New York – The campaign in the labor movement to build strong solidarity with the locked-out Con Edison workers had a good start July 17 in Union Square. Scores of unions and around 5,000 workers came out to protest Con Ed’s callous and aggressive lockout, which threatens every worker in New York, unionized or not.
Con Ed supplies electricity, gas and steam to 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County. It had $1 billion in profits last year and has made $5.9 billion since 2008, without paying any income taxes. It admitted in a report to the New York state utility commission, “For 2011, 2010 and 2009, the Companies had no current federal income tax liability.” It managed to get a $236 million tax refund in 2011.
It locked out its 8,500 unionized workers on July 1, and replaced them with administrators, retirees and scabs (strikebreakers) from Virginia and Alabama, according to John Melia, spokesperson for Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, which represents the locked-out workers. Michael H. LeRoy, in an article in the Washington University Law Review (1996), makes the point that replacement lockouts have been very effective in breaking unions.
The speeches that were given at the Union Square rally all recognized that this lockout was an attack on Local 1-2 as a union, not just an attempt to get a concessionary contract that would let Con Ed make more profits.
Militant talks receive good response
State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento opened the rally, raising the chant, “We are all one!” and UWUA Local 1-2 President Harry Farrell closed it. The more militant speeches from union leaders who directly attacked the 1%, greedy banks, and Wall Street speculators and their frauds and manipulations, drew the most positive reaction from the crowd of union militants on a brutally hot day.
Chris Shelton, Communications Workers vice president, who is attempting to win a contract from Verizon, another highly profitable, bitterly anti-union company, gave perhaps the most militant speech. He said: “There is an ill wind blowing across our country, and that wind reeks of the stench of corporate greed and the political expediency that allows corporate greed. What these sons of b- – – – – s are trying to do to you, brothers and sisters, and what they’re trying to do to my members at the bargaining table, is much bigger than trying to steal your wages and your benefits. What they’re trying to do is steal your democracy.”
Service Employees Local 32BJ, which represents the low-paid cleaning and housekeeping jobs at Con Ed, has been organizing for July 24 as a “Day for Low Paid Workers” for some months. Transit Workers Local 100, which represents bus and subway workers in New York, has been trying to negotiate a new contract and wanted to hold a demonstration on the same day. Both Local 32BJ and TWU Local 100 came out to support Local 1-2 on July 17.
What these three unions worked out for July 24 is that the TWU will participate in the march to Union Square and the rally there, and then march to the Local 1-2 picket line at the Con Ed headquarters a few blocks away. The Transit Workers will then take the subway to their rally.
The solidarity necessary to smash the big companies’ attempts to smash unions is growing in New York City.