Workers Vanguard No. 1090
20 May 2016
Picket Lines Mean Dont Cross
Verizon Strike: Stop the Scabs!
MAY 16—Battle lines have hardened in the strike against Verizon by 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Five weeks into the strike, the largest in the U.S. since 2011, Verizon remains dead set on crushing the unions. At the bargaining table, the telecom giant, which is swimming in profits and hungry for more, refused to budge from its insistence on being able to reassign workers at will to locations far from their homes for up to two months, outsource work to non-union contractors and further gut the unionized workforce. Disgusted picketers told WV salesmen that, at the end of April, the company spent a cool half million to send its “last, best and final offer” via FedEx to every worker, bypassing the union bargaining committee.
As we go to press, at the urging of President Obama’s secretary of labor, Thomas Perez, the unions and company have agreed to resume bargaining. Workers must beware: these federal mediation efforts are not neutral but generally aimed at extracting concessions from unions.
We noted in “Victory to Verizon Strike!” (WV No. 1088, 22 April) that a key issue in the strike is to organize the workers in Verizon’s highly profitable wireless division. Around 100 wireless technicians are members of the CWA and 80 workers in wireless retail stores have joined the union, but the company is refusing to grant them a contract. But these are only a tiny fraction of the 70,000 wireless workers who remain overwhelmingly unorganized.
Verizon has been placing full-page ads for scab labor in big city newspapers and has brought in replacement contractors from down South. One such thug threatened Long Island picketers with a machete. Another drunk scab hit a striker in Massachusetts with his pickup truck. These strikebreakers are in addition to the scab army of 20,000 Verizon management and non-union workers that the company began training months before the strike began. Worse still, some unions are crossing picket lines, including members of IBEW Local 25, who are doing contract electrical work in several Verizon offices on Long Island.
Workers on the picket lines remain determined, despite having their health insurance coverage cut off by the company. Because Verizon has long avoided hiring new workers in unionized job titles, the core of those manning the picket lines are a highly skilled and experienced bunch. Some have two and even three strikes under their belts. Flying pickets are confronting scabs doing installations and repairs on the street.
CWA pickets at hotels, reinforced by Teamsters and honored by Hotel Trades Council members, have resulted in scabs being driven out of a dozen hotels, where they were not only being housed but also being dispatched for jobs. Last week, acting on a motion from Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal judge barred the CWA from any further picketing of six New York hotels. This underscores that the capitalist courts and government are on the side of the bosses.
De Blasio’s NYPD Scabherders
New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s professional scabherders, the NYPD, have been mobilized en masse to ensure that management and scabs can cross picket lines. In many locations, particularly in New York City, picketers are confined to police pens, and cops patrol the picket lines. On May 9, as the police were chauffeuring scabs through picket lines in front of the City View Inn in Long Island City, a cop driving a police van full of scabs plowed into a CWA member, sending him to the hospital. The cop then sped off, clipping a car in his rush to get away. Elsewhere, at a facility in Garden City, Long Island, local mounted police cleared a pathway for scabs through a picket line. The frustration of strikers, who carry placards bearing the slogan “Don’t Cross Our Picket Line,” is enormous when scabs stroll into their work locations.
The strikebreaking role of the cops has been an eye-opener for many strikers, who are fed the lie by trade union bureaucrats that cops are “union brothers.” A representative of the Court Officers Association was one of the speakers at the May 5 strike rally in Manhattan. In a Facebook posting, Michael Gendron, executive VP of CWA Local 1108, assured strikers that “the role of the police is to be impartial” and to “make sure that no one gets hurt.” No! The police are the armed thugs of the capitalist class. Class-conscious militants must fight for cops, prison guards and security guards to be thrown out of the unions—they’re not part of the labor movement.
At the start of the strike last month, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, competing in the New York Democratic presidential primary, visited the picket lines to mouth support for the strike. The use of the cops against strikers by the “progressive” de Blasio shows the true face of the Democratic Party. Deceptively promoted by union leaders as “friends of labor,” the Democrats are simply the other major party of U.S. capitalist rule.
It is necessary to build mass picket lines that scabs cannot cross. Mass pickets would inevitably pose a confrontation with the cops, courts and government. To win would require mobilizing allies of the phone workers on the streets and on the picket lines to shut Verizon’s operation down. All of labor has a stake in the outcome of this critical strike. A number of major unions have sent contingents to the picket lines, including 32BJ SEIU property services workers, TWU Local 100 transit workers and AFSCME DC 37 city workers. The president of UWUA Local 1-2 utility workers, whose members recently voted to authorize a strike against Con Edison, spoke at a strike rally. Teamster drivers for UPS have been instructed not to cross Verizon picket lines to deliver packages.
A major obstacle to building effective labor solidarity in action is the pro-capitalist union leadership. The great industrial unions were built through class-struggle methods such as mass pickets, sit-down strikes and secondary boycotts in the massive class battles of the 1930s and 1940s. (See our pamphlet Then and Now, which has sold well on the picket lines.) The trade union bureaucracy rarely takes a page from that union-building playbook these days. Instead, it prostrates itself before the anti-labor laws and pushes reliance on the capitalist government and its political parties, particularly the Democrats. We fight for the complete independence of the workers movement from the bourgeois state and the capitalist Republican and Democratic parties and for the forging of a class-struggle workers party.
Writing about the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, which were led by Trotskyist militants and which forged the Teamsters as a powerful industrial union, James P. Cannon, the founding leader of American Trotskyism, underscored the political program that underpinned that victory:
“The policy of the class struggle guided our comrades; they couldn’t be deceived and outmaneuvered, as so many strike leaders of that period were, by this mechanism of sabotage and destruction known as the National Labor Board and all its auxiliary setups. They put no reliance whatever in Roosevelt’s Labor Board; they weren’t fooled by any idea that Roosevelt, the liberal ‘friend of labor’ president, was going to help the truck drivers in Minneapolis....
“Our people didn’t believe in anybody or anything but the policy of the class struggle and the ability of the workers to prevail by their mass strength and solidarity.”
—James P. Cannon, The History of American Trotskyism (1944)
For International Labor Solidarity!
A big issue for labor in this strike has been Verizon’s outsourcing and offshoring of union work. Every trade unionist naturally opposes outsourcing to non-union outfits. However, for decades the union tops have responded to mass job losses and unemployment with calls for increased protectionism. The “save American jobs” chauvinism of the bureaucrats promotes the lie that workers in the U.S. have a common “national interest” with their exploiters. By blaming workers abroad for jobs lost in the U.S., it also serves to foment bigotry against Asian and Latino workers and to poison the possibility of international labor solidarity.
The prospects for such class solidarity across national borders were powerfully shown when call center workers in the Philippines doing contract work for Verizon contacted the CWA to express their solidarity with the current strike. The CWA leadership took the positive step of sending a delegation, which met up with representatives of call center employee network BIEN Philippines, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) union, and the international telecommunications union federation UNI. On May 11, the CWA delegation and these groups picketed a Verizon call center in Quezon City, in metropolitan Manila. Later, when the unionists visited a Verizon office southeast of Manila, they were chased and stopped by masked company security guards on motorcycles brandishing automatic weapons. These goons called in a police SWAT team who detained the unionists before eventually releasing them without charge. That same day, BIEN Philippines issued a statement calling on all Filipino call center workers to support the U.S. Verizon strikers and declaring that “their fight represents the global fight of workers for job security, decent working conditions and meaningful wage.”
The system of capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working masses by the bourgeoisie, who seek ever greater profits. In a socialist society, the billions that today go into the coffers of a handful of bankers and industrialists would be used to provide free mass transit; quality medical and elder care; quality, integrated education; decent, affordable housing and clean water for all. But to secure all of these things requires a workers revolution led by a multiracial workers party that overthrows the capitalist system and replaces it with an egalitarian socialist society internationally.