New York — The heat is on in this city of 8 million sweltering people. As temperatures soar into the 90s and above, utility workers are continuing to walk the picket lines on baking sidewalks, demanding that the giant Consolidated Edison company abandon its lockout of 8,500 members of Utility Workers Local 1-2 and negotiate with their union.
They are being joined by other union members who feel the heat of the war on labor. Teachers, hotel and service workers, plus jobless youth from Occupy Wall Street, are all helping to swell the daily demonstrations in front of Con Ed’s main offices.
This is a classic case of attempted union busting by a multibillion-dollar company that has a monopoly on delivering electricity and gas to millions of people in New York City and adjacent Westchester County.
Con Ed, which paid its top executives $17 million last year, had unilaterally announced it was steeply cutting its contributions to the workers’ health plan, as well as retirement benefits for new hires. This more than wiped out any pay increases offered, which amounted to just pennies anyway. UWUA Local 1-2 said this was unacceptable.
The company abruptly ended negotiations the minute the old contract expired at midnight on June 30. It then locked its doors to keep out the 8,500 Local 1-2 members. It has kept going since then with 5,000 “replacement workers” — scabs — mainly from management. Already, as the fourth heat wave of the summer hits the city, raising peak demand for electricity, the company’s refusal to deploy its experienced and skilled work force is causing rolling brownouts in some of the boroughs.
As a public utility, Con Ed is supposed to be regulated by the government and is required to deliver energy to the public. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (yes, the Bloomberg business media mogul) have allowed the company to lock out its union workers, thus risking power outages during a dangerous heat wave. These capitalist politicians claim they have no power to intervene, although Bloomberg was quick to flex his muscles last winter and order police to break up the OWS encampment after it organized marches on Wall Street.
As capitalism continues its slide toward greater crisis and unemployment, all caused by an irrational system whose built-in greed for profits is leading the bosses to grind down workers’ wages at a time of soaring productivity, the need for classwide worker solidarity is greater than ever. As reported in the last issue of WW, Egyptian workers feel this, too, and have sent messages of support to the Con Ed workers.
The spirit of Tahrir Square needs to be felt across the U.S. labor movement. That would turn the heat on the Con Ed bosses, where it belongs.