A Classwide Appeal in Response to Racist Ads on MUNI
It is time to view attacks on workers and oppressed populations not as isolated events, but as calculated measures in maintaining the rule of the global ruling class. We must envision strategies for fighting back that put us not in categories of victimization, but in solidarity with the international ranks of the working class. City expenditures on ads and public relations campaigns exceed millions of dollars, yet they enforce austerity and tell us they will close down our public schools and take away our benefits. The historical moment demands we respond to these attacks on a class-wide basis! Riders, drivers, students, and workers across sectors and communities must unite!
Racism on MUNI and the class-wide support we need
SEIU Local 87, a service workers union, is devising a new contract with the ABM Corporation, in which basic benefits are being jeopardized. In the last couple weeks, rank and file leaders have stood up against these attacks and even been arrested in civil disobedience. Many janitors involved in this union are from the Arab community. Unveiled last week, SFMTA approved MUNI ads, paid for by Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative to run on the side of our city’s buses. These ads come at the time that we have seen numerous hate attacks targeting Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs; there have been at least 8 incidents in the past 10 days across the country. Last week, after the second attempt in a month, an Islamic Center in Missouri was burned down. In the same week, four days after US congressman Rep. Walsh proclaimed in a public speech that “radical Muslims are trying to kill Americans every week”, a Mosque in a Chicago suburbwas shot at with a high-velocity air rifle while 500 worshippers were insidefor evening prayers during the Holy month of Ramadan. On the same day this advertisement ran on San Francisco buses, a mosque in Ontario, California found the limbs of a dismembered pig on the building’s front steps. And right here in the Bay Area, this past Thursday marked the fourth time in the last eight months that a Hayward mosque was targeted by vandals, this time resulting in one person injured. The ads on MUNI read:
“In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”
Today, MUNI drivers are exposed to draconian disciplinary measures like security cameras on the buses and threats of firing for taking a certain number of sick days or breaks even if it falls well within the quota outlined in the contract. The practices of management attempt to control resistance and create a culture of fear that has its roots in 1976 when workers organized in response to the City’s attempt to take away their right to strike.
In a moment that necessitates a response from the transit workers sector, we can draw lessons from MUNI’s past, and how solidarity across race, ethnicity and industry, in addition to challenging the union bureaucracy, secured the rights we have today that are again being threatened!
The 1976 San Francisco City Workers strike and 38 day MUNI shutdown
This strike is relevant as it raises important questions and answers in regards to the social forces workers have at their disposal in a struggle against the city government, and what it would take for those forces to be successful.
Proposition B had just been passed in November 1975, and had opened up unions to wage struggle because it erased a 30 year old city charter provision that pegged wages for city workers to private industry wage levels.
Craft workers, such as park and recreation, gardening, cleaning, electrical, plumbing, and other maintenance and repair workers shut down their worksites in resistance to pay cuts and city government schemes to isolate and crush the craft unions. In response, MUNI drivers shut down a railway system already coming to a halt due the inactivity of its electricians and mechanics, blocking the flow of workers, goods, and profit – the very heart of this exploitative capitalist system. City workers did this despite the city-imposed wage gap that encouraged scabbing and disunity between workers. A few years prior to the strike, riders and drivers worked together to establish a new route near the Alemany projects/public housing, this action was in deliberate opposition to the racism involved in the route planning of MUNI at that time.
It is obvious that the city of San Francisco values contracts with corporations over first amendment rights of its residents. In light of these racist and inflammatory ads on the side of MUNI, it is our responsibility, again to show broad based community and workplace opposition.
This advertisement was aimed at intimidating Muslim and Arab members of the San Francisco community, and in effect, an attempt to further intimidate the working class from organizing against the continual attacks on our rights and benefits!
We must challenge these tactics and come together in class-wide solidarity. We must promote a revolutionary internationalism that breaks with the ‘American Dream’ and the individualism of working for meager union benefits solely within one sector.
Imagine if Local 6 – IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) (in which a unit of IBEW works on the inside wiring of MUNI) had opposed management’s attempt to pin them against the carpenters union in terms of jurisdiction of work and pay grade into their own demands of their contract dispute earlier this year (in addition to their threatening a Golden Gate bridge blockade and strike on May 1st)? What if MUNI operators acted to support SEIU, and Unite Here – Local 2, who have been engaged in a fight against the Hyatt bosses all year? Imagine if MUNI operators coordinated with the Taxi drivers and the un-unionized shuttle bus drivers (most of which are from South Asian and Arab immigrant backgrounds) that drive tourists from the airport on the periphery of the city? Imagine if the riders, who work in different sectors and come from different backgrounds and faiths, joined the picket lines when transit went on strike?
Although the 76’ General Strike didn’t reach its greatest potential, these examples show us the tremendous strength in the united demands across sectors of workers and affected communities in the city.