|NYC DSAers Support Striking Workers at Verizon|
The strike this past spring by 39,000 Verizon workers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast was the largest and most significant since United Parcel Service workers struck the package giant in 1997. After decades of retreat in the face of attacks by employers and right-wing politicians, it’s a hopeful sign.
Verizon infuriated landline and call-center workers from Massachusetts to Virginia with demands to outsource more jobs, cap pension contributions at 30 years of service, and force workers to live away from home for months at a time.
After 45 days on the picket lines, the unions beat back these concessions. In the end, Verizon committed to adding 1,300 more jobs in the United States, doing away with a hated disciplinary program, and phasing in 10.5% raises over four years. Although the unions still took a hit on healthcare, workers emerged feeling that they had achieved an overwhelming victory against a corporate behemoth.
What made this strike succeed, at a time when strikes are at an all-time low, with most unions hesitant to walk out for fear of suffering a crippling defeat? (There were just 12 work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers in 2015, versus an average of 300 a year between 1947 and 1979.)
First, skilled workers in vital infrastructure such as telecommunications still have some power. Managers and scab replacement workers proved unable to maintain Verizon’s network or install FiOS. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam was forced to admit the strike’s impact on the company’s bottom line, with analysts estimating that the strike cost the company $200 million in profits.
Second, the timing was right. Bernie Sanders’s campaign gave the strike more publicity, boosted strikers’ confidence, and framed the strike as a clear battle against corporate greed. “We should remind ourselves never to call a strike again unless it’s one week before a competitive New York state primary in which a socialist is running,” joked CWA’s Bob Master, a key architect of the strike, in the Progressive.
One hundred and fifty strikers were given front row seats to Sanders’s Manhattan rally on day one of the strike, and Sanders repeatedly called out Verizon’s $1.8 billion in profits a month and McAdam’s $18 million salary. With corporate greed in the news, union members kept up relentless and public pressure on the company, picketing (and being arrested at) a shareholder meeting and organizing demonstrations against scabs and company executives.
Third, with Verizon Wireless retail workers on strike at seven stores in Brooklyn, New York, and Everett, Massachusetts, the union picketed Wireless stores across the entire United States, affecting sales and raising concerns among investors about longer-term damage to the company’s brand. Workers at the struck stores—who voted to join CWA in 2014 but had been stymied by management—won their first contract and, it is hoped, paved the way toward organizing more Wireless workers in the futureSolidarity was key. Workers told me they’d never felt such an outpouring of community support. “You don’t feel like you’re alone,” said Dennis Dunn, chief steward with CWA Local 1108 on Long Island. “We had bagels delivered almost daily on the picket line, pizza from other unions, contributions from retirees. . . . It helps when you don’t have people driving by yelling, ‘Get a job! Go back to work!’”
That support included the many groups—among them many locals and organizing committees of DSA—that answered CWA’s call to “adopt a Wireless store” to picket. The eagerness of DSAers to organize pickets at stores shows a solid understanding of socialists’ role in a struggle like this. Above all else, it’s to help the strikers win.
In New York, our recently established Labor Branch formed the backbone of the Verizon Strike Solidarity Committee (alongside the International Socialist Organization). We reached out to numerous local unions and community organizations who adopted stores for picketing, in addition to the pickets organized by our Brooklyn branch.
Many of our younger members said this was their first time on a picket line. It certainly won’t be their last. There’s no doubt that Corporate America will continue its decades-long war on workers. But, as our strike solidarity committee T-shirts said, “A victory for one is a victory for all.” The win at Verizon should boost all workers’ confidence in their own power. And DSAers should be proud that we played a part, and be ready to play an even bigger role in future struggles.
Dan DiMaggio is the assistant editor of Labor Notes and a member of the Brooklyn Branch and Labor Branch of NYC DSA. The opinions expressed here are his own. To read more of his coverage on the strike, visit labornotes.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Labor Day 2016 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
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