An Unorganized Demonization of Labor

Yesterday, as I was heading down to SF’s Financial District, I was greeted at the MUNI station by a guy I now know to be Jarred Roussel, an organizer for the “March Against MUNI.” As he was hopping in and out of trains to announce the protest against MUNI, he passed out flyers and exclaimed how the muni drivers were sucking up all the money.  But, it seems that Roussel was a smidge uninformed, starting with his own purpose:

March Against Muni is most certainly not against Muni. (KALW News)

As Robert pointed out last weekend, It seems that the protest was something of a astroturf campaign against the transit workers.  The transit workers, who drive our public transportation and then get blamed because the traffic was bad, or that somebody on the bus was jerk.  But, in the end, it was labor who won this round:

“March Against Muni,” the odd amalgam of largely young, hip people deeply incensed at rude Muni drivers, paper Fast Passes, and other maladies were scheduled to have their big march through downtown today. But that’s not exactly what happened. Instead, an event occurred that their protest material seemed to decry as impossible: The Muni drivers showed up early.

Ten minutes before the marching portion of March Against Muni was set to commence, a far larger, louder, and more spirited contingent of Muni operators strode onto the scene, and drowned out the novice protesters’ wails. For those keeping score at home, the marching Muni drivers out-marched March Against Muni. And this was no mass movement; perhaps 200 drivers showed up compared to 50 to 100 March Against Muni folks. The lot of them would have fit in an articulated bus. (SF Weekly)

The transit workers had a clear message, it’s management’s fault. While that’s not totally accurate, it does tell a larger part of the story than the rambling series of misstatements coming out of the March Against Muni camp.  

MUNI has been crippled by underfunding for the last ten years. It has been plundered by the state during the incessant budget cuts, forcing it to make up the revenue subsidies in the form of fare hikes. It has been plundered by the Mayor and his allies, notably Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, in the form of “work orders” that take money away from transit and reassign it to places more opportune for one reason or another.

And yet now the same Supervisor Elsbernd who has supported the “work orders” is now pushing an anti-labor ballot measure attack against the transit workers. An interesting “square the circle” part of this? Former Newsom campaign advisor Eric Jaye has been brought on by the transit workers to fight the measure.

In the end, what MUNI needs more than anything else is a consistent revenue stream that is under constant attack from one source or another.  Elsbernd’s anti-labor populist attack, even if successful, only plays around the edges. It doesn’t address the root cause of MUNI’s problems, and really only would bring in a small portion of the money needed to fix muni.

Transit agencies all over the state are facing similar problems. Their budgets have been slashed and nobody is providing good answers on how we pay for one of the most vital engines of economic growth. We can either plan poorly attended marches to make broad misstatements, or we can seriously study the issue and find ways to make our infrastructure work again. I opt for the latter.

One thought on “An Unorganized Demonization of Labor”

  1. I suppose management is at fault, since they capitulated to absurd work rules, and unsustainable retirement demands. I have no doubt that the management is inept, and guess they probably do a poor job of handling workers’ legitimate grievances, as well. Management does not fail to maintain and clean the buses, run red lights, deliberately block intersections, and act rude to riders. Some Muni drivers are excellent, as anyone will attest. Pretending that the vast majority of Muni workers are oppressed proletariat defending the barricades against the greedy bosses and their “AstroTurf” stooges is pure fantasy. Hell, I might even even go along with drivers still being paid $100K, if they earned it.

    And I’ll bet the drivers attending this demonstration were not doing it on their own time.

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