Friday, August 19, 2011

Verizon Strike Highlights Need for New Workers' Movement

Workers are getting public support, but this must be mobilised if they are to win
Global communications giant Verizon have made profits of more than $19 billion over the last four years - that's nearly two British pounds per person on the planet. All of that was created by the company's workforce, but instead found its way into the bloated bank accounts of executives and shareholders. That's not enough for them though, so Verizon are currently trying to extract the equivalent of $20,000 per US employee per year. In this effort, they are being assisted by the corporate media, the court system, the FBI, and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions.

The 45,000 American workers have been on strike for nearly two weeks, having not surprisingly rejected management's demands. As the strike has worn on, the government has aggressively intervened on the side of the company, imposing strict anti-strike injunctions to facilitate strikebreaking, and setting up an FBI investigation into alleged 'terrorist' sabotage of the Verizon networks.

It is instructive to examine the injunctions, and to see just how carefully calculated the attempt to force strikers into submission actually is. For instance, New York pickets are limited based on the number of scab workers on each site. A workplace with twenty-five strikebreakers can have only six pickets at any one time. Fifty strikebreakers can be met by ten pickets, et cetera. In Pennsylvania, all pickets are limited to six strikers, who must be fifteen feet from the door. More than this, "videotaping, photographing, or recording in any manner, the likeness of any individual at any worksite of any Verizon employee or contractor performing company work" is illegal. Neither the CWA nor the IBEW have raised a finger to dispute these injunctions, and have instructed strikers to follow them to the letter.

Last Friday, the FBI announced that it is investigating a "national security" issue, relating to possible "sabotage" by Verizon workers. Special Agent Bryan Travers declared that: "Because critical infrastructure has been affected, namely the telecommunications of both a hospital and a police department, the FBI is looking into this matter from a security standpoint as part of our security efforts leading up to the 9/11 anniversary."

As always, the strike has had moments of creativity and humour
Verizon workers immediately dismissed this as a slander, designed to reduce public sympathy. As a cable splicer in Fairfax, Virginia commented to the WSWS: "Of course they’ll say that. In reality the cables go down all the time, even on a good day like this. These are scare-tactics that Verizon is attempting to use." And a Pittsburgh employee added that: "I feel the company is feeding the media the reports on sabotage. They want to have a lot of negative publicity out there about us and try and make us look bad. We need to all stand together."

The company have attempted to put an abstract limitation on the strike, by setting a deadline of 31st August for workers to return, or face the immediate suspension of all health-related benefits. For their part, the union bureaucrats continue to offer their assistance to the company, stating that they will accept major concessions if Verizon "bargain fairly". As the company's artificial deadline approaches, workers can expect unions to do far more than "meeting [the company] halfway."

As always in industrial disputes, one cent taken off the compensation workers receive for their blood, sweat and tears would be an outrage, but as things stand the total will be far more than that. To have a chance of winning, Verizon employees must take charge of their own struggle by forming rank-and-file committees, and make the biggest possible appeal for the solidarity of the wider working class. Their interests are diametrically opposed to those of the union tops, and can only be defended by a total break from their control.
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