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Can you hear us now?

Verizon strikers fight for all workers

Published Aug 17, 2011 5:12 PM

CWA strikers and supporters leafleted at the first Philadelphia Eagles football game of the season Aug. 11.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

Boston School Bus Drivers Local 8751 joins the picket line Aug. 11.
WW photo

The heroic 45,000-strong strike against Verizon continues throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, as workers, including many women, African Americans and Latinos/as, rail against the corporate monolith’s fierce anti-union assault.

Picketers walk outside Verizon and Verizon Wireless offices, call centers, phone stores, garages and hundreds of workplaces from coast to coast. The lines are strong and growing. “Workers are being joined on the line by Communication Workers of America members from other companies and members of other unions as the battle continues to get the company to start bargaining seriously,” reports the CWA website.

CWA Local 9575 in Camarillo, Calif., which is picketing Verizon Wireless stores, reports widespread support and solidarity for the East Coast strike “from private and public sector union members, community and religious organizations, Verizon wireline and wireless customers, and thousands of others.” The union says United Postal Service drivers, letter carriers, caterers and trash haulers won’t cross picket lines. Passersby are bringing strikers food and water; and customers are asking how to help the strike. In one day, 15,000 people signed petitions demanding the company bargain in good faith.

Verizon insisted on 100 concessions from the workers during contract negotiations, stripping away 50 years of hard-won benefits. The CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represent the landline workers, called a strike on Aug. 7 after the contract expired. Strike votes were nearly unanimous.

When negotiations restarted on Aug. 10, Verizon hadn’t budged from the demands they made when talks began on June 22. Although proclaiming it must cut wages and benefits and outsource jobs to be “competitive” in a mostly nonunion industry, Verizon, unscathed by the recession, is one of the top 10 wealthiest U.S. corporations. The company earns $108 billion a year and $7 billion in profits. Verizon didn’t pay federal taxes last year — and even maneuvered a $1.3 billion tax rebate!

The corporation seeks even more profits by demanding $1 billion in concessions — $20,000 per worker per year — by gutting vital benefits.

Its aim to eliminate a paid holiday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also a right-wing jab at the Civil Rights Movement.

Workers say Verizon seeks to eliminate “middle-class” jobs and force them to accept rollbacks in wages and benefits to pre-union levels, similar to the paltry benefits of non-union employees in the wireless division — where Verizon has viciously fought union drives. Seeing the threat of Wal-Mart-type conditions, with no benefits or job security, workers were forced to strike since they had nothing to lose. They had to fight back.

Corporate war on unions

Corporations and their governmental representatives are waging a war on unions and their members. The collusion between the state and corporations has been seen in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey, where governors and state legislators passed laws undermining public sector unions and collective bargaining rights.

Now Verizon, a private corporation, is getting help from its class allies in state and city administrations, as it tries to do the same thing. Clearly, the state is a tool of the super-rich corporate owners; it’s not a neutral body. It’s anti-union. The courts and the police are antagonistic to the working class and will suppress their struggles to protect the interests of business owners and their property — unless a monumental workers’ struggle pushes them back.

The police, despite having their own unions, invariably act as agents for big business and put down workers’ struggles, even if their own families are on picket lines.

Verizon quickly got court injunctions in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware to undermine the picket lines and restrict strike activity. The New York injunction restricts pickets to six to 50 people in front of Verizon facilities or worksites. Mass picketing must be at least 25 feet from an entrance.

New York City billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped Verizon by assigning police to intimidate strikers and ensure that truckloads of management strikebreakers, many from out of state, get into their facilities. This is done at the expense of taxpayers — mostly workers — who pay cops’ salaries. It hasn’t cost Verizon a nickel.

However, the strikers are using creative tactics and organizing mobile pickets that move quickly to protest strikebreakers wherever they turn up. Text messaging and Twitter facilitate rapid communication among squads. This is strengthening the strike.

Strike solidarity growing

In the face of corporate-state collusion, what is key is the strength of the labor movement and the unity between public and private sector unions — and community support. That unity and class solidarity are developing.

Supporters are honking car horns, cheering and clapping at picket sites. Customers are turning away. Passersby are thanking picketers outside Verizon Wireless stores. There is a lot of public sympathy due to the vicious assault on the workers.

Additionally, members of many unions are joining picket lines, bolstering strikers’ morale, as labor leaders call for their members to support the strike. The 1.4 million-member Teamsters union told its UPS drivers not to cross picket lines to deliver to Verizon stores. They aren’t.

New York state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes calls for statewide union support and asks members to join picket lines. So has Civil Service Employees Association/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Danny Donohue. Hughes stresses, “We are ONE — together we will stand with our CWA and IBEW brothers and sisters fighting for a fair contract.” Donohue explained the importance of solidarity in “these difficult times.” (www.csealocal1000.org)

AFSCME District Council 37 is providing space in its nearby headquarters for strikers picketing a main New York City site so they can rest during breaks.

Teamsters, New York State United Teachers and CSEA/AFSCME members have rallied with Long Island, N.Y., picketers. Service Employees Local 32BJ joined CWA and IBEW strikers, other labor and community activists and clergy at a vigil opposing Verizon Chairperson Ivan Seidenberg.

Progressive educators, parents and community activists and unions have joined with CWA to object to New York City Department of Education awarding a $120 million contract to Verizon.

In Boston, the Boston School Bus Drivers, Steelworkers Local 8751 and community supporters are walking picket lines with IBEW Local 2222.

The AFL-CIO NOW blog cites the Missouri AFL-CIO: “The fight for Verizon workers is the fight for all of us,” in a statement publicizing a statewide rally in Creve Coeur, Mo.

This strike is critical. “If we let Verizon succeed, major corporations will be using it as a model for destroying the bargaining rights and living standards for all union members,” said CWA Local 9575 President Lisa Shafer. (cwa-union.org, Aug. 11)

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill said, “What we are seeing as this strike unfolds is the fruit of 30 years of unremitting class warfare waged by corporate America and their political allies. Solidarity is our foremost — indeed our only — weapon to fight back against those who would condemn us to a life of subservience.” (www.ibew.org, Aug. 13)

To get involved, sign petitions and find picket line locations, see www.cwa-union.org and www.ibew.org.