Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Verizon Workers Out On Strike

Over 45,000 Verizon workers, from Massachusetts to Virginia, are out on strike, marking one of largest labor actions in the US in quite some time. SW.org has the story:
Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) walked out August 7 after voting overwhelmingly--including 91 percent of CWA members--to authorize a strike. The workers are technicians and customer support employees in Verizon's wire lines division, which provides Internet and land phone lines to homes and businesses in the Northeast. The telecommunications giant is attempting to strip its employees of benefits the union workforce has successfully fought for over the years, including the imposition of 25 percent of health care costs onto workers who have paid nothing until now; the elimination of traditional pensions; and the weakening of job security.
Read more about the strike here and here. There are clearly challenges ahead, as the SW piece makes clear, but the willingness of workers to take on a powerful corporation speaks to a growing discontent with the crisis, austerity and the broadside attack on working class living standards being waged by both of the major political parties.

Here's what readers can do to get involved if you're based in the Northeast where most of the activity is happening:
  1. Contact the IBEW and/or CWA locals in your area to find out where picket lines and/or rallies are taking place. Explain that you are trying to build support and ask how you can help.
  2. Visit picket lines regularly. Bring workers water, coffee, refreshments, and whatever you can to help show support.
  3. Be part of pickets outside of Verizon Wireless stores in your area. The IBEW has said that it's already organizing these in the Boston area.
If you're not in the Northeast, here's what you can do:
  1. You might consider contacting the CWA and IBEW local in your area and ask if they plan any action in your area.
  2. Keep your eyes peeled for solidarity events. Perhaps there will be solidarity protests outside of local Verizon stores. Get in touch with local left-wing organizations to see whether or not your local Left is involved solidarity efforts.
  3. Pass resolutions of support in your union or community organization and communicate them to the CWA and IBEW. Monetary donations, even small ones, will be appreciated. If you're a union member, consider taking an organized delegation from your workplace to the picket line.
  4. Fill out the online petition against Verizon and send it to friends.
This has the potential to be very politicizing in the context of the crisis and the recent debt "deal". If this fight starts to gain national attention it could open up space to articulate a critique of the politics of austerity. Of course, the Right will cite this as an attempt by "greedy" workers to ruin the poor helpless capitalists at Verizon who, let it be noted, are not only fabulously wealthy, but are also recipients of a massive federal bailout as well as huge tax rebates (see the SW.org article for details). Steve Early at In These Times describes the situation as follows:
Like General Electric, which just won givebacks from CWA and other unions, Verizon “isn’t under any financial stress,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The company reported $10.2 billion in profits in 2010 and its net income for the first half of this year was $6.9 billion. Over the past four years, Verizon earned nearly $20 billion for its shareholders (a record of profitably used to justify the $258 million spent on salaries, bonuses and stock options for just five of its top executives, including new CEO Lowell McAdam, during the same period).

And like GE, Verizon has pursued a systematic and long-term strategy of de-unionization. It has thwarted organizing at its fast-growing and hugely-profitable cellular subsidiary, Verizon Wireless, while steadily eliminating unionized jobs on the traditional landline side of its business.
Still, the anti-worker rhetoric from the Right is sure to continue in spite of the facts. But such nonsense about the "persecution" of wealthy capitalists is to be expected from the ruling class and its lackeys. The reality is that this fightback has the potential to inspire other workers to confront their employers as well:
A victory by Verizon would send a powerful message of encouragement to every other unionized employer seeking “contract relief,’’ based on balance sheets far less impressive than Verizon’s. In the majority of workplaces, where pay, benefits, and personnel policies can be changed unilaterally by management - without any prior discussion with affected employees - non-union employers would be similarly emboldened to lower their employment standards. On the other hand, if widespread labor and community support helps Verizon strikers maintain a model contract, all Massachusetts workers would have something to celebrate on Labor Day, for the first time in a long while.
It also has the capacity to open up a discussion about alternative means of resistance that aren't shackled to two-party straightjacket. As Steve Early and

The CWA has organized successful strikes against Verizon in 1983, 1986, 1989, 1998 and 2000. In 2000, Verizon workers struck for 18 days, costing the company about $40 million. Clearly this action has the ability to inflict damage. But Verizon has been slowly whittling away at its unionzed workforce for some time. The unionized workforce has shrunk from 75,000 to 45,000 since the last walkout. The non-unionzed workforce at Verizon is over 150,000, which could make it easier for Verizon to weather the storm this time around. We'll have to see how things turn out, but this much is certain: nothing will be gained without strong networks of solidarity within and without the union.

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