One morning this past summer seemed like most others: I left my house at 7 AM, to start my two-hour commute to my contract job in a Bay Area exurb.
The BART train arrived punctually. I was glad I had a reverse commute, which required a nearly hour-long ride across the drab, de-industrialized stretches of southeast Oakland; I nearly always had a seat going to work. The passengers headed the opposite direction to San Francisco, didn’t have this privilege, even at this early hour.
To while away the time, I reviewed the stream of tweets on my phone. There was quite a lot of indignation over the recent strike by BART workers, not much directed at BART management–the Twitterverse seemed appalled by the benefits and salary protections demanded by blue-collar transit employees. Meanwhile, the train dutifully stopped for the students, retail clerks, construction guys, and home health aides getting on the Fruitvale, Coliseum, San Leandro, and Bayfair stations. A few passengers dozed. Sometimes a young guy would enter the car, looking at us half-asleep drones with apparent distaste, and hastily exit, as if we threatened him with some contagious disease.
I checked the news from back home in Arizona. Fire season. A photo of the twenty Granite Mountain Hotshots posed in front of an ancient alligator juniper they’d protected from wildfire. Now the hometown news included the story of a Hotshot’s wife denied benefits because her husband wasn’t classified as a permanent, full-time employee. He was, however, permanently, full-time dead, killed on Yarnell Hill with eighteen others.
At Castro Valley station the train passengers started including more people carrying computer bags. By the end of the line–Dublin/Pleasanton–most of us leaving the train looked to be white-collar tech workers. We moved through the BART station in quiet, somnambulant order, every movement calculated to bring us to the next stage of our commutes to distant office parks–to the buses, the shuttles, the sidewalks and bike paths. All this uninspiring travel, just for our paychecks.
The organizers of Blog Action Day prompt me to write about “human rights.” There’s plenty of cause for outrage–the rights of women, of the non-heterosexual, of civilians, of people of color; all of these denied in some way, somewhere, every moment of every day. I’m confident a blogger will address them eloquently. What I’ll treat instead are the rights we seem to have forgotten in our grubby, half-awake, workaday lives. Those are workers’ rights.
Workers’ rights are human rights.
As workers, and as human beings, we have:
the right to complete compensation for our work, including pension and health insurance benefits;
the right to compensation for every minute we spend working;
the right to reliable transportation to our job sites, the costs sustained by taxes on the corporations which benefit from our labor;
the right to join other workers to bargain with management, and the right to strike;
the right to be hired and retained based on merit, not on racial, gender, or class identity;
the right to employer loyalty in exact proportion to the loyalty we show the employer. The right to protection from “rightsizing,” moves, and offshoring when we have kept up our side of the relationship;
the right to be paid and treated the same as our native-born colleagues, no matter which visa arrangement brought us to work in this country;
the right to compensation when our jobs have maimed or disabled us; the right of our survivors to compensation when our jobs have killed us;
And, to my mind, the most important:
the right to discuss these rights, in public, worldwide, without retribution.