By Meghan Brophy
On Friday May 19, more than 40,000 AT&T Mobility workers in 36 states kicked off a three-day strike, and on each day of that strike, more than 200 DSAers were at 60 picket lines throughout the country.
This was not only one of the largest strikes of retail workers in U.S. history but the first strike at AT&T Mobility and the first large-scale strike in the wireless industry. Whether they work in retail, call centers, or as technicians, AT&T Mobility workers are represented by the Communication Workers of America (CWA).
For many DSA members, this was their first picket line. By walking the picket line and distributing flyers, our members were able to talk to customers about the issues raised by AT&T Mobility workers and encourage them not to shop in the stores.
The three-day strike took place during contract negotiations, which continue at this writing in late June. AT&T Mobility workers face rising healthcare costs and stagnant wages even as AT&T’s profits have risen. It is the tenth-largest company in the United States. Workers see the future in AT&T’s outsourcing of many call center jobs.
In New York City, DSA members joined workers at eight AT&T Mobility stores to picket throughout the weekend. Zack, a student at Hunter College and organizer with NYC Young Democratic Socialists, joined workers as they walked off the job Friday afternoon in Manhattan.
“Being able to go out on the picket line in solidarity with AT&T workers is exactly why I joined DSA,” he said. “That kind of direct action where we can show up and take a meaningful stand is so important. Being a socialist is not just about sitting in smoky bars arguing over Marx and Gramsci. We need real change, and that means real action.”
In Manchester, New Hampshire, DSA members stood with striking workers at their local store. “We’re not even in a union ourselves, but we all know the importance of literally standing with our fellow workers against capital,” said Paul Goodspeed, New Hampshire DSA. “Holding picket signs and standing with the CWA local was a simple, yet powerful, form of expressing solidarity.”
On the West Coast, the AT&T strikers served as inspiration for DSAers thinking about their own workplaces. “It felt really empowering for us in the East Bay DSA to be on the picket lines, both for those of us who are union members and for those who had little familiarity with strikes or unions,” said Robbie Nelson, East Bay DSA, “Going forward, I would like to see our chapter (and others across the country) develop rapid-response networks for strike support, in addition to supporting DSA members in unions and encouraging other members to organize their own workplaces.”
At several stores in different locations, striking workers pointed out to DSA allies the confusion of managers who were trying (and often failing) to figure out some of the sales software the workers use every day. By going on strike, even for three days, AT&T Mobility workers demonstrated how they, not the CEO and other top executives, make the stores run.
Since 1947, the use of strikes by labor has declined, as unions have had to become ever more creative in their opposition to exploitation. “No one thinks that a three-day strike will bring a company that makes over a billion dollars in profit a month to its knees,” said Zelig Stern, an organizer for CWA District 1, speaking as co-chair of NYC DSA. “Nevertheless, a clear message was sent: Mobility workers are ready to fight. They have the power to stop the flow of profit. AT&T management will have to listen to them. Although strikes may just deal with a specific employer, they are a glimpse of the kind of struggle we need on a larger scale to topple this system. It’s our job as socialists to help win each of those battles so that our class can win the war.”
|Meghan Brophy is a member of New York City DSA and Student-Worker Solidarity (USAS Local 12) at Barnard College.|
This article originally appeared in the Labor Day 2017 issue of Democratic Left magazine.
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