Love and Treason table of contents
Anti-capitalist actions around mass transit in San Francisco,
1993 to 1995:
ACTIONS TO ENCOURAGE A
"CULTURE OF NON-PAYMENT..."
In the spring of 1993, San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan launched
an attack on the living standards of the city's working class by demanding
a fare increase of 25 cents per ride on MUNI. MUNI is San Francisco's
main public transit system, made up of motor coaches, trolleys, metro
trains, and the world-famous cable cars, with approximately 686,000 passenger
boardings every weekday. In response to Jordan's attack, a small group
of anti-capitalist radicals engaged in a seven-month campaign against
the fare hike.
Class war occurs wherever the exploited and dispossessed confront
market relations and the state, and not only in our struggles as wage
workers in workplaces. Our potential power is greatest wherever we come
together in large numbers; the majority of mass transit users are wage
workers and poor people. Urban bus and subway systems probably bring
together more members of the modern slave class than any other social
Our efforts were inspired by what we'd heard and read about similar
struggles in other countries, particularly movements for "self-reduction"
of prices in Italy in the mid to late 1970's:
"With an inflation rate of over 25%, widespread unemployment,
and increasing repression, Italy's current economic crisis shows how
far capital is willing to push its attack against the living conditions
of the working class.
"One of the distinct marks of this crisis -- in Italy as well
as in other capitalist countries -- is the extent to which class conflict
has widened, involving directly the area of social consumption. The dramatic
increase in the cost of living is in fact setting off a wave of struggles
dictated by the working class need to protect their wage gains, and to
ensure adequate access to essential goods and services such as food,
housing, utilities and transportation...
"The practice of ‘self-reduction' -- i.e., the refusal to comply
with price increases of essential services -- ‘is the answer that has
emerged from this terrain of struggle...
"Self-reduction is not an entirely new phenomenon in Italy...What
is new is the way in which this practice has spread to other sectors
of essential social consumption, such as public transit, electricity
and home heating.
"When viewed in the context of parallel practices -- such as
squatting and organized mass appropriation of groceries from supermarkets
-- this struggle becomes more than a merely defensive one. It becomes
-- as some militants have called it -- a struggle for the re-appropriation
of social wealth produced by the working class but unpaid by capital."
from The Working Class Struggle Against The Crisis: Self-Reduction
of Prices In Italy, by Bruno Ramirez, February 1975.
Our first step was to write and distribute a leaflet to MUNI
drivers and station agents. Public transit workers are in the most crucial
position for making a self-reduction effort possible. Also, we wanted
to sabotage efforts by management to direct MUNI riders' anger at MUNI
workers, and help refocus that anger at the proper target, the commodity
economy and its administrators. We pointed out the connection between
the impending attack on working class people who ride MUNI, and inevitable
future attacks on the wage levels and benefits of MUNI workers.
Our leaflet mimicked the layout and font of the San Francisco
Examiner, one of SF's two daily bourgeois lie-sheets. The Examiner had
run a series of articles against city employees that singled out MUNI
workers in particular as overpaid, shiftless bums. We had to get copies
of our stuff to roughly 2,000 drivers and train operators, and a much
smaller number of station agents in MUNI underground stations. So we
began by boarding a MUNI streetcar, briefly talking with the driver and
giving her or him a leaflet, then leaving the train car at the next stop.
We went in this manner from one car to another, up and down the main
inbound and outbound underground MUNI line, from Church Street to Embarcadero.
After several days of this we were running into a number of the same
train operators that we had leafleted earlier, and moved on to leafleting
Conveniently for our leaflet distribution efforts, a large number
of MUNI bus lines begin and end at the intersection of Mission and Steuart
Streets, and also in front of the Transbay Terminal building a few blocks
away. We spent a few hours during several afternoon rush hours giving
leaflets to drivers at these locations. The leaflet was generally received
with sympathy from drivers, who frequently asked for extra copies to
give to other MUNI employees. Over the next few weeks we were told by
drivers that the leaflets were being reproduced on MUNI photocopy machines
and left in workers' mailboxes at MUNI yards.
By the middle of the summer we'd received enough feedback from
MUNI drivers to know we'd reached a saturation point among employees
of the transit system.
The Mass Psychology of Democracy
Soon after Jordan announced plans for a fare hike, a series of
public meetings were convened in high school auditoriums in various San
Francisco neighborhoods. These meetings were excellent examples of how
democratic regimes allow the working class to petition their exploiters
to govern them more effectively. The meeting one of us attended at the
Mission High auditorium on March 30, ‘93 enabled the stupidest members
of the audience to suggest measures more draconian than those initially
proposed by the mayor.
Jordan appeared on the platform with other city government bureaucrats
and entrepreneurs, their freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by
nine or ten armed policemen in the lobby and at the entrances of the
auditorium. Jordan's press secretary, Noah Griffin, walked around the
audience with a microphone, like on Oprah, offering members of the audience
a chance to express their opinions, while the real decisions were, of
course, being made off stage.
When you pay the fare on MUNI you can get a transfer, torn by
the driver to indicate that it's good for two hours, or two more boardings,
whichever comes first. For many years, street people had sold "Late-Nights"
for 25 or 50 cents. These are untorn transfers that can be used for
an entire day. Books of intact transfers were ripped off from idled,
unattended busses, and street people in turn hawked them to riders waiting
for the bus at the plazas of BART stations, like 16th and Mission, and
24th and Mission.
Towards the end of the evening, a number of speakers from the
audience denounced the hardships that would result from a 25 cent (and
25%) fare increase. They were concerned for the fate of the city government's
budget, and demanded more action by the SFPD against sales of stolen
bus transfers. Deploring the prospect of a 25% fare increase, these
mathematically challenged suppliants demanded an alternative -- that
transfers be eliminated altogether. This would result in a 100% fare
increase each time a rider boarded MUNI. Many MUNI lines were designed
with the intent that riders would transfer from line to line. Getting
rid of transfers would mean riders who have to transfer two and three
times traveling between downtown and outlying working class neighborhoods
like Bay View or Excelsior would face a whopping 400% to 600% MUNI fare
After three more public meetings, the mayor's office announced
that the representatives of the people had been swayed by the will of
the masses. Instead of jacking up the fare by a quarter, the mayor's
office decided to put a measure before the Board of Supervisors proposing
the elimination of transfers.
Everywhere a Small Party
At this point we drafted and began putting up copies of an 11"
x 17" wall poster, Refuse To Pay, aimed at MUNI riders, encouraging mass
collective fare shirking.
On one or two occasions we had enough people to form two separate wall-postering
squads. More often than not we only had enough people to form one postering
group. Three or four of us would get together after sundown at a punk
rock record store in San Francisco's Mission District. We'd mix a one
pound bag of wallpaper paste into a one gallon bucket of lukewarm water,
then go out postering, slapping wallpaper paste on inviting surfaces
like traffic signal boxes with a large paint brush. The person carrying
the bucket did the brush work, (and ended up wearing a lot of wallpaper
paste); the person carrying the posters would pass a poster to the third
member of the group, who'd slap the poster into place.
Before going out at night we'd scam 100 to 150 photocopies of
our posters from a copy store that has delightfully lax security. We
went out two or three nights a week for six to eight weeks. We covered
streetlight poles, ground level billboards and other spots near bus stops
along busy streets in central working class neighborhoods: in the Mission
District, the Western Addition and Fillmore, the Tenderloin, areas around
BART stations, around City College and SF State University. To a more
limited degree we also covered the foot of Market Street in the Financial
District. The day after postering one of us would usually check to see
if the posters were still up, or if they had been trashed by law-abiding
shitheads. Except for some reactionary working class alcoholics at McCarthy's
bar on Mission Street no one messed with the posters. After foggy nights
the posters would still be damp at dawn. But once they had dried they
clung as if welded into place. After several months the posters attained
a high degree of visibility along key bus routes in the city, which was
gratifying, since this part of our efforts in particular had been bust-ass
Pay No Attention to that Man behind the Curtain...
After the Public Utilities Commission and the Board of Supervisors
approved the elimination of transfers, the mayors' office pushed back
the date for the elimination of transfers several times, finally deciding
that October 1 would be D-day for their attack on MUNI riders.
At the public meeting at Mission High that March, one of us had
picked up a copy of a letter from the mayor which thanked attendees for
coming, piously reminded citizens that we must all make sacrifices, etc.
Using this as a style model, we drafted a fake letter from San Francisco
Our version of Jordan's letter graciously included official-looking
fake MUNI transfers, and for that extra added touch of realism we stamped
a meaningless sequence of numbers at the bottom of each transfer, and
cut the spaces between the transfers to make them easy to tear off.
We photocopied about 600 of our letter from the mayor, and bought a couple
of tape guns at an office supply store.
We wanted to spread as much confusion as possible in the Financial
District, so beginning at around 3 on the afternoon of Oct. 1, we started
at the foot of Market Street (the main street in that part of town).
We worked our way up the street, tape-gunning multiple leaflets next
to one another on "bum-proof" MUNI bus stops, the leaflets forming a
belt around the insides and outsides of the glass walls of the stops.
Since the elimination of transfers was the big news that day we attracted
a lot of attention. To questions from curious passersby, we replied
that we were sent by Mayor Jordan's office, and we sang praises to his
generosity and concern for the difficulties faced by MUNI riders on the
first day of the elimination of transfers. People quickly took the transfers.
A bus driver pulled alongside of us as we covered a bus stop, jumped
out of the bus and yelled, "I'll give em to riders! Give me some!" The
fake transfers disappeared fast. We did a MUNI stop on Kearny near Market,
then quickly moved on, and looking back from a block away we saw the
sidewalk completely blocked by people, mobbing the bus stop for transfers.
At around 6 p.m., we were down to our last leaflet, so we tore
off three transfers for our own ride back to the Mission District. All
around the downtown area, bus stops were still covered by leaflets stripped
of fake transfers, and people were reading the letter from Jordan. We
went to the MUNI underground at Montgomery and tried them on the man
in the booth. He was a supervisor. He refused to take them. We hiked
up Market to Powell Street. Again, we found supervisors staffing the
booth instead of the usual rank-and-file MUNI workers. The supervisor
in the booth was pissed off. He said: "No way! You guys know you didn't
pay for those things! Those are some kind of practical joke!"
The mayor's office had to issue a statement at 5 p.m. that day
denying responsibility for the letter and the fake transfers.
This prank concluded our fall ‘93 MUNI campaign.
The elimination of transfers proved to be so unworkable that
transfers were reinstated after six months, and as of this date, late
2000, there has still been no fare increase on MUNI.
To the best of our knowledge there was no mass self-reduction
movement in response to the abolition of transfers. We heard many stories
of drivers letting riders board for free, but this happens a lot of the
time, anyway. We didn't think that a self-reduction movement would come
into existence in response to our actions. We hope actions like these
will contribute to an awareness among exploited and dispossessed people
that our needs and the demands of the capitalist economy, (the market
system, wage slavery, the world of money, buying and selling, the bosses
and parasites who profit from it) are mutually and violently exclusive.
Mass, collective action must be taken on this basis.
"Our Society is Insane..."
One evening in 1994, one of us boarded a Bay Area Rapid Transit
train in San Francisco and saw a new type of anti-fare evasion poster,
unlike others he'd seen before. This poster trumpeted the message "FARE
IS FAIR" in large grimly totalitarian block letters, above a more polite
and lengthy request to "Play Fair--Pay Your Fare."
Over the course of the next few days we saw these posters and
other posters with variations on the same stupid theme on subway cars
throughout the BART system. Using their contrasting good cop/bad cop
character fonts as our inspiration, we designed a more clearly worded
version of the message in the anti-fare evasion poster.
Our sticker aped the contrasting fonts of the anti-fare evasion
poster, and borrowed its slogan from an advertising campaign of the Argentine
military dictatorships' Dirty War of the 1970s. On the bottom of the
anti-fare evasion poster, a message exhorting riders to report fare evaders
to the nearest station agent had been taped over to correct an earlier
message asking riders to call BART police directly, giving the BART pigs'
phone number. We included their phone number on our stickers.
We had a print shop make about 1,300 stickers. Friends would
slap up a few stickers going to and from work on BART.
One morning after rush hour, and well before the afternoon rush,
a small number of people took a large number of stickers and spent several
hours altering a large number of posters.
Later that same day an irate BART rider called the phone number
on the sticker, 1- (510) 464-7000:
(Bart cop answering phone): "Bart police."
Irate rider: "What's this about you jacking up the fares by 50
Bart cop: "What are you talking about?"
Irate rider: "You got stickers up all over the trains sayin'
you're gonna jack up fares by 50 percent!"
Bart cop (now pissed off): "This is the Bart police emergency
line, do you have an emergency?!"
Irate rider: "Yeah! You're jacking up the fares by 50 percent,
I'd say that constitutes an emergency!"
If they were caught before the adhesive dried, the stickers could
be peeled off. But after 30 minutes or so the stickers clung fast, and
couldn't be pulled off without trashing the anti-fare evasion posters.
After about two months we had added our stickers to almost every
one of the anti-fare evasion posters. At that point BART management
apparently gave up trying to replace them.
BART management also had anti-fare evasion stickers placed on
top of the gates into and out of the paying areas of the system. These
stickers were about the same size and had a similar appearance to our
stickers, and had served as something of a style model for us. We put
some stickers over these, though our efforts at this were more haphazard
than what we did to the posters on the train cars. When our stickers
were removed they tended to remove the underlying anti-fare evasion stickers,
No BART fare increase was known to be in the works when we made
our stickers. To highlight the ridiculous qualities of BART management's
anti-fare evasion propaganda we wildly overestimated the likely size
of a BART fare increase, pulling the 50% figure out of a hat. But at
the beginning of 1995 BART management decided to go for a 45% fare hike
over the course of the next three years. Did they get the idea from
us, or what?! The absurdities of contemporary capitalist austerity and
repression are so pronounced that they tend to escape our ability to
Black Bart Rides Again
Late in 1994, it looked like a strike by BART workers might take
place. We drafted a leaflet, BART ATTACK #2, the first version having
been distributed to BART workers under similar circumstances in the summer
We distributed the latest version to train operators in our usual manner.
We had two groups of people at each end of the platform of the MacArthur
BART Station in Oakland. All the trains in the system go through this
station, and in a few hours we were able to get leaflets to all the train
operators working one afternoon commute period. The leaflet went through
a series of revisions as we got more information and as events unfolded.
We also went from station to station giving leaflets to station agents.
The leaflet was well received by train operators and somewhat less well
received by station agents.
We knew from our previous efforts that MUNI workers in SF were
hopping mad at management, so we rode MUNI busses, talking to drivers
to get information for a revised version of the leaflet. We suggested
that they could use a BART strike as an opportunity to stage a wildcat
walkout around their own demands and grievances and in support of BART
strikers. In the course of our conversations, and in talking to people
we know who work for BART, we found out that MUNI management, with the
cooperation of the union representing MUNI drivers, was planning to run
"Special BART Express" busses on Market and Mission Streets. In other
words, MUNI drivers who were members of TWU 250A would scab on BART employees,
many of them members of a different local of the same union, and help
break their strike. So we distributed a revised leaflet to MUNI bus
and streetcar operators and made an issue of the plans for scabbing.
As always, we used this opportunity to attack the unions as capitalist
business organizations. The function of the unions is to keep the working
class in line. Wage workers need to form their own autonomous organizations
outside of and totally hostile to capital's labor brokerage outfits.
A sympathetic BART employee told us that word had gotten back
to BART workers that the union representing MUNI drivers had been told
by drivers that they would refuse to go along with plans to scab on a
BART strike. He credited our actions with having brought it about.
We were happy to hear that at least one aspect of our efforts had shown
Several of us rode BART trains before the morning commute hour
a few days in advance of the possible strike and taped our (8.5" x 11")
BART FLU flyer over ads on the trains. We wanted to encourage a widening
of a BART strike into a wildcat walkout by thousands of atomized wage-slaves.
Before the strike the unions representing BART workers, SEIU,
Local 790 and Amalgamated Transit Workers Union, Local 1555* issued a
"BART rider bulletin", offering commuter tips on how to undercut the
effectiveness of a walkout by BART employees. This was a clear demonstration
of the unions' loyalty to whatever the bosses wanted and their antagonism
to the interests of union members. Ultimately the unions' devious and
chickenshit maneuvers resulted in acceptance of a lousy give-back contract
by BART workers. At that time as well, a number of combative workers
were forced out of low-level positions in the union apparatus. Many
BART workers were pissed off at the give-back contract. Unfortunately
no wildcat actions took place.
A few months after BART management's successful attack on BART
employees it became evident that a major BART fare increase was in the
works. We used information about the raw deal that management and their
union waterboys had run on BART employees in our Bart Crimes leaflet.
*FOOTNOTE: At the time of these events, ATU, Local 1555 represented
around 660 train operators, station agents, foreworkers, clerks, communications
specialists and power support people. SEIU, Local 790 represented approximately
1,500 maintenance and clerical workers.
To The Richmond Station
Our Bart Crimes leaflet mimicked the name and appearance of a
moronic newsletter titled BART Times that management distributed from
plastic slots on fare gates in stations. We began by leafleting the
last two of a series of public meetings held by BART bureaucrats in San
Francisco's Chinatown and at BART headquarters near Lake Merritt in Oakland.
The meeting in Chinatown was a joke; attended by three bureaucrats and
two riders. At BART headquarters about 60 irate BART riders and a half
dozen BART functionaries showed up. It was entertaining to see the BART
bureaucrats, seated in front of their audience, looking over the leaflet
and furtively whispering to each other.
After that we found a source of unlimited free photocopying and
leafleted riders during the afternoon commute period at stations in San
Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond. We did this two or three
days a week for three weeks prior to the April Fools' Day beginning of
the fare hike. We also went on empty trains before the morning commute
period, from 5:45 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., moving from car to car leaving leaflets
on the seats.
One morning while leafleting empty train cars we ran into a BART
janitor, holding a large transparent garbage bag filled with our leaflets.
This unpleasant sight prompted us to leaflet trains during the main
period of the morning commute, moving from car to car giving leaflets
directly to passengers. Our unexpected activity on the trains seemed
to interrupt the stupefaction of the morning commute. Between surfing
the trains at dawn and leafleting afternoon commuters exiting stations,
by Friday, March 31, we had distributed around 20,000 leaflets. This
was our first experience in industrial-strength leafleting. Friendly
BART employees faxed the leaflets around the BART system to other BART
In the final week of March we photocopied a wallposter-sized
version of the leaflet and wallpaper-pasted these up around a number
of stations. A friend helped draft a press release. This was faxed
to a number of the local bourgeois news media outlets, and resulted in
front page coverage in the Oakland Tribune on Friday, March 31, the day
before the fare hike went into effect.
We distributed our leaflet to BART station agents. And we distributed
various forms of pro-fare evasion literature around the BART system.
The BART fare hike has been implemented, but the fight continues.
All the wealth that exists in modern society has been created
by the interaction of working people's labor power and the natural world.
We are separated from the products of our activity by a global market
system that is as antagonistic to real life as the lethal technologies
and environmental pollutants it produces. Our anti-capitalist actions
have tried to make a connection between contemporary struggles of the
working class under capitalism and the revolutionary social organization
of the future, where all wealth will be shared freely, a world without
buying and selling of any kind. We've aimed at overcoming divisions
of exploited people into wage workers and non wage-earning, the badly
paid and the slightly less badly paid, unionized and non-unionized.
We've tried to make it clear that the degree to which market
relations dominate daily life is the degree to which life is oppressive
and degrading. When we resist the market economy we live better.
Today the capitalist system works to get everyone, no matter
how impoverished and fucked over, to internalize the mindset of the entrepreneur
and the cop. But contemporary capitalist strategies for increased repression
and social control can be subverted by a mass refusal to cooperate on
the part of wage workers and the poor. Employees of mass transit systems
are in a crucial position in this regard; their potential power is greater
than that of other wage workers. No matter how sophisticated the technology,
the human element can sabotage and subvert the machine.
To play by the system's rules is a guarantee that we will lose.
Notions like fair play, appeals to justice and democratic rights, leaving
it up to the union apparatus and assuming that the law is there to help
are false notions, ideological obstacles to the emergence of class consciousness
and class action. "Cheating" on subway fares and "stealing" from the
system that exploits us and degrades the world is an affirmative act.
Perhaps most important of all, we've used what Corporate America
and its media apparatus present as a small, mundane inconvenience as
an opportunity to broadcast an anti-capitalist perspective to many tens
of thousands of working class and poor people who otherwise wouldn't
Revolutionaries "disdain to conceal their aims." We've tried
to keep our language plain and clear. And we haven't soft-peddled our
message. We've been completely upfront about our hatred of wage slavery
and the market economy, our hatred for bosses and managers, the unions
and the cops, the government and the law. Small, everyday acts of resistance
can contribute to the rise of tomorrow's' mass anti-market movement.
And in South Africa: "Riding public trains for free and refusing to pay
rent...were once seen as legitimate protests [against] apartheid.
"Now the ‘culture of non-payment' has become ingrained among
the impoverished black majority, despite attempts to erase it by the
black-led government that took over in historic all-race elections in
USA Today, August 1, 1996
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