Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As I wrote this recently, a strike was in progress in our area. BART, the commuter rail system used by hundreds of thousands every day, reducing highway traffic congestion and contributing to a thriving local economy, was shut down. To make matters worse, the AC Transit (bus) workers had also given notice of a strike. A headline in the local newspaper sums up the attitude of most citizens: "Disgusted!". In my working life, as a Naval Officer and then in the insurance business, I was never inconvenienced by a strike: they are prohibited in the armed services and the insurance business is generally not unionized. My wife was involved in a strike as a member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the more militant of two competing teachers' unions. (She voted against the strike, which achieved nothing that could not have been resolved by negotiation.) I generally have negative feelings about strikes. I have certainly been influenced by my upbringing in the UK. I was born less than a year after the notorious General Strike of May 1926, but I grew up hearing stories about the middle-class heroes who drove buses, delivered milk or bread, and kept life going for the nine days of the strike. Unions often held sway in Britain, with practices damaging to the economy, such as "featherbedding"--employers being forced to hire more employees than are needed. (Thanks to the "Iron Lady"--Mrs. Thatcher--the unions' stranglehold on efficiency has largely been eliminated in recent years.) I would argue with myself that anyone had the right to withhold his or her labor, and that to do that in concert with others was a just riposte to the bargaining power of employers. Nevertheless, I remain opposed to strikes, especially if they cause loss of income to workers in other fields. Police and firemen are not allowed to strike, and I believe that the same strictures should apply to transit workers.

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