Sunday, August 28, 2011

Verizon strikers end action, remain vigilant

From: Workers World

Published Aug 24, 2011 2:32 PM

The 45,000-strong, two-week strike of Verizon workers in nine states along the East Coast and mid-Atlantic regions is over. For now.

The militant strikers have pushed the corporation back to the bargaining table. They had walked off their jobs on Aug. 7 after their contract expired and Verizon refused to negotiate. The company would not budge on its demands for 100 concessions from its unionized workforce. That Verizon would agree to bargain shows the effectiveness and strength of the strike, although the fight is far from over.

On Aug. 19, the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — which represent workers in the landline division and new FiOS Internet and cable operations — reached an agreement with Verizon Communications to resume and restructure negotiations to focus on key issues.

The next day, the two unions announced that striking CWA and IBEW members would return to work on Aug. 23, and — in what is clearly a concrete gain for the workers — the old contract would be back in force indefinitely, until there is a settlement with a “fair” contract. There would be no cuts now in pensions or sick days, no imposition of higher health insurance costs and no loss of job security.

However, union leaders have made it clear that they are not ruling out the right to strike again if it becomes necessary to do so.

The union leadership says that the corporation agreed to discuss the givebacks, which it was trying to ram down workers’ throats. The profit-hungry conglomerate seeks to wrench $1 billion — or $20,000 per worker per year — in concessions from its unionized workforce. Though it cries crocodile tears that it must cut back — or rather, its workers must cut back — to be “competitive” or because of the economic downturn, the real story is that its net income was nearly $14 billion last year, says Morgan Stanley, and it recently gave $10 billion to its shareholders.

The strike showed that the Verizon workers will not submit to the company’s aggressive assault on their wages, benefits and job security without a fight. Their very standard of living and that of their families is at stake. They courageously showed they will not be cowed by a global conglomerate which unleashed not only an all-out war on their hard-fought gains, but also aimed to weaken, if not eliminate, their unions’ collective bargaining rights.

In a boost to the labor movement, and to all workers at a time of corporate and government attacks on workers’ rights to unionize and bargain collectively, they stood up, took bold action and fought back. They showed the strength of the working class, and used its most powerful weapon — the withholding of their labor power.

Their actions could even be a catalyst for other workers, in the public or private sector, to do the same.

The end of the strike may be temporary, however. Already, Verizon executives are publicly criticizing the unions and backtracking on their agreement. Union leaders are adamant that they will fight hard when necessary if Verizon distorts the agreement, and tries to smear and bully the unions. They know this fight is not over.

There are different dynamics now than existed a month ago. The form of the class struggle has changed since the strike. The workers feel the strength of the strike and their own collective power, which they are bringing back to the offices and the plants. They also are bringing solidarity to their workplaces.

They have a spirit of fightback. By their militant actions and defiance, they are telling Verizon officials to “back off.”

National strike support

The unions organized a strong strike. CWA reports 350 picket lines outside Verizon offices and stores, spanning areas from New England to the mid-Atlantic, along the East Coast to Florida, to the Midwest and even to the West Coast. CWA members outside the strike region showed solidarity by picketing Verizon Wireless stores.

Support was demonstrated by public and private sector unions, propelled by pressure from their memberships, who were in solidarity with the strikers.

United Parcel Workers, as directed by the Teamsters leadership, did not cross picket lines to deliver to Verizon stores. Letter carriers, sanitation workers and other union members honored the lines, too.

Many labor federations and unions joined the picketers and called for members to assist them. The Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO website reports that its president, Jos Williams, congratulated the strikers, “who bravely held the line for working people.” He promised that if necessary, “We stand ready, willing and able to walk the line with them again.”

Community support grew, along with outrage at Verizon’s vicious, anti-worker demands. More than 150,000 petition signers called on the company to bargain in good faith.

Union leaders laud the tremendous amount of strike solidarity demonstrated on picket lines all over the country. The CWA says that tens of thousands from coast to coast — working families, unions, students, progressive groups, civil rights and community organizations, religious leaders and even public officials — joined the union members’ fight in hundreds of supporting events.

The United Auto Workers urged its members to leaflet and picket Verizon Wireless stores. “In San Francisco, members of HERE, ILWU, OPEIU,” says the CWA, joined with Jobs with Justice and the BlueGreen Alliance to rally for the strikers.

Showing class solidarity, 3,000 delegates to a recent Steelworkers union convention in Las Vegas cheered CWA District 9 vice president Jim Weigkamp when he said, “You cannot be spectators,” and called for them to join the struggle.

The strike affected the corporation. Verizon’s plan to replace well-trained and experienced workers with management strikebreakers didn’t work out so well. Customers, especially businesses, were angry about terrible service, with long waits for repairs or installations. The IBEW reports the lack of safety equipment or checks, as the corporation used thousands of untrained “replacement workers and managers.”

Verizon was testing to see if it could break the strike. It couldn’t. Even right before the agreement, the company notified strikers that their health insurance would be severed by the end of August.

Because the fight is far from over, the communication workers’ unions are urgently calling for continuing mass support and strong pressure on the corporation.

Unionized private and public sector workers know that they face a continuing corporate onslaught. They see the Verizon workers as standing up for all workers to stop “the race to the bottom.” Although corporations are watching to see what Verizon achieves here, the workers are watching, too.

The strike support from union members and other working people, is a big step in the development of class solidarity and bodes well for future struggles, which are sure to unfold as workers oppose the corporate/government anti-labor, anti-union siege.

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