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Silicon Valley Anti-Unionism

[ 263 ] July 12, 2013 |

Last week, BART workers went on strike, shutting down the region’s major mass transit service for a few days. The strike has ended with what will ultimately be a victory for labor. What’s notable here though is the response from the Silicon Valley plutocrats who actively wanted the union crushed.

Tech blogger Sarah Lacy summed up her own attitude and that of many others in an interview with Marketplace:

Sarah Lacy, founder of tech news site Pando Daily, which is based in San Francisco, said “If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something.”

She said the BART strike exacerbated what she sees as a philosophical divide in the Bay Area. “People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”

If I only cared to know working people, maybe I’d understand. But I’d never slum that much since my vision of meritocracy sees working-class people as below contempt. It’s hardly a wonder that Sam Biddle at Gawker calls Lacy “a free market monster.” But at least she has the right friends for a free market monster!

Kevin Roose has the big picture here:

Anti-union views aren’t unique to Silicon Valley gazillionaires — they’re shared by free-market boosters everywhere. But comments like Lacy’s and White’s in response to the BART strike revealed something new. Namely, portions of the tech community are not only observing the destruction of unions as a long-term sociopolitical trend, but actively cheering it on as an example of an intellectual “maker” class beating out working-class “takers.” The old Silicon Valley anti-unionism came from narrow corporate self-interest; the new seems more broadly ideological.

“The notion that ‘These workers are expendable’ is a fundamentally different attitude toward workers than ‘Let’s make sure they have these benefits so they don’t want to unionize,’” Berlin said.

In other words, it’s not Silicon Valley’s rejection of organized labor that should surprise us. It’s the class hostility that now often rides along with it.

The anti-union libertarianism that coincides with the workplace culture of Silicon Valley that also demands tremendous sacrifices from their own workers is a terrible plague upon the United States and the world, in part because it facilitates sociopaths like Steve Jobs to not care if the workers making his products in China are killing themselves and in part because of the attitudes toward workers shown by Silicon Valley during the BART strike.

Comments (263)

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  1. Davis X. Machina says:

    Crab-bucket America. It’s where we’re all going.

  2. Mudge says:

    Lacy works hard to become rich. A BART employee works hard to put food on the table. It is not the hard work that is virtuous, it is the righteous acquisition of lots of money.

    • Heron says:

      Precisely. What’s even more galling though is that people who think like Ms. Lacy tend to turn right around and call the workers who made their wealth possible “lazy”, pretending they hardly work at all, rather than acknowledge the essential unfairness of a manager-centric capitalist system. There’s really no justifiable reason why someone who’s job is primarily logistical -a “boss” who decides how to divvy up work and what to focus on- should get paid so much more than the people who do all the actual work of developing, fabricating, delivering and maintaining a product and/or service.

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        Its such a binary view of the world to think that everyone who was against strike was 1. anti union or 2. a Silicon Valley rich libertarian douche (oh how I wish I was that rich! Or that I made as much as the average BART employee).

        • TribalistMeathead says:

          I don’t quite understand how one can be anti-right-to-strike, yet pro-union, but OK.

          • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

            Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure that one out as well.

          • DrDick says:

            It is real easy. This is a classic case of “I support unions unless they cause me some inconvenience or added expense.” It is really quite common among many middle and upper class liberals.

            • addendum says:

              and applies to other issues beyond labor

              • The Dark Avenger says:

                There is something risible in “The people who get up @ 4:00 AM every working day so I can get to work in the morning are going on strike, how dare they inconvenience me to the point where I have to get up @ 4:00 AM in the morning!”

        • Nick says:

          People are perfectly entitled to think that this strike, or any other, wasn’t the best strategic choice. That’s not what I’m seeing here — that is, someone saying, “I absolutely agree that the workers are right and management is wrong and I think there’s a better strategy available than a strike for the workers to get what they deserve.”

          And you haven’t been saying that, either. How do you suggest these workers should go about winning what they need and deserve? How do you think you should?

        • JL says:

          Everyone against this strike might not be anti-union, but Sarah Lacy clearly is. She said so, pretty explicitly.

        • Heron says:

          I’m not even talking about the strike above. I’m talking about the essential unfairness of a system that decides a person who’s job is primarily “You go do this now” should get paid 10 or 20 or 100 times what the person doing that thing gets paid. That, to use the common parlance, is a load. It’s inefficient, it’s unfair, and I honestly can’t think of what could justify it philosophically.

          • Heron says:

            a person who’s job is primarily to say “You go do this now”

            bah. Stupid brain making me read words that aren’t there. FTFM

          • Andrew says:

            That’s kind of an unfair caricature. Direct supervisors probably aren’t earning 10-20 times what their direct reports earn.

            The executive class doesn’t really have “you go do this now” in their job description. That’s delegated. Their justification for the salary inequality is that they’re the raison d’etre for the company/service in the first place. They’re creators, ya know?

  3. Kal says:

    That article is optimistic about the strike outcome without any real evidence, for anything (except media bias) but in particular for the central claim that the public sided with BART workers. And this poll at least seems to indicate otherwise.

    It’s way too early to be declaring victory. Usually, when striking workers go back to work without a contract, that means a defeat. We don’t know yet how this will turn out, but wishful thinking won’t help.

    It’s weird that the strike ended with nothing obviously having changed. One theory I’ve heard is that the union leadership didn’t actually expect to end up in an indefinite strike even though they declared one, because they assumed the governor would order a cooling-off period.

    • Kal says:

      Let me be clear: “People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy” is true of all too many, and indicative of a certain idiotic arrogance that arises from politically ignorant, socially homogenous white dudes who hang out with each other and constantly tell each other that they’re super smart.

      • sparks says:

        One reason I got out of the tech industry was that I realized I hated most of the people I saw on a daily basis (coworkers, bosses). Most expressed just such opinions as Lacy does. It seemed to be pandemic, in large companies and small. The worker drones all thought they were going to get rich, too.

        Oh, and most of the meritocratic bullshit was exactly that. Companies hired workers like ’20s cabarets hired chorus girls e.g. you had to be barely competent, but more importantly you had to mix.

        • AcademicLurker says:

          One reason I got out of the tech industry was that I realized I hated most of the people I saw on a daily basis (coworkers, bosses). Most expressed just such opinions as Lacy does. It seemed to be pandemic, in large companies and small. The worker drones all thought they were going to get rich, too.

          I know. At this point if they held a Worst Person in the World poll, I think my write-in candidate would be “Libertarian IT Guy”.

          I’ve observing these folks since the 90s, and they just keep getting worse.

        • Dana says:

          The worker drones all thought they were going to get rich, too.

          This is the crux of it, I think. The white collar worker sees hirself as a future boss or, in their most self-aggrandizing moments, as a virtuous entrepreneur who is working to create wealth rather than siphon it off like public workers who are essentially glorified welfare recipients.

        • Hob says:

          I really wish that that Lacy quote weren’t so representative of so many of the people I’ve worked with in tech. I’m still in it, but I don’t know how much longer I can stand it, especially in the Bay Area where– even though I wasn’t part of the current wave of Facebook/Twitter/etc.– I’m starting to feel like a member of an occupying army, whose chief weapons are smugness and the ability to drive up rents.

      • Mike G says:

        Give them a few years in the workforce and they’ll be cured of this illusion.

        Start-up tech in particular is very capricious — you can get rich if you have stock options while doing a drone job in a company that takes off, where your counterpart doing the same drone job down the street stays a drone.

        Big tech companies are with a few possible exceptions standard corporate America authoritarian suckholes, same as any other industry.

  4. anniecat45 says:

    What community outreach? The BART workers sure didn’t reach out to their ridership. For every support sign I saw I heard 10 angry commuters, many of whom are going to switch to Caltrain from the South Bay or AC Transit buses from the East Bay.

    I live in the SF Bay Area and work for a public agency (not BART). We’ve been on mandatory pay cuts going on FIVE years now; we hadn’t had raises for several years, even before the recession hit us really hard. My understanding was that the BART contract already gave them raises over the next few years and that the union wanted bigger raises. And paying $92 toward your health insurance? We already pay more than that, and have contributed to our pension funds from salary for at least 15 years.

    For BART workers to go on strike demanding more than they had, right now, when so many people here are hoping they won’t face more cuts — well, is it that hard to see why some people in the Bay Area, other than plutocrats, might not be sympathetic to that? Not to mention that, for all the Lafayette and Orinda ritzy-burb commuters on BART, most of those who use the system are not well-to-do and would have paid through higher fares for whatever the workers got.

    And if the strike wasn’t about money/bennies, but safety issues — well, maybe they should have done a better job communicating that to the public instead of just assuming we’d all automatically support them.

    • Heron says:

      While I sympathize with the crappy employment situation in your region, I don’t really find the argument, “I’ve been screwed over by my employers for years, so its wrong for other workers to fight against being screwed over by theirs” terribly convincing. Your comment is more an argument for cross-industry worker solidarity and mass unionization than one against BART’s stand to protect their livelihood.

      • Captain Bringdown says:

        +1

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        Except that in this case, its not that other workers are being screwed over by their management, its that BART workers are screwing over BART riders who in a lot of cases make less money than they do and are utterly reliant on BART. Saying that everyone should unionize isn’t a solution-its just kicking the can down the road and sorta victim blaming.

        • Brian says:

          Comprehension failure.

        • Cody says:

          So if you’re a doctor, you should work for free, right?

          Otherwise you’re screwing over hurt people! How dare you demand reasonable compensation and benefits?

        • cpinva says:

          “Saying that everyone should unionize isn’t a solution-its just kicking the can down the road and sorta victim blaming.”

          bullshit. it is exactly a solution. a solution that, for reasons not made clear by you (or at all, for that matter), you don’t like. and yet, you fail to provide a suggested solution of your own.

          some pancakes and syrup “Amanda”, if that’s your real name.

          • JL says:

            I think Amanda’s wrong in this case, but she’s also been a semi-regular non-troll commenter for some time. You seem to be implying otherwise.

            • sharculese says:

              Yeah, this really is uncharacteristic of her and I’m kind of wondering what the fuck happened.

              • JL says:

                Eh, sometimes you agree with someone on many issues but really disagree with them on a few others.

                • brewmn says:

                  Among liberals, the pro-vs.-anti-union is one of those that m ost often expose a fault line. See, e.g., even the liberal Matt Ygleisas.

                • brad says:

                  Not that this is directly relevant, but Yglesias has never been a liberal, he’s just sometimes sane and thus responded to as one by conservatives.
                  Granted, he was in college at the time, but his response to protests against the Iraq war was to argue with the protestors. He’s apologized and sort of learned better, but it shows where he’s coming from.
                  /digression

                • Murc says:

                  No, Yglesias is well within the mainstream of American liberalism.

                  I mean, that’s a fact that should drive strong men to drink heavily, but it’s also true.

          • Djur says:

            “Victim blaming” is a pretty outrageous comparison to use here, considering that it usually refers to victims of rape or other violent crimes.

          • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

            She’s not a troll. She’s been here a while.

        • Nick says:

          BART management is screwing you over by refusing to treat their employees — your fellow, non-wealthy Bay Area residents — fairly.

        • JL says:

          In some cases they do make less money, for sure, but according to the 2010 census, the median household income is $73k in SF proper, and higher in much of the rest of the Bay Area (though not Alameda Co). Train operators and station agents make a maximum of $62k before overtime (which is still several thousand lower than the median for Alameda Co), according to the SF Examiner. I realize that the median income of BART ridership might be different than that of the whole Bay Area, but “maximum salary is several thousand below median household income” is not exactly rolling in the dough.

          • Nick says:

            And before anti-worker types start calculating the OT rates, my understanding from sfgate reporting leading up to the strike is that the workers want BART to hire more staff so that they can do less OT, which would make them happier, and probably make the system safer, too.

            OT pays a premium for 2 reasons: those extra hours on the job are an extra hardship; and you need to give the boss an incentive to hire more people, and not just ride a smaller set of workers til they drop, then rinse and repeat.

          • djw says:

            Wow, I was expecting something much higher for generally reasonable people like Amanda to play the “rich union fatcats” card. That’s similar–perhaps slightly less–than what RTA drivers in Dayton, OH make in raw dollars, before taking COL into account.

          • Jon says:

            You’re conflating household income, which includes income from all members, and the maximum for an individual worker. Those numbers are not directly comparable without knowing how many households have a single earner.

            • JL says:

              That’s because I couldn’t find median individual income for SF. After some searching, it looks like it was around 60k back in 2009. So the max income for people working these jobs is roughly the median income for a SF worker.

        • djw says:

          How does this argument not boil down to “people with jobs important to the general public should never strike”? That argument can’t possibly be consistent with support for unions.

        • brad says:

          Is it true that BART’s fares are determined by its labor costs? Honest question.
          If yes, then you’re not 100% wrong, albeit still blaming a viable union for remaining viable.
          If no, then you’re saying you’re more important than they are, in no uncertain terms.

      • Kurzleg says:

        The argument isn’t compelling to you, but I think she’s right that it describes the general consensus out there.

        • Ed says:

          The argument isn’t compelling to you, but I think she’s right that it describes the general consensus out there.

          True. Between the Lacys and working people with fewer perks than BART workers who are angry because they can’t get to work and have no other easy way to get there, it’s a tough sell for the strike.

          People who have no collective bargaining rights and no immediate ability to get any don’t feel warmly towards workers who do. I don’t agree with what Amanda is saying on this thread, but she is right that to tell people who think that way “go out and unionize” is pointless. People feel fortunate to have jobs at all, much less put them at risk trying to do something that under current law will likely get them fired. Telling them to just unionize already does sound a bit let-them-eat-cakeish. Better to reach out and explain to them just why unions are the last best hope for all workers, not just those they represent. They may not listen, but sneering is not the way to go.

      • Josh G. says:

        While I sympathize with the crappy employment situation in your region, I don’t really find the argument, “I’ve been screwed over by my employers for years, so its wrong for other workers to fight against being screwed over by theirs” terribly convincing.

        That argument has been one of the strongest weapons in the anti-union arsenal over the past 30 years. Bust unions, drive down wages and working conditions, then tell the workers “Look at those union fat cats over there! Why should they be getting good pay and benefits when you’re not?” And unbelievably, people keep falling for this again and again. Civil servants are demonized as greedy parasites for holding the same pay and benefit packages that their private-sector equivalents had a generation ago.

        • sharculese says:

          This.

        • ChrisTS says:

          We tenured and tenure track folks in academe get the same thing: My boss can fire me for no reason at all. Why should you only get fired for incompetence/malfeasance?

          Trying to argue that you want everyone else to have more job security just flies over their heads. I think that more and more people just believe that they are always going to get screwed, so they want everyone else to be in the same boat.

          And, I blame this development on the republicans who have convinced so many that life must suck for most of us – can’t do anything about it.

      • anniecat45 says:

        The BART workers’ case AFAIK was “our raise isn’t big enough, we all want a bigger one”. It’s hard to see that as getting screwed over.

        • Nick says:

          No, I think it’s, “We agreed to concessions during the Great Recession because the agency was in the red and you promised to make up for it when things were going better. Now that the agency is way in the black — because we’ve been busting our asses for years in less-than-safe conditions — you’re backing out of your promise.”

        • win says:

          You live in the Bay Area. You have public sector experience.
          You have faced paycuts for five years while you think BART employees have great pay and benefits. I hope you plan to apply for a position with BART when the agency hires more staff as a result of this strike.

    • Gregor Sansa says:

      This attitude — “my life sucks too so how dare you ask for more” — is really frustrating.

      As for the “better paid workers is bad for poor people” idea, it’s superficially attractive but wrong. A dime or two extra on BART fare is not insignificant for a poor BART user; but all the dimes from the not-poor BART users, getting spent by the BART workers in their communities, more than makes up for it.

      • DanMulligan says:

        Very true. Never been able to understand why my life would be better if all of you don’t have a good pension.

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        Transit fare increases are like a regressive tax though-its easy enough to say in the abstract that lawyers commuting into the Financial District will make up for it, but that does nothing to help poor people who do rely on BART.

        • JL says:

          BART is running a significant surplus and its high-end managers are making plenty of money. Why should the blame for high fares go entirely on the lower-level workers?

          • aimai says:

            There are also other ways of raising money for transit *other* than fare increases. The roads get subsidized, why shouldn’t BART?

            • Nick says:

              They do — the BART counties have a 0.5% sales tax that goes to fund the system. Not that a sales tax is progressive, of course…

        • Gregor Sansa says:

          Yes, they’re like a regressive tax. But if they’re going towards paying BART workers, that’s progressive spending. BART workers are probably poorer than the median BART rider, so on balance, that’s progressive. And certainly the marginal propensity to spend of a BART worker is above average for BART riders (since it’s close to 1, which isn’t true for some fraction of riders), so it’s stimulative.

        • Andrew says:

          Blame legislators for not adequately investing in transit subsidies and infrastructure.

    • sharculese says:

      Yeah, fuck labor solidarity. I mean, what did that ever accomplish?

    • Linnaeus says:

      What community outreach? The BART workers sure didn’t reach out to their ridership.

      I will say that this is something labor unions – particular those in the public sector – need to a better job in the current environment. My local union was very good about doing that kind of outreach, particularly when it was contract negotiation time, and it definitely helped.

      • ChrisTS says:

        I was talking to a clerk at our state liquor store about Corbett’s push to privatize the system. He told me they had all been ‘advised’ not to discuss the union’s case with customers. I don’t know if the union is doing any advertising/outreach, but stifling the people who actually have customer contact blocks off an obvious mode of communication.

        • Linnaeus says:

          He told me they had all been ‘advised’ not to discuss the union’s case with customers. I don’t know if the union is doing any advertising/outreach, but stifling the people who actually have customer contact blocks off an obvious mode of communication.

          True, although good outreach requires consistent messaging, and that can be hard to maintain with multiple individual points of communication.

      • Right. Doing a bad job reaching out to their ridership is about quality of strike design and execution, not an inherent element of strikes.

  5. I live in the SF Bay Area and work for a public agency (not BART). We’ve been on mandatory pay cuts going on FIVE years now; we hadn’t had raises for several years, even before the recession hit us really hard.

    Because I have a bad contract, nobody else should have a good contract.

    • Davis X. Machina says:

      Careful. Mind the crabs.

    • Amanda in the South Bay says:

      Because I have a bad contract, BART workers shouldn’t screw me over to get a better deal. Grace Crunican sure as fuck wasn’t being inconvenienced by the strike.

      • Brian says:

        Right, they should just shut up and take it. After all, as pointed out earlier, labor solidarity never got us anywhere.

        • Shakezula says:

          You see, no one is allowed to improve their plight while someone in is a worse plight. That is just mean and selfish.

          Unless one’s plight involves a difficult commute in which case everyone do everything possible to improve that person’s plight because it will make things better for that person.

          All right?

      • cpinva says:

        “Because I have a bad contract, BART workers shouldn’t screw me over to get a better deal.”

        how, exactly, are you being “screwed over”, so BART workers can improve their financial lot? please, do tell.

        hey, get your pancakes, hot pancakes and syrup, right here!

        • brad says:

          Your trigger finger is getting a little itchy there.
          Check your sarcasm detector and unclench a little.

          • brad says:

            Oh crap, sorry.

            My head is in a billion places I was just very stupid, feel free to laugh at me, I done earned it.

      • So…what would you do if you were in their place?

  6. PeakVT says:

    Sarah Lacy: solipsistic and proud of it.

    People like her seem to think that a world which consisted entirely of freelance tech enthusiasts could, you know, actually exist and function.

  7. TribalistMeathead says:

    It’s amazing how quickly otherwise-liberal people abandon their support for unions once striking workers have a negative effect on their day-to-day lives. I mean, they drop it like it’s a bad habit. And yeah, it’s not unique to the Bay Area at all – I see a lot of it every time the MTA goes on strike, or threatens to go on strike.

    • Mudge says:

      In California, an earthquake will usually “have a negative effect on their day to day lives”. They will be sympathetic to, no demand, huge sums of money to fix the inconvenience: new roads, etc. They have no sympathy with paying workers more to fix an inconvenience.

    • rea says:

      That has always been a huge problem with strikes as a weapon for labor–disrupting the lives of third parites who have very little to do with the strikers’ issues. You’ve got to go to work to keep the electricity turned on and food on the table, you commute via BART, and the BART workers go on strike–how are you going to feel about that?

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        I don’t know, why are you making decisions on the validity of a strike based on its effect on your daily life to begin with?

        • rea says:

          why are you making decisions on the validity of a strike based on its effect on your daily life to begin with

          Well, the point is, it can be a very large effect on your daily life. If my strike costs you your job, and leads to your kids doing without, are you going to sing “Solidarity Forever”? Or are you going to be pissed off?

          • TribalistMeathead says:

            Annoyed, not pissed off.

            The degree to which I’m annoyed depends on how royally the employees are being screwed.

          • cpinva says:

            ” If my strike costs you your job, and leads to your kids doing without, are you going to sing “Solidarity Forever”?

            and how often has this actually happened, in the history of labor activism? I know corporations threaten it a lot, to keep their other employees from sympathizing with striking workers, but the actuality of it is fairly negligible.

          • djw says:

            Getting pissed off is reasonable. The question is, why do people who believe themselves to be liberals, and say the support unions in the abstract, get pissed off at the unions rather than management?

      • Shakezula says:

        I thought that was the point of strikes. I never thought of them as a way to gain sympathy or public approval.

        If a strike happens to remind people outside of the dispute that actual human beings and not fairies make the garbage go away, get them to and from work, teach their kids etc, so much the better.

        • aimai says:

          The point of the Strike is and always has been to remind people (like Lacy, among others) that this thing which is invisible to them–the labor of a particular set of people–is, in fact, extremely important and irreplaceable. This is why strikes always go with scabbing because scabbing and automation undercut the value of this set of worker skills/these workers. sTrikes don’t raise sympathy unless teh strikers are so huge in number that everyone is a family member. STrikes of important unions always raise hostility because the very importance of the union makes the strike more unpleasant for the community.

      • Agreed. Which is why well-executed strikes start with a lot of community outreach, and creative publicity efforts like the ones I discuss downthread, to frame disruption in such a way as to head that reaction off before it becomes anti-union sentiment.

      • usck says:

        Well I would start by looking into bus/ferry schedules as well
        as riding sharing arrangements.

        Faux liberals implying their opposition to transit strikes
        is based on class solidarity with the poors is precious.

    • daveNYC says:

      NYC gets a whole lot miserable without the MTA running though, so what people end up seeing is their life being miserable because other people want more money (or whatever).

      Don’t make it right, but I can understand.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Yeah, I get that, it’s just odd to see OWS types spewing right-to-work talking points once it’s the MTA we’re talking about.

        • cpinva says:

          “Yeah, I get that, it’s just odd to see OWS types spewing right-to-work talking points once it’s the MTA we’re talking about.”

          it isn’t restricted to transit strikes, it’s anything that might adversely affect them: transit, trash collection, police, teachers, etc. their tolerance level for inconvenience is astonishingly low. perhaps, this is part of the fallout from an all-volunteer military: far fewer people have had first hand experience at “hurry up and wait”.

          • daveNYC says:

            Lack of transit can mean not being able to go to work. Which can lead to not getting paid. Not to mention that it will usually be lower income people who depend on mass transit and who will also have fewer options if that’s not there.

            The right to strike is just that, a right, but in some instances it can cause harm to people who we don’t normally thunk about being involved in the immediate labor dispute.

        • JL says:

          What OWS types are you talking about? I medicked a joint OWS/ATU local march at this past NYC Mayday. It was actually very relaxing because apparently the NYPD won’t beat up the transit workers (worried about a strike, perhaps?). Totally different vibe from some other marches I’ve medicked in NYC (including on that very day).

          Or is “OWS types” a generic term here for “people who are normally labor-sympathetic”?

          • TribalistMeathead says:

            Generic term here for “people who are liberal enough to also support OWS in the abstract, but not participate in any of the demonstrations.”

      • Bill Murray says:

        why isn’t it that the people who are seen as wanting more money are management not the workers?

    • anniecat45 says:

      I do support unions. I think this particular strike was a bad strategic idea and that the unions did a lousy job of making their case to the public.

      • Both unions have websites where the issues are spelled out. Compare and contrast what they say the issues are with the news coverage. Union spokespeople are awfully happy to get news, yet somehow it’s difficult.

      • Linnaeus says:

        I think this particular strike was a bad strategic idea and that the unions did a lousy job of making their case to the public.

        Okay, that’s an understandable argument. But it’s also different from “the unions are demanding too much” or “the strike inconveniences too many people, so it shouldn’t be done.”

    • “In every American community, you have varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals: an outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.”

  8. Heron says:

    One just needs to look at how these “tech entrepreneurs” have treated their coding staff over the last 20 years to see how much they care about the people who actually, directly make their products. Funny how it’s always the owner, and never the person actually bring the product into reality, who gets credit as the “creator”.

  9. DanMulligan says:

    Having lived there for many years, the attitude expressed is hardly surprising to me. What’s intriguing is that this embrace of social Darwinism tends to change as the valley types hit their 60′s having never made it big, which is not surprisingly much more common than the few that crawl to the top. Lot easier to empathize if you don’t have any retirement savings either.
    To me, this inability to consider the problems of anyone outside your close circle is the root of so many current problems and especially policy failures. Obama and Geithner (for example — hardly the only ones) did not really know anyone that lost their jobs for good or lost their homes, so those problems were never real enough to address.

  10. basement cat says:

    Another idea floating around among the technolibertarian set regarding the BART strike was that BART workers were completely unskilled and interchangeable, therefore BART should just start hiring scabs off the street. There was a willful inability to recognize that maybe train operators have some important skills and experience that allow them to safely get thousands of people to their destinations. Along with this, the whining that BART workers make too much money for people who haven’t gone to college. Kind of rich from folks who claim to not to value formal credentials above one’s abilities.

    • Amanda in the South Bay says:

      Which important skills are those?

      • The Dark Avenger says:

        Like being able to service the trains, see: “Mechanic”.

        But, because he didn’t go to college, he/she shouldn’t make more than the guy who fixes your 1999 Toyota Corolla.

      • sharculese says:

        Train driving skills.

        We get your issues with the strike, there’s no reason to be a snotty asshole about it.

        • Amanda in the South Bay says:

          Like having to get up at 0400 and go all the way to the other side of the bay to take Caltrain into work and leave an hour early from work? Nah, I don’t have problems with that! Labor solidarity!

          • Amanda in the South Bay says:

            Maybe if Grace Crunican had to get up at 0400 to rearrange her commute, but I doubt she had to do that…

          • sharculese says:

            Again, things you could address without unfairly belittling people who do difficult jobs. Don’t be a shithead.

            • Amanda in the South Bay says:

              I can see you weren’t inconvenienced by the strike or give a shit about providing decent public transit.

              • sharculese says:

                No, but I if were I sure I could voice my frustrations without lashing out in the most vicious and mean-spirited manner possible. And that’s saying something, because I’m a pretty huge asshole.

                • Amanda in the South Bay says:

                  Ah, so disagreeing with the LGM consensus ==being a big asshole. So, would it be safe to say that the LGM commentariat acts like assholes towards transit users? Shouldn’t the people who take transit, i.e. the reason for transit’s existence, have a stake in this?

                • TribalistMeathead says:

                  No, being a big asshole = being a big asshole. Disagreeing with the commentariat is fine, but people tend to get irked when you do nothing but condescend and argue in bad faith.

                • Linnaeus says:

                  Shouldn’t the people who take transit, i.e. the reason for transit’s existence, have a stake in this?

                  Sure. I think you’re getting some pushback here because your argument (at least in this part of the thread) seemed to shift from “the merits of the union’s position did not outweigh the costs of a strike” to “BART workers’ jobs are so simple that they’re not worthy of striking.”

                • sharculese says:

                  Right, you’re being dinged for ‘disagreeing with the consensus’ not for shitting on the work of people who don’t deserve it. You’re official Certificate of Persecution for Thoughtcrime is in the mail, along with a signed photo of Ben Carson.

                • cpinva says:

                  “Ah, so disagreeing with the LGM consensus ==being a big asshole.”

                  no, being a big asshole, constitutes being a big asshole. your agreeing or disagreeing with the LGM consensus is irrelevant. being an obvious troll, who’s “inconvenienced”, is grounds for…………..PANCAKES!

              • Brian says:

                Decent public transit = shitting on BART workers because I had to wake up early for a few days. Get over yourself, dear.

                • JL says:

                  Same thing I said to cpinva below, about a different term…while I am on your same basic side in this argument, your use of a gendered pet term like “dear” toward Amanda in this argument is condescending and misogynistic. You may want to rethink that.

                • Bill Murray says:

                  How is dear a gendered term?

                • YSE says:

                  Agreed. Shithead and asshole are more appropriate.

                • Gregor Sansa says:

                  YSE, substituting an insult for a demeaning faux-friendly term doesn’t work. I think alternating “dear” for men and “buddy” for women until both words are de-gendered would work.

              • brad says:

                I’ve had to deal with an MTA strike in NYC, so I actually have shared your experience, at least to a degree. It sucked, and my range in NYC is relatively small, geographically. Some small % of the MTA utterly game the system, as well, making real money for little work while the people actually keeping the trains running don’t.

                The fact that they are so essential to you is why you should support them, not bitch about having to face how much you need them. Think anyone can do any of those jobs for any pay? Imagine the kid dropping patties at McD’s then putting them back on the grill being the project engineer in charge of replacing track.
                That you don’t notice them without them being gone says a lot more about you than it does them choosing to enact their very legal and in many ways only remaining labor weapon.

              • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

                Of course you’re right – a week’s worth of inconvenience for you is far, far more important than these people (who you clearly don’t respect in the slightest) bettering their lots in life.

                Yeah, face it – you are being a giant me-first asshole. Stop digging.

          • Andrew says:

            Why don’t you live closer to your job? Because rich silicon valley types have priced you out of the market?

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        Driving trains and buses safely.

        Oh, tell me you think you could do all of those things on day one, please.

        • Amanda in the South Bay says:

          1. BART isn’t busses
          2. The op mentioned train operators, not mechanics
          3. Do *you* know how BART is operated?
          4. A train engineer != professional engineer in the 4 year degree sense.

          • TribalistMeathead says:

            Do *you* know how BART is operated?

            No, which is why I’m not claiming anyone could do it.

            A train engineer != professional engineer in the 4 year degree sense.

            What does that have to do with anything? Other than you think that one should be highly compensated and one shouldn’t, because shut up, that’s why.

          • cpinva says:

            1. it is mostly subways.
            2. all unionized BART workers.
            3. yes, I do, do you? I also know I don’t possess the specific skillset required to do it, without specialized training. clearly, that realization hasn’t hit you yet.
            4. a train engineer is a professional engineer, in the train engineer sense. not an electrical/mechanical/civil engineer, none of whom could operate a train, college degrees notwithstanding.

            honey, back away from the hole and shovel, it’s just getting deeper.

            • JL says:

              While I am on your same basic side in this argument, your use of a gendered pet term like “honey” toward Amanda in this argument is condescending and misogynistic. You may want to rethink that.

              • Gregor Sansa says:

                “dude”? Honest question; what would fit best there?

                • Linnaeus says:

                  Using the person’s name or not saying any term at all.

                • JL says:

                  Agreed with Linnaeus.

                • Gregor Sansa says:

                  There are appropriate reasons to be rhetorically demeaning. Ideally, there would be better ways to do so in a non-gendered manner. Rhetoric often grows more effective with repetition, so it’s not unusual for non-gendered alternatives to start out sounding a bit off, but it can still be worth trying. In this case, an insincere “friend” seems like the best option. Names, on the other hand, don’t work for me in this context; a person’s name is not an effective term of contempt, unless perhaps they’re famous.

                • YSE says:

                  assclown, dickweed, toolbag

          • JL says:

            The mechanics/engineers/maintenance staff were also striking, not that that should need to be true for the other workers to get some basic respect. They’re represented by the SEIU, while the train operators and station agents are represented by the ATU. Both unions were part of the strike.

          • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

            A train engineer != professional engineer in the 4 year degree sense.

            Your classism is showing.

          • patgreene says:

            Actually, I do have some idea how a BART train is operated. And I would not want anyone who isn’t trained and experienced doing that job. BART drivers are more skilled and valuable in a societal sense than most four year college graduates, even in Silicon Valley.

            And yes, I agree with you that the public employees in the region have been screwed for years. Look at the San Jose police department. That does not mean that BART workers should not be treated fairly.

        • sharculese says:

          It’s just a giant metal tube rocketing along via electromagnatic repulsion. I’m sure pretty much anyone could do a better job than those ungrateful proles.

      • JustMe says:

        Believe me when I say you should not trust me to operate a BART train without substantial training (not that I would take the job– I couldn’t afford to live in the Bay Area on that salary).

        • ChrisTS says:

          I appreciate this point, and similar ones made by others, but I think Amanda is getting off a bit easily with this line of argument.

          After all, why shouldn’t those workers who are unskilled get treated fairly and strike when they are not?

      • elitism says:

        And there you have it folks. Most of the faux liberal opposition to unions stems from a cherished believe that
        in a just world, blue collar workers should always make less money then said liberal so they know their proper place.

  11. c u n d gulag says:

    Because there are no sociable or better people-persons on this planet, than IT people, and web/tech designers.

    • JustMe says:

      Because there are no sociable or better people-persons on this planet, than IT people, and web/tech designers.

      They they are lower on the totem pole than programmers, engineers, and execs, so the douche-libertarian stuff is how they prove that they’re “really” hardcore about tech.

    • Cody says:

      Eh, just an over generalization. Most of the young programmers/designers I know are intensely liberal and support Unions. Certainly they’re all a bit entitled feeling with their freelance jobs and such, but most aren’t so dumb to think everyone is so lucky.

  12. pete says:

    With certain (notably rare) exceptions, what a refreshing comment thread.

    • Amanda in the South Bay says:

      People congratulating themselves for ripping on (deservedly) douche bag tech workers and stepping over themselves to show their labor solidarity? Refreshing maybe but hardly not unpredictable.

  13. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    The point is, BART is a public transit agency, not a private company-the public already pays for BART (those people who live in BART’s district) regardless if they personally ride it. The goal of public transit is to efficiently and quickly move people around, not to be a union patronage machine.

    Its funny, people talk about the douche bro tech-Union divide, but a lot of transit bloggers-people very much knowledgeable and concerned about the state of public transit, and who aren’t by any stretch libertarians or rightists or privileged tech douchebros-aren’t a big fan of transit unions either.

    • Shakezula says:

      And yet further down you note that the execs get paid too much. It’s like parts of your brain aren’t talking to one another.

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        Its a Gordian Knot of nastiness-but at least I’m not lionizing the unions and thinking they *aren’t* the source of any problems. Eep, life is complicated! Things aren’t black and white!

    • Linnaeus says:

      We could extend this line of reasoning, I suppose, and say there should be no public sector unions at all.

      • sharculese says:

        Thomas Friedman would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

        • ChrisTS says:

          I thought that was his newsletter.

        • ChrisTS says:

          Amanda: What do you want these workers to do?

          You complained that management is overpaid; that’s not the workers’ fault.

          You complained that BART is expanding into areas that you do not think need service. Even if your surmise is correct, the expansion is not the workers’ fault.

          Is it just that they should sit tight and hope management deals fairly with them? What if that doesn’t happen?

    • L2P says:

      Why pay government workers anything? Why not just make them work for free, since they’re providing a public service, not trying to get paid for doing work?

      I understand your frustration, but take your anger out where it should be – on the failure of your public agencies to appropriately fund the services you need. Demand a special tax to support mass transit. Demand that your government assess fees on developments near mass transit to fund mass transit. Demand that California increase taxes on the wealthy.

      You just speaking up a a single council meeting would make a HUGE DIFFERENCE. All they hear normally are business people and developers talking about “creating jobs,” not about your problems and need for services. Stop begrudging the few people actually taking a stand, the only way they can, and do something positive.

      Christ on a stick.

      • Nick says:

        In this case, BART’s board is elected by the public. So one practical thing Amanda could do would be to write a letter to her BART board member expressing her support for the workers and her outrage at the behavior of the Board. And reminding the board member who represents her district that a strike represents a failure in management and that she will happily work (and vote) to replace BART board members who can’t figure out how to lead a successful, profitable agency to a fair resolution of contracts with the unions their employees belong to.

      • Exactly – and if I were advising the BART unions I would call precisely for that, probably a surcharge on luxury cars to pay for extended train hours or something like that.

    • djw says:

      This is basically indistinguishable from the Jonah Goldberg argument against public sector unions as far as I can tell. I never took you for a Scott Walker fan.

      What is the difference, in your mind, between having a successful union capable of winning victories for its members occasionally and being a “union patronage machine”?

    • brad says:

      It’s almost as if large unions, for all their flaws, remain one of the few groups willing to defend past progressive gains and fight for new ones.
      And that things like transit unions are one of the few ways for POC to find stable, living wages with which to support their families.

      The concept of allies isn’t just about mutual gain.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It was, I think, the first hour of “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” that addressed the fondness of the Silicon Valley crowd for Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Having seen some interviews with her devotees there, it doesn’t surprise me at all that this attitude prevails.

    In the post-Reagan world, empathy is a liability.

    • cpinva says:

      better yet, watch mike Wallace’s interview with ayn rand herself. I had not realize just how barking mad she actually was, until I saw that. if her devotee’s are anywhere close, they should all be sedated, and involuntarily institutionalized, until they can get the mental healthcare they so desperately need.

  15. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    BART already spends a shitload of money on questionable suburban/exurban expansion, and pays its top white collar staff too much money (what ever happened to the trade off of public sector workers making less than the private sector, but having better benefits?). Yay, we get to pay higher fares for shittier service and putting off much needed improvements (rebuilding stations, new train sets, urban infill stations and lines).

    • Shakezula says:

      Sounds exactly like DC’s system.

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      What ever happened to the trade off of public sector workers making less than the private sector, but having better benefits?

      Guess that wasn’t a good method of employing stellar candidates after all.

    • cpinva says:

      “BART already spends a shitload of money on questionable suburban/exurban expansion, and pays its top white collar staff too much money”

      what you clearly fail to grasp, is that those white collar personnel are not unionized, they aren’t the ones on strike. it’s the rank and file skilled labor, that actually makes sure the trains run, on time, and in one piece, who aren’t paid so munificently, that went on strike.

      is any of this penetrating that thick skull of yours?

    • L2P says:

      what ever happened to the trade off of public sector workers making less than the private sector, but having better benefits

      Governments got rid of the benefits. In case you weren’t paying attention, the strike is about (among other things) increased insurance costs. More generally, pension contributions are being increased or changed to defined contribution plans, health insurance is moving to cheaper, less useful plans, leave is being cut back, and people get laid off or furloughed.

      Government jobs are now more like private sector jobs, except they generally pay less.

    • “what ever happened to the trade off of public sector workers making less than the private sector, but having better benefits?”

      I can field this one – there was never a settled compact where public workers agreed to less pay for better benefits as the structuring principle of public sector labor markets. Rather, there was a haphazard, piecemeal, and gradual process by which management preferred to give higher benefits rather than wage agreemenets, because benefits are often deferred in time (in the case of pensions) or are tax-free (in the case of health care or pension contributions).

      This then got undone when we hit a massive recession and six years of austerity resulted. When austerity happens, pensions are one of the first targets – hence, we see “public sector pension reform” that does away with the generous terms the unions negotiated in lieu of getting wage increases (because management saved money that way) which means workers are losing both on the front end as their take-home pay drops and on the back end as the benefits they had won erode. At the same time, we’ve also had wage freezes and furloughs at a time when cost of living has not been frozen – this leads to a decline in real wages, so that now public sector unions are getting less benefits than they used to and less wages than they used to.

  16. Shakezula says:

    I don’t see Lacy’s statement as being any different from the “Screw You I Got Mine” with a large side order of “Not one of us!” attitude you see among people who are assholes and will always be assholes. (Note discussion of how mine was gotten is rare since it is often the dumb luck of emerging from the right womb.)

    It isn’t that she is being inconvenienced as much as the proles are acting up cranky and she does not approve.

  17. JL says:

    On the plus side, this morning I managed to convince a couple of Bay Area tech worker friends that they were wrong about the BART strike (by using a combination of info that I found with Google and credibility as someone they can relate to who is reasonably informed and also a leftist that I’ve built up with them over time).

    • Linnaeus says:

      When I helped organize a couple of union locals, an overriding principle we employed was that change happens one worker at a time. Good on you.

      • Andrew says:

        It does. But labor has been somewhat slow to improve their efficiency and scale by adopting tech/data/digital innovations from the last decade.

  18. Anonymous says:

    A college girlfriend was like this: couldnt understand why we still need child labor laws, income tax, etc , was a big L Libertarian, later a Stanford MBA…whose family owned a chain of banks and left her a 7-figure trust fund (look for family money…it’s behind every libertarian). I hope the Valley at least has the sense to realize these kind of hothouse Darwinist views are undoing all their PR about improving the globe, uniting the world through…communication! linkages! , etc.

  19. aimai says:

    Can someone explain to me why a public sector worker going on strike, and causing AiSB to get up at four in the mornign to make her commute, is any more blameworthy than a large corporation simply raising its prices and lowering its services and forcing you to accomodate to that? Its not a strike, and the value of the money doesn’t go to the workers but to the owners, but why is that somehow meritorious?

    Also: Workers do get up at 4 to get to work all the time–when there is no public transportation in their neighborhoods, for example, and when they can’t afford cars. AiSB resents having to share this problem with the rest of the workers–including BART workers and their families, btw.

    The idea that “taxpayers already paid” for shit and therefore shouldn’t have to pay again is bizarre, to me. Its analagous to arguing that becuase public school is paid for by taxpayers that no one who works for public school should ever get paid again. What? You ate breakfast yesterday and are asking for breakfast again tomorrow? That’s crazy talk.

    • DrS says:

      You know who else gets up at 4?

      BART employees

    • L2P says:

      Here’s the best explanation.

      Government workers are performing a public service. Although they should be paid, they have a different job than private sector employees and have a duty to the people they serve to provide those services. They hold their jobs as a kind of public trust. Private sector employees do not and owe nothing to anybody.

      I buy this to a certain extent. Cops, firefighters, utility workers, prosecutors, and judges, for example, shouldn’t be allowed to go on strike – it would be catastrophic to the public. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid well for their services.

      • Linnaeus says:

        I can also buy that to an extent, too. Then we have the question of how to deal with the asymmetry that results from this, i.e., if management knows that the union’s leverage is reduced because it can’t strike, then management can just wait the union out. You’d need something like mandatory arbitration if negotiations reach an impasse to level this out.

      • I think the public trust argument can be taken too far. The organized representatives of the people they serve, i.e, the management/the government, is also an entity in these negotiations.

        And governments can and have exploited public sector workers, with the complicity of the people who vote them in. Public sector workers have the right to defend themselves against exploitation by their employers, full stop.

      • Mike G says:

        Except the argument only seems to ever be made in the worker’s-obligation angle.
        You hear the argument “They are part of a public trust so they shouldn’t be allowed to strike,” but rarely do you hear “They bear the greater responsibility for a public trust so they should have better wages and conditions.”

  20. Foregone Conclusion says:

    This whole argument does suggest that if the average working man or woman only comes across labor unionism when the metro is shut down and s/he can’t get to work, then labor unionism has a grim future.

    • Linnaeus says:

      You may have a point there.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        I think that “This whole argument does suggest that if the average working man or woman only comes across labor unionism when public-sector unions go on strike, then labor unionism has a grim future.” is a better point.

        • Andrew says:

          Probably needs something about their only experiences being with union workers in poorly managed workplaces like transit, schools, the post office, and the DMV.

  21. Major Kong says:

    So now people who work for a living are “takers” too? That goalpost is moving so fast it’s leaving wake turbulence.

    • Shakezula says:

      I believe that within the next decade the accepted libertarian line will be that accepting wages makes you a moocher.

      The ultimate libertarian nirvana is not a bunch of libertarians returning to lord it over a grateful population of proles. It is in fact one libertarian in the role of Richie Rich and everyone else is a robot.

      • Linnaeus says:

        There’s a reason I call it “neofeudalism”.

        • Tristan says:

          The gap between rich and poor under actual feudalism would be considered evidence of communism by libertarian types though.

      • bobbyp says:

        the ultimate libertarian nirvana is we all become self-employed contractors. This is because libertarians believe that life, at bottom, is just one big scam, and mankind’s defining feature is the ability to grift.

  22. Kurt Bevacqua says:

    I’ll be honest; if this were real life I’d ask Amanda out for a drink.

  23. runsinbackground says:

    Rich majority-culture nerds have shitty opinions, whatta scoop!

  24. MPAVictoria says:

    This conversation has left me incredibly dispirited. Amanda in the South Bay is a long time commenter her and one who I have frequently agreed with. How can she be so blind to the real issues here? Why is she attacking the working people who run the BART system? Why doesn’t she see that her fate is linked to theirs?

    Amanda, you really, really need to rethink your position on this issue.

  25. jkay says:

    My early programmers’ antiness was because unions I ran into were from Shrubland; against us rather than for.

    I’ve since come around more prounon since seeing games programmers need help and locals in my city be helped; I was for a Metro strike here even though I was a rider at the time. Thougb I was against player strikes opposing salary caps.

    • Andrew says:

      So you think team owners should just pocket more of the profit from the lucrative deals they sign with broadcast companies, advertisers, and their publicly funded stadium? After all, it’s not like they only attract those benefits because their players produce a highly popular and marketable product that consumers will spend a lot of money on.

      If anyone’s getting screwed it’s likely all the support staff including umpires, concession vendors, ushers, etc.

  26. Regarding the overall topic of strikes and public opinion, I don’t think it’s the case that inconvenience must automatically turn to anti-unionism; good strike design and smart public relations can do a lot to shape how the public reacts to strikes (think the Justice for Janitors strikes in LA, or the grape boycott back in the ’60s, etc.).

    What I would say is that I think hasn’t been explored a lot recently is Rosemary Feuer’s idea of “civic unionism” – i.e, unions that design contract campaigns around a broader public interest, like the UAW striking for higher wages without price increases, or the UE in St Louis putting electricity rate reductions into their demands.

    I would argue the same can be done with methods of striking: for example, a health care strike could do a lot with mobile free union clinics and an 800-line for home health visits. Or in this case, if I were running the BART workers strike, I would hire a dozen or so charter buses and do a big press release where the union offers free rides to commuters as at least a symbolic gesture that the union is looking out for the interests of commuters as well as it’s members, and tie the overall campaign together with a theme of “live where you work” – that if BART workers get forced out of the Bay Area by declining costs of living, that’s bad for the Bay Area which loses a big chunk of its middle class who support local businesses and schools, etc., and bad for the environment by forcing mass transit employees to commute long distances by car.

    • Andrew says:

      Yes. Public engagement should also be an on-going project, as well as part of a strike or contract campaign. There are some examples of this, e.g. locals/IUs partnering with organized health service providers to host clinics. They need to have more contact with the public that demonstrates their value.

  27. Jacob Davies says:

    I see a lot of people who I suspect have no idea who rides BART, no idea who was most hurt by the strike, no idea as to how much outreach and worker solidarity is involved (clue: none), and a thoroughly misguided idea of what the typical tech industry worker is like (clue: MASSIVELY, OVERWHELMING DEMOCRATIC).

    Here’s another clue: overpaid tech workers didn’t really care about the BART strike because overpaid tech workers mostly have cars, or can afford to take the day off. It’s the people who have to ride BART who are hurt. Those people are not rich, by definition.

    And yes, people who have zero chance of joining a union, who are on the margins of employment in the first place, who see well-paid union employees hurting them to get a better deal – they are going to be pissed – it doesn’t matter if this is all part of some big “you and them fight” strategy by the 1% – right then, on that day, it is the BART union workers choosing to hurt people who ride on BART to get a better deal.

    That may be justifiable in the grand scheme of things. It may be something we should support out of solidarity. But I don’t see much likelihood of the kind of people truly hurt by the BART strike being able to join a powerful union anytime soon, or to secure the kind of wage deals that BART workers have been able to. And so, yes, there is a very strong angle to this in which this is a zero-sum game where more-powerful unionized workers are inflicting harm on non-unionized workers in order to protect their own relatively-good deal.

    And it may not be the whole story, but there is undeniably a strong element of protecting the pay deals of unionized workers at the expense of non-unionized workers in recent decades. It’s not like “the 1%” pay most of the salaries of most unionized public-sector employees. All workers pay those salaries. And when many workers are suffering salary deflation, preserving union pay deals means an increasing chunk of their pay is going to support those public sector workers, and when those workers inflict harm on other workers through strikes on top of that, well, that’s a little hard to take.

    You can dig up a few quotes from tech industry dickheads and claim that they are representative, and you can ignore a large aspect of the social dynamics of this, and you can declare that anyone who wants to bring those things up is an apostate, but the fact is, it’s more complicated than that.

    • working class without a safety net says:

      Well said and true. People under duress will exhibit selfishness, shortsightedness and resentment. Which doesn’t discredit Amanda’s specific complaints. Knee jerk internet solidarity is cheap and easy. That said, I was inconvenienced by the strike but still support the efforts by that labor group to feather their nest and fight for their rights. Who wouldn’t do the same if they had the bargaining power.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Sure, I agree that there are some complicated dynamics here. I don’t live in the Bay Area, but I do live in a city with public transit. I’ve used it regularly for years, and so I have a pretty good sense of who uses it (and who doesn’t). I suspect the population that uses public transit here is roughly analogous to the population that uses BART.

      Read a certain way, though, your argument here boils down to: workers (especially public sector workers) should never strike because it harms others, some of whom are getting a worse deal than the striking workers do. Now, that may not be what you’re actually saying. But this kind of argument is deployed against workers anywhere, in any service or industry, when they take work action like strike. Hell, people were saying that to us when we were forming out ASE (academic student employee) union at my university, despite the fact that we earned considerably below the median income for our area.

      So if the BART unions stand down every time, how will that enhance the likelihood that other, non-unionized workers will be able to join a union and negotiate like the BART unions do? And if there is a point at which it’s permissible for unions to strike, how do we know when we’ve reached it, given that we can always point to someone else who’s doing worse?

      • Jacob Davies says:

        They have the right to strike, but let’s not gloss over who is hurt by their decision to do so, or whose interests they are protecting in doing so. They’re protecting their own interests, and the main people they are hurting are the people who ride BART and don’t have other options.

        When people have particular power because they occupy roles of particular significance to others, we hold them to high standards as to when they choose to strike, and affected people can disagree about whether the deal offered was sufficiently bad as to justify the strike, without being in some sense opposed to all strikes, or even being opposed to this one. In this case especially, riders are affected both coming and going – they pay the fares and taxes that pay the wages of BART workers, and they’re also affected by strikes. They are interested parties in the dispute and they’re entitled to their opinion.

        I mostly object to the cherry-picked comments that are supposed to represent the “tech industry” as a whole. Listen, I work right in the middle of said tech industry, and I know a ton of people at tech companies of all sizes and types, and they are generally extremely liberal, extremely pro-labor, extremely concerned with worker’s rights and fair deals. It is bullshit to attribute attitudes to the whole of an industry on the basis of a couple of dweebs. You can find stupid people willing to say stupid things about BART workers in every industry, I am quite certain. What matters is how people vote and how they spend their political contributions, and Silicon Valley is, as I said, wildly Democratic on both fronts. You want to complain about people who hurt labor interests in California, go complain about the people in the Central Valley who vote for Republicans, for god’s sake.

        • Linnaeus says:

          When people have particular power because they occupy roles of particular significance to others, we hold them to high standards as to when they choose to strike, and affected people can disagree about whether the deal offered was sufficiently bad as to justify the strike, without being in some sense opposed to all strikes, or even being opposed to this one. In this case especially, riders are affected both coming and going – they pay the fares and taxes that pay the wages of BART workers, and they’re also affected by strikes. They are interested parties in the dispute and they’re entitled to their opinion.

          I don’t dispute that BART riders are entitled to an opinion and I also don’t dispute that well-intentioned people, even allies, can disagree on the merits of a particular strike.

          The problem I’m having here is that if “disruptions to the public” is the basis on which we judge the merits of a public sector strike, that disruption will happen with any public sector strike, no matter the reason. Furthermore, we can always find someone affected who will be relatively less well off than those striking. From that, the implied conclusion is that public sector workers should not be able to strike.

        • Jacob Davies says:

          I did not say that or imply it. I said that there are special responsibilities for public sector workers if they want to continue to receive the respect & support of the rest of the workforce, and that reasonable people who are generally in favor of labor rights may not agree that the current dispute rises to that level, especially if they’re the ones suffering during the strike.

          I favor binding arbitration over strikes & lockouts for public-sector workers since the process of determining competitive & fair wages and working practices is one amenable to reasoned discussion, and because the costs of work shutdowns are borne by non-parties to the debate. For private employers that is far less true – it’s more about determining the labor share of profits – and strike actions much less likely to harm non-parties. Still, in the absence of binding arbitration, public sector workers have the right to strike – but expecting everyone to be happy about it is a stretch.

    • Andrew says:

      We’re seeing that Democratic and progressive tendencies are not synonymous with pro-union tendencies.

      Since when do Democratic and progressive tendencies get a pass for being on the wrong side of an issue? Must we love Blue Dogs, too?

  28. MPAVictoria says:

    “And so, yes, there is a very strong angle to this in which this is a zero-sum game where more-powerful unionized workers are inflicting harm on non-unionized workers in order to protect their own relatively-good deal.”

    False. Once you have bought into their framing of the situation you have already lost.

    • djw says:

      Also buys into the framing of blaming labor and labor alone for the costs of labor-management conflicts.

    • Jacob Davies says:

      Please feel free to explain to a non-unionized janitor in Richmond who can’t get to San Francisco to clean the floors at a bank because of the strike how he’s just not getting the “framing” of the situation right.

      The point is, there are legitimate other ways to look at who is to blame for what. But when transit workers decide to strike, they are harming poorly-paid workers in support of their own interests, there is no way to avoid that fact, and there is absolutely nothing that a non-unionized and poorly-paid worker who is hurt by the strike can do to recover their own losses.

      • MPAVictoria says:

        Oh please. Go sell crazy somewhere else.

        • working class without a safety net says:

          Oh right. Your adherence to the concept of “framing” isn’t precious or elitist in light of the indisputable negative consequence of the BART strike on workers that can’t afford the luxury of championing a principle. Amanda and thousands of others have suffered another indignity… But at least the contradictions of Solidarność have been heightened!

      • djw says:

        Why should be blame the union and not management?

      • patgreene says:

        The janitor should be unionized, too.

        You’re right, the poorly-paid worker can’t recover their losses. But in a larger sense this is as much the fault of management that brought about the conditions which caused the workers to go out on strike as the workers. Otherwise, you are simply arguing that transit workers should never strike.

      • Amanda in the South Bay says:

        I agree wholeheartedly with Jacob.

        The last time BART had threatened a strike, I was a cashier at Palo Alto Whole Foods, working 30 hours a week at 12 dollars an hour, and sleeping on a futon in Mountain View (2009). At that time, I’d have gladly stuck my neck out to unionize at WF-yes, in fancy pants Palo Alto, rich fucking snobs who shopped at WF didn’t know that WF employees had to go to mandatory anti-union talks. But when BART threatened a strike, I was furious-it had nothing to do with buying into corporate rhetoric or dividing the working class-I agree in general terms with a lot of the pro-union platitudes on this thread.

        Its just that in this particular case, being utterly reliant on shitty public transit in a suburban wasteland (the Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County), I realized that poor people reliant on public transit would be hurt badly-and its not like employers are all that generous to workers who miss days and have to leave early, etc. For a big chunk of the East Bay, you get rid of BART and its very difficult to get into SF without a car (blame BART for stealing funds to rebuild the Dumbarton Bridge for a Caltrain East style train for the BART to San Jose fiasco). Telling people they should suck it up and side with the unions is a very poor consolation to people who are adversely impacted-I see it as nothing more than a big fuck you to people who weren’t privileged enough to be part of a muscular public sector union.

        And yeah, I’m a big transit advocate, in the style of what sometime commenter here Alon Levy terms a “technical” -
        I do share skepticism towards transit unions-transit exists for the passenger, not for the glorification of unions.

        And finally, Jacob is right we shouldn’t stereotype tech workers-if so, then I gladly stereotype lazy BART workers with shitty attitudes who get paid obscene amounts to do a shitty job (substitute obnoxious bus drivers, etc from other agencies as you see fit).
        I also don’t feel like its quite right to fetishize blue collar, union workers as being salt of the earth types full of wisdom who will show those tech workers whose boss-as someone who grew up in a small logging town that makes LGM labor guru Erik Loomis’ hometown seem like a huge city-fuck that.

        • MPAVictoria says:

          Amanda you know better than this. You are basically arguing that workers should never strike!

        • Linnaeus says:

          I do get your frustration, and as I’ve said in other comments, it’s understandable that people might disagree with the merits of a particular strike. It just seems that the way you’ve set it up here, no BART union strike would be defensible, leading to the conclusion that BART unions (and, by extension, any public sector union) should never strike. Is that your position?

          I do share skepticism towards transit unions-transit exists for the passenger, not for the glorification of unions.

          Sure, transit (and other public services) do exist for the good of the people who use those services. I don’t think that’s incompatible with unionization of the workers who provide those services.

          I also don’t feel like its quite right to fetishize blue collar, union workers as being salt of the earth types full of wisdom who will show those tech workers whose boss

          I don’t see anyone fetishizing blue collar union workers here. They’re disagreeing with your view – vigorously, perhaps – but that’s not fetishizing.

          • implosion says:

            Once you understand why some supposed liberals oppose unions and particularly strikes the fetish charge
            is logical. This group objects to blue collar/less educated workers receiving more compensation than they themselves do in spite of their superior education. That is the issue, while being inconvenience by the proles only makes their displeasure more visceral. If you do not support their stunted vision of meritocracy then it is obviously you are the one with the flaw – in this case – a fetish for the working man/women. A person without a college education and special skills earning $60K is the injustice as far as the meritocrats are concerned.

            The second block quote is one gigantic tell – fetishize, wisdom, show who is boss. Mid class white collar workers world has collapsed and they are kicking down in a doomed effort to keep their place.

  29. PDXTyler says:

    This is kind of off-topic which probably isn’t the best for my first comment, but I was wondering if anyone had ever done a study about Transit contracts for workers with the right to strike versus workers who have binding arbitration?

    In Portland for example the ATU local that represents the workers at Tri-met has binding arbitration which management actually tried to lobby the legislature to repeal. Before that I’d have thought having the right to strike would lead to better contracts, but I’ve since been wondering if maybe arbitration is better at fighting concessions since the arbitrators seems to go with the final proposal that changes the status quo the least.

    • Linnaeus says:

      This gets at what I was commenting upthread – if one is going to argue that certain public services like mass transit are too crucial to permit a strike for any reason, then there must be some kind of mechanism to deal with the resulting imbalance, if one at the same time supports the existence of unions who represent workers in those services.

    • Hogan says:

      In my city the police and firefighters have binding arbitration. The city has repeatedly gone to court to try to overturn the arbitrators’ decisions. Even if they eventually get turned down, the unions have to pay legal fees to defend what they’re entitled to, and it delays implementation of the decision. But I guess if you’re an employer, “binding” means “only if you feel like it.”

  30. jkay says:

    Isn’t slandering an entire region or industry as wrong a stereotyping as saying we Jews are only about greed? After all, Google and Intel treat their workers well, whatever their many other faults. WTF’s libertarian about Boston programmers? Remember to be careful about stereotypes, because they’re wrong.

    • DrS says:

      Yes. Noting that many people in tech are libertarians is exactly the same as being anti Jewish.

      Can’t tell if serious?

    • Andrew says:

      Google and Intel treating their employers well has what to do with whether a tech worker is pro-union?

  31. ddt says:

    So I tweeted that I’d tried to review the “literature” (that is, sites and comment threads on the sites) to see if there’d been any appreciable defense of her dunderheaded statements, and had found bupkus.

    Her tweet in response: “not sure where you are “looking” but that’s laughable and also not true. you love to make stuff up!! so strange…”

    I hadn’t been aware that we were so close that she could tell what I love and don’t love, or even do on a regular basis. But, you know, she’s a journalist, right? So I should take her word despite her lack of evidence for any statement.

  32. Ari says:

    Holy crap, 200+ posts and nobody has even commented on how gawker appears to have a blinking curser stuck at the top of the page that you can’t make go away? That’s already probably the most evil thing on that page. Thank god for adblock.

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