[Marxism] Socialist Worker on Verizon Pickets

Dan Russell proletariandan at gmail.com
Mon Aug 8 09:22:24 MDT 2011


SOME 45,000 workers at Verizon are on strike across the Northeast, from
Massachusetts to Virginia, in one of the largest labor actions in years.
Union members are taking a stand against a company that, despite huge
profits, is demanding ever more concessions from workers.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) walked out August 7 after voting
overwhelmingly--including 91 percent of CWA members--to authorize a strike.
The workers are technicians and customer support employees in Verizon's wire
lines division, which provides Internet and land phone lines to homes and
businesses in the Northeast.

The telecommunications giant is attempting to strip its employees of
benefits the union workforce has successfully fought for over the years,
including the imposition of 25 percent of health care costs onto workers who
have paid nothing until now; the elimination of traditional pensions; and
the weakening of job security.

As workers got ready to start picketing at the midnight contract deadline,
there was a sea of red T-shirts in Providence, R.I., with 200 members and
supporters of IBEW Local 2323 turning out. At midnight as the strike began,
up went a chant of "Protest corporate greed!" Another striker yelled,
"Everybody ready for this war--no givebacks!"

The same spirit was displayed across the Northeast. According to reports
from picket lines up and down the East Coast, workers are ready to send a
message to Verizon. "We give our whole life to this company, and this is
what we get?" demanded one worker. Another added, "Screw this company--we're
going to take it to them!"

"It's not just about us," said Chris Germershausen, a member of CWA Local
1101 who was on the picket line at Verizon's headquarters in downtown
Manhattan. "If they get us to give in, they'll go after construction workers
next, iron workers, everybody. Corporations will run everything. We can't
let that happen."

Verizon is in no position to cry poverty. Verizon's top five executives
collected a combined $258 million in salaries, bonuses and stock options
over the last four years, during which time the company made nearly $20
billion--$10 billion in 2010 alone. This year, Verizon received a federal
tax rebate of $1.3 billion. That's after a $1.5 billion federal bailout in
2008 <http://www.businessinsider.com/verizon-bailout-2010-12>.

Yet despite its high profits and lavish executive salaries, Verizon is
proposing nothing but concessions for workers. As an April 6 CWA statement
"Even at the 11th hour, as contracts were set to expire, Verizon continued
to seek to strip away 50 years of collective bargaining gains for
middle-class workers and their families. Following the game plan of
Wisconsin, Verizon is trying to destroy the collective bargaining process by
refusing to engage seriously on the issues."

Company demands include:

-- Gutting job security provisions;

-- Freezing pensions for current workers and eliminating them for future

-- Replacing current high-quality health care plan with a high-deductible
plan requiring thousands of dollars in premium cost-sharing;

-- Eliminating accident disability benefits and slashing sickness disability

-- Contracting out work to low-wage contractors, including outsourcing jobs

-- Cutting paid holidays down to seven, including eliminating Martin Luther
King Day and Veteran's Day;

-- Reducing annual paid sick days to no more than five, with none at all for
employees with fewer than two years of seniority.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

CWA AND IBEW members have organized successful walkouts in previous
years--in 1983, 1986, 1989, 1998 and 2004--effectively pushing back against
aggressive demands for concessions.

But over the last decade, Verizon management has conducted a relentless
campaign to chip away at union jobs by building up nonunion subsidiaries.
Verizon has not only been outsourcing work to Mexico and the Philippines,
but also hiring non-union labor within the U.S., at dramatically lower

Since 2003, the union workforce of the East Coast unit of Verizon has shrunk
from 75,000 to 45,000 as a result of buyouts, attrition and job cuts. At the
same time, the non-union workforce at Verizon has grown to 135,000.

The day after their overwhelming strike vote, 20,000 CWA members and
supporters--along with IBEW members who authorized a strike in July--turned
out for a massive rally at Verizon's corporate headquarters in Manhattan.
Their message: "We won't go back!"

"We don't want to give up what we fought for over the years," said Lila, who
works for Verizon as a technician in Syracuse, N.Y., "We have to organize to
make our lives better. Corporate America doesn't give a fuck about us."
T-shirts at the rally featured a python and read, "Will Strike If Provoked."
Verizon has certainly provoked the workers to strike.

It's clear that members are determined to take a stand, but as former CWA
representative and labor journalist Steve Early noted in a recent
they face several challenges:

Over the past two decades, due to automation, Verizon has developed far
greater capacity to weather a conventional walkout by utilizing management
personnel, and, most importantly, the parallel workforce provided by its
135,000 nonunion employees and extensive network of contract call centers.

Verizon also issued a statement claiming that it has "trained tens of
thousands of management employees, retirees and others to fill the roles and
responsibilities of its union-represented wireline workers."

Meanwhile, the current showdown with Verizon comes on the heals of major
concessions in contract negotiations with General
which the CWA along with other unions agreed to a sharp rise in the amount
employees pay for health care and the elimination of pensions for new hires.

So Verizon workers are facing a tough fight. But this assault is also taking
place in the midst of growing bitterness and anger at the demands of the
business and political establishment that working people--from teachers and
public-sector workers to the labor movement in private industry--bear the
brunt of the economic crisis.

If union members at Verizon succeed in challenging the attack on their
living standards, it would be an important step toward reversing the trend
of corporations using the recession to force concessions and a major victory
for those who hope to rebuild the labor movement. CWA and IBEW members
walking the picket line today deserve all the support we can give them.

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