restrictions written into law precisely to prevent another Oakland general strike as happened in 1947 are cited by labor leaders whose link to the Democratic party prevents labor from challenging these laws with militant class struggle! These laws were written to prevent class solidarity strike action. It is only by general strike action that we will defeat these laws and regain labors’ strongest weapon–SOLIDARITY STRIKE ACTION!

If labor’s historic strategy was to obey the dictates of the state it would never have won the 8- hour day or organized the industrial unions, forced the government to concede a minimum wage, social security, or end child labor. Labor’s strength can emerge victorious only when our organizations mobilize the membership and the entire working class with the understanding that the capitalists run the government and that it is not neutral, that the state is the tool of the bosses and that labor needs its own political independence and an action strategy to win a fair shake.

Only with this understanding can labor unite with all the unorganized, the precariat, the immigrant communities, the international workers movement and those victimized by racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic police and vigilante terror in order to initiate united general strike and political strike actions that can secure democratic and economic. The capitalists have their posse, the politicians, the corporate media, the cops, and even their agents in the labor movement who keep us tied to their politics. We need to have a strategy of political independence to win. This means organizing class struggle caucuses in our unions which develop class struggle strategy and tactics to turn our organizations into fighting tools for workers victory.

Labor must have a strategy of defeating Taft-Hartley in the street through united strike action defying government injunctions. This is a strategic, not a tactical decision, one which can only be made when the rank and file assert their dissatisfaction with the long-term losing strategy of class collaboration foisted upon the membership by the entrenched bureaucracies of the major labor federations. To get off this political treadmill workers need their own fighting workers labor party which adopts and carries out a transitional program bridging the immediate concerns of the class to the historical resolution of the major contradictions of class society and all oppression. A party which will stop at nothing to accomplish this and will secure all political power for the working class.

The bosses’ strategy has been sold to the rank and file by the labor aristocracy and the union’s bureaucracies because they, a small percentage of the laboring class, have had their bread buttered by their alliance with capitalism at the expense of the unorganized millions of workers here and the hundreds of millions of workers super-exploited by parasitic Wall Street imperialists “investing” abroad. This grand coalition of labor and capital is enforced through the Democratic Party of President Obama, Governor Brown, Mayors Ed Lee (SF) and Jean Quan (Oak) on the one side and the sellout labor leaders on the other. There was no tactical mistake when the BART workers went back to work without a contract! No, it is the long term strategic collapse of the labor leadership that ill-prepares the class for these battles and which must be removed and replaced for labor to assert its just claims of today and win its historical revolutionary class demands.

* Humanists Workers for Revolutionary Socialism and Labor Black and Brown

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