Workers Vanguard No. 1088
22 April 2016
Democrats Are No Friends of Labor
Victory to Verizon Strike!
APRIL 18—Picket lines went up at Verizon locations from Massachusetts to Virginia on April 13, as some 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) walked off the job after working without a contract since August. Verizon is demanding new health care and retirement concessions from the union. What has most enraged the workers is the company’s attacks on job security—threatening to close call centers and to outsource work to non-union contractors—and its demand to be able to transfer workers more than 35 miles from their current work location for months at a time. All working people in this country have a stake in this struggle. A victory by Verizon workers could be the spark to begin a real fightback against the one-sided class war waged by America’s capitalist bosses against workers.
This is the biggest strike in the U.S. since the last Verizon strike in 2011. Verizon is not just aiming to get more concessions from the workers. It wants to crush the unions and to gut Verizon’s unionized workforce altogether, overwhelmingly concentrated in the landline and FiOS broadband business. Since last July, Verizon has been training some 20,000 non-union employees to act as scabs. The contempt of the company for its workforce was exemplified on April 14 in Gaithersburg, Maryland, when a Verizon company lawyer hit two picketing CWA Local 2108 members with his Porsche, sending one to the hospital!
The telecommunications giant is geared up for war. But the workers are also determined to fight and win. Workers Vanguard salesmen have gone to the picket lines and rallies to express our support for the strike. Many workers told us that they had been itching to strike ever since their contract expired last year. They made clear that they didn’t want a repeat of what happened in 2011, when workers were sent back to their jobs by the union leadership without a contract.
These workers understand that without their unions they would be left at the mercy of a capitalist boss that wants to treat the workforce like slaves on a plantation. Verizon raked in some $39 billion in profits over the last three years and is hungry for more. Its heavily unionized wireline business is much less profitable than its wireless sector, which generates over 70 percent of the company’s total revenue. Verizon has received billions in government subsidies to expand its fiber-optic broadband service in the Northeast, but has stalled on doing so. Several striking workers told WV that the company is holding off on building out its profitable FiOS network because the workforce is unionized. Verizon wants to smash its unions so it can have a “flexible” workforce, akin to the 70,000 unorganized workers in its wireless section who get far lower wages and benefits.
While the strike has been solid among union members, managers and scabs have been able to work. It’s vital that the ranks of the CWA and IBEW be mobilized to build picket lines that no one dares cross. This is no easy task. Cops patrol picket locations and keep picketers in pens to ensure that managers and scabs can cross. When Verizon protested that Philadelphia pickets had prevented its managers from getting to work, a Court of Common Pleas judge promptly issued an injunction limiting pickets to only six spaced strikers per entrance.
In attacking the strike, the courts and cops are simply doing their job as defenders of the capitalist profit system against working people. The response of the labor movement must be to mobilize behind the Verizon strike. Strikers have garnered support from other unions. Teamsters drivers for UPS have received instructions not to cross Verizon picket lines to deliver packages. Unionized hotel workers honored CWA pickets at three New York City hotels and got Verizon’s scabs thrown out of the hotels. This kind of union solidarity points the way: what’s necessary is for the mass of the labor movement to come out on the streets and on the picket lines to shut Verizon’s operation down.
Many workers made clear to WV salesmen that they recognize the importance of unionizing Verizon’s wireless workers. Some expressed frustration about how difficult it is to organize these workers when those already unionized are under such constant attack. Others pointed to the nearly 80 workers organized in a half dozen Verizon Wireless stores in Brooklyn and at a store in Everett, Massachusetts. In addition, around 100 wireless technicians have joined the CWA. The company has refused to negotiate a contract with the wireless workers. The union should demand that its wireless workers get a decent contract as part of any strike settlement.
The retail workers have braved company intimidation to organize into the CWA, with one worker, Bianca Cunningham, fired for being one of the main organizers. The CWA has held rallies calling to “Bring Bianca Back!”; we join the union in demanding that she be reinstated immediately with full back pay! The CWA workers at the six Brooklyn stores are walking the picket lines alongside their union sisters and brothers in the wireline division.
This strike provides an opening for the unions to wage an all-out battle to organize all the wireless workers. Armed with the determination of the workforce, and backed by the rest of the labor movement, the unions can put Verizon on the defensive by launching a drive to organize the company’s unorganized workers.
Break with the Democrats!
Above all, in waging any struggle, workers must know who their friends and enemies are. The capitalist government and its politicians, including those who posture as the friends of working people, are the workers’ class enemies. It is hardly a coincidence that the union leadership timed the strike to coincide with the April primaries in New York and five other East Coast states. This move has certainly given the strike more visibility. Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, who was endorsed by the CWA in December, walked the picket line and expressed his support for the strikers, including during the April 14 Democratic debate. But a program of reliance on the Democrats is a losing one.
The pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy has long promoted a strategy of seeking to elect “friend of labor” Democrats who would enact laws in the interests of workers. In reality, this strategy has served to demobilize the power of the workers and their unions, resulting in one defeat after another and laying the basis for the decimation of the unions.
Last year, even before the CWA officially endorsed Sanders, the outgoing president of the union, Larry Cohen, became a senior campaign adviser for Sanders. For her part, Hillary Clinton also has had some photo ops on the Verizon lines, though her “support” for the strike has been far more muted than Sanders’s. Whatever his position on the strike, and notwithstanding his “democratic socialist” pretensions, Sanders is a capitalist politician committed to the maintenance and growth of American capitalism, a system necessarily based on brutal exploitation and racial oppression.
Several Verizon strikers explained to WV salesmen their support for Sanders by likening him to Franklin D. Roosevelt, with one worker asking, “Didn’t Roosevelt grant concessions?” In fact, FDR was forced to grant those concessions because of the tumultuous class battles of the early 1930s. The aim of Roosevelt’s reforms was to quell class struggle and to lull the workers into the belief that the government would protect their interests. The result was to tie the unions to the Democrats and to the capitalist state through labor boards and court arbitration.
Contrary to the mythology pushed by the union leaders, the Democratic Party is not “pro-labor,” but is in fact a capitalist party. Roosevelt himself used federal troops to break a strike of United Auto Workers members at North American Aviation in 1941 in Inglewood, California. During WWII the union misleaders agreed to a no-strike pledge with the government. When the United Mine Workers defiantly walked out during the war, FDR unsuccessfully sought to “outlaw” the coal strikes. The mother of anti-union legislation, the Taft-Hartley Act, was passed in 1947 with the support of a majority of Congressional Democrats. Taft-Hartley and similar anti-strike legislation have been used not only by Republican but also by Democratic Party presidents, from Truman to Carter to Clinton and Obama.
The mass industrial unions were built in the 1930s using such tactics as flying pickets, plant occupations, secondary labor boycotts and mass pickets that defied court rulings and the cops’ scabherding. These kinds of tactics should be utilized by the labor movement today. But to do this you need a union leadership that does not bow down to the bosses’ property “rights” and the capitalist state’s anti-labor laws. As we explain in our pamphlet, “Then and Now,” which has been distributed to Verizon picketers, the three strikes in 1934 that laid the basis for organizing the industrial unions were led by reds committed to the class struggle. In other words, the key is leadership.
At bottom, today’s union tops promote the lie that capitalism can be “fair” to working people. The CWA leadership has been promoting a letter sent last month by 20 Senators calling on Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam to “act as a responsible corporate citizen.” At the same time, the CWA has been calling on regulators to push Verizon to expand FiOS and other wireline services, seeking to ensure work for its members. But capitalism cannot be “fair” to working people. It is a system of production for profit, and that profit comes from the exploitation of the working class. While the capitalists talk of unions as “dinosaurs” of a bygone era, union-busting remains a multibillion-dollar industry, with more than 10,000 lawyers and consultants employed by firms dedicated to “union avoidance.” Verizon itself has used such firms to try to defeat the CWA’s attempt to organize workers at its wireless stores. The reason is simple: the weaker the unions, the lower the wages and benefits, the greater the profits.
No doubt, many workers are attracted to Sanders’s calls for free tuition, free medical care and a higher minimum wage. But the reality is that this is hot air. Such concessions will only be wrung from the bourgeoisie through class and social struggle. And whatever reforms the capitalists are compelled to grant, they will try to reverse. As the former slave and radical abolitionist Frederick Douglass put it, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Labor can beat back the capitalists’ assaults only by relying on its numbers, organization and class solidarity. But that necessary solidarity is undermined by the politics of the union tops. At an April 14 rally of over 500 workers who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, a CWA official ended his speech by declaring, “Keep jobs in America!” As we wrote after the 2011 strike was called off:
“Verizon’s strikebreaking efforts were ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ The scabs crossing the picket lines on the Atlantic seaboard were ‘fellow Americans.’ There is no question that Verizon and other corporations have used outsourcing as a way to weaken or bust the unions. But the answer is not the labor bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist chauvinism, which poisons workers’ consciousness by promoting the lie that workers in the U.S. share common interests with their red-white-and-blue exploiters.... A class-struggle labor leadership would support workers’ struggles internationally to organize into unions against the capitalists, of all flags.”
—“Union Tops Call Off Verizon Strike,” WV No. 985, 2 September 2011
It will be in the course of hard-fought class struggle that union militants will be able to forge a new, class-struggle leadership in the unions that stands for the complete independence of the working class from the capitalists’ government, parties and politicians. Forging such a leadership will be crucial in building a workers party that fights for a workers government, which would expropriate the capitalist class, including the telecommunications industry, and build a planned socialist economy. When those who labor rule, technological advances will not mean workers being thrown onto the scrap heap, but rather reduced workdays, higher pay, better working conditions and more leisure—a world where the wealth of society would be used for the benefit of all. Victory to the Verizon strike!