Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Verizon Strike: A repeat of 2011?

Verizon workers last struck in 2011
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Here we go again.  Some 39,000 Verizon workers are expected to walk off the job today (April 13th) in response to the company’s aggressive attack on their living standards. This is a replay of the strike back in August 2011 it seems to me and I’m sure the outcome will not differ much from back then as the leaders of the unions representing Verizon workers, the CWA and IBEW have not changed their conciliatory approach to labor relations.

I was on the picket lines in the 2011 strike and followed it as best I could.  I am not clear on the outcome. Despite reports in the media about the size of the walk out and organized labor flexing its muscles, I am sure nothing much was gained, perhaps a slightly less concessionary deal that the labor hierarchy refers to as victories these days.

Back then we had the usual comments in the media from labor officials that are aimed at reassuring the bosses that they are open to concessions, just somewhat less aggressive ones. "We remain ready to meet with Verizon to work out a fair agreement, but at this point, we had no choice.'",  said the president of the IBEW local back then. 

The 2011strike that cost workers two weeks pay, demanded nothing other than that the bosses be nicer at the negotiating table, it was a strike to make them talk to them in a friendlier way. This useless strategy is incompetent at best and criminal at worst.
 “The ball is in Verizon’s court” Rolando Scott, the president of CWA Local 1109, said back then, “They have to let us know what is important to them. We are willing to negotiate on all items.”  This is a common excuse the labor hierarchy gives for the bosses’ aggression, it’s just a lack of communication on their part, an infantile idea if there ever was one. They made it clear in the media that they were willing to make concessions “willing” in this case means willing sell out their members.  The problem is that Verizon “hasn’t engaged in true bargaining yet” Scott added. Why would the employers fear a union with leadership like that?

In 2011 the issues were Verizon wanting to freeze pensions, “tie pay increases more closely to job performance, make it easier to fire employees for cause and require workers to contribute $100 or more a month toward health-plan premiums” the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the Associated Press, the issues are much the same five years later as the company wants to weaken job security, freeze pensions as well as cut health benefits, outsource jobs and increase workers commute time by closing call centers. I would hazard a guess that these centers are not unionized workplaces. It is the affect any cuts at the call centers might have on Verizon’s unionized workforce that concern labor officials Verizon also wants to eliminate a clause that curbs the employer’s ability to lay off workers.

Readers should read the reports I posted from the strike in 2011 on this blog. I also included a video with a dismal performance from a labor official. If the labor hierarchy were heads of corporations they’d have been fired long ago for failing to produce results.

When strikes like this occur, a strike in an important industry that has the potential to really cripple the economy and hurt the bosses in the pocket book, we see the organizers of them, the top labor officials in the unions concerned and at the AFL-CIO, rushing around ensuring the bosses in the media that they mean no harm and making it clear that they are willing to concede some of their member’s wages rights and benefits in the interest of labor peace.  There is never an attempt to bring the power of organized labor to the table or to link the struggles of working people in the workplaces to those in our communities or other social issues from fracking to racism and police abuse.

It’s all about middle class jobs. The issue is protecting jobs we are told, “their jobs”. Naturally, the 88% of American workers not in unions and lacking the wages and benefits that we still enjoy by comparison, have very little sympathy with us and more often than not, outright hostility. It’s not a strategy designed to build a wider mass movement that can challenge the power of the bosses. There is nothing the labor hierarchy fears more than a conscious, organized rank and file membership willing to fight back and willing to link the struggles of organized labor to all the other issues workers and the middle class are facing from the water crisis in Flint to the cuts in services, cost of education etc.

The CWA website claims the union has “…intensified their campaign to protect good jobs in America”, and that, “public support for a fair contract has grown”. It’s always a “fair” contract. This commits the leadership to nothing and we all know that what’s “fair” to the boss isn’t the same as what’s “fair’ to the worker. 

I don’t hold much hope for any positive result from this strike if it takes place today as there is nothing coming from the unions that would indicate anything has changed regarding strategy.  The negotiations have been going on for 8 months and the CWA website boasts that. “Last month 20 U.S. Senators sent a letter to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam calling on him to “act as a responsible corporate citizen and negotiate a fair contract with the employees who make your company’s success possible.” 

Wow! That will scare them.

There is no doubt about it; we are in a serious crisis in organized labor. It is not new, it has gone on for decades.  The labor leadership doesn’t even pretend any more but openly collaborates through their policies and lack of action in undermining the wages, benefits and rights of their members that have been won through a century or more of heroic struggle. We saw it in the recent refinery strike when the labor tops refused to shut down the industry in order not to hurt it. For the labor hierarchy too, profits come first.

Meanwhile Verizon bosses have been are aggressively preparing for this moment. A Verizon spokesperson said yesterday that the company has been preparing for the possibility of a strike for over a year and has trained thousand of workers as scabs. Has the union had a response to that? I would doubt it. Verizon also has a system set in motion to get its employees from around the country to the strike if they're needed..

Other than getting 20 Senators to write a letter asking the Verizon CEO whose company has made $39 billion in profits over the last three years according to the CWA , we can bet the strategists in the unions have done nothing.  Why have we just heard about this?  We hear about these strikes as they appear not as they develop over time and then they go away after the defeat and that’s the end of it.  The union officialdom has not spent the year or the time since the last strike preparing for victory at all a long as the dues money keeps coming in.

We will most likely see another step backwards here but we don’t have to. The Policies of the leadership are the reason the bosses have had such an easy time of it, but the members have a responsibility too and so do those activists in locals who claim they want to make changes, want to win a better life and better contracts for their members.

Their responsibilities include recognizing that not only can we not continue to passively sit by as we sink deeper in to the abyss, we cannot win unless we accept that we have to do something different. We have to build fighting opposition caucuses in our locals and spread these committees linking up with other locals as well as community organizations and any other community groupings fighting austerity and the capitalist offensive. We have to build links internationally in idustries that are international. Caterpillar for instance earns most of its profits outside the US. We have to challenge and replace the present leadership through these formations.

We have to recognize that we are in a war and that only a broad united direct action movement linking organized labor with this movement is what will turn the tide. We are not just in a war with the bosses. We cannot claim to represent a serious change without recognizing we will inevitably be drawn in to a conflict with the resent leadership and must engage this conflict openly and with a different plan of action and a strategy for winning it.

From the 2011 strike:

From 2012

We can see in this video from the CWA that nothing has changed. There have been so many videos like this form the union hierarchy.  It explains nothing. it puts forward no plan, no strategy and no real demands at all, just a plea to the public to have sympathy with us because it'll hurt "my" family and "my" children's future. It's not as bad as the inflated rat but not much better. It does not inspire, it's not supposed to.   The rank and file of organized labor is the force that can stop this. But it it means a fight and a more complicated than the one against the boss. it means an internal struggle. No one likes a fight, we all want a peaceful life. But the bosses won't let you have a peaceful life. We have no choice but to fight.

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