Workers Vanguard No. 985

2 September 2011


With Company Out for Blood

Union Tops Call Off Verizon Strike

After 15 days on strike at Verizon locations from Massachusetts to Virginia, some 45,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) were sent back to work by union officials on August 22 without a new contract. The work stoppage—the largest in the U.S. since the 2007 General Motors strike—pitted repair technicians, FiOS installers and call-center workers against a telecom giant out to squeeze them for $1 billion a year in concessions: health care, pensions, work rules, job security, sick leave, even the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Union workers showed their determination and readiness to fight, dogging scab installers and bosses masquerading as repair techs on their rounds. But just as installation and repair orders were beginning to pile up, the CWA and IBEW tops capitulated and called off the strike after buying Verizon’s empty promise that it would negotiate seriously—even though the company had not backed down on any of the issues in dispute.

In the midst of the strike, Verizon, which has made $19 billion in profits over the last four years alone, put out an ad sneering, “They claim we want to strip away 50 years of contract negotiations. THEY’RE RIGHT.” The company prepared for a showdown months in advance, including plans to fly in large numbers of management scabs. With Verizon out for blood, the CWA/IBEW bureaucrats, who were backed into a fight they did not want, folded at the first opportunity, to the bitter frustration of many workers.

For years, Verizon has maneuvered to isolate and weaken the CWA and IBEW. Mergers, acquisitions and the sales of operations, together with jobs lost to attrition and technological advances, have reduced the unionized workforce to 30 percent of the company, concentrated in FiOS fiber-optic and traditional copper landline services. A key reason the courts deregulated the old AT&T monopoly some three decades ago was to dismember its unionized workforce and open the door to non-union outfits. In recent years, Verizon’s non-union workforce has mushroomed, with over 83,000 in the Wireless division alone. The CWA and IBEW tops have relied on empty contractual promises from management, especially a “neutrality” clause supposedly assuring company non-interference in unionization efforts. Having agreed to “neutrality” in a 2000 strike settlement, Verizon has systematically harassed union supporters and closed union shops.

Failing to organize the legion of non-union workers in Verizon’s highly profitable Wireless division, the union bureaucrats during the strike mustered token pickets at Wireless stores. These pickets did not appeal to Wireless workers to join the strike but were aimed instead at mobilizing “public opinion” against the company. Even so, the CWA reported a flurry of calls from non-union workers wanting to join the union. There needs to be a class-struggle fight to organize the unorganized. Labor’s power resides in its collective organization and ability to cut off the flow of profits. The unions can defend themselves only by using their own weapons: mass picket lines, international labor solidarity actions, labor-based mobilizations for health care and other necessities.

Like all labor struggles, the Verizon strike laid bare the class line dividing society: the workers who are forced to sell their labor power in order to survive and the capitalists who reap fabulous profits from exploiting that labor. The CWA and IBEW misleaders undermined the strike by bowing to court injunctions limiting pickets and appealing to the false “friends” of labor in the capitalist Democratic Party to pressure Verizon management. Throughout the strike, the CWA/IBEW tops pitched the battle as a fight for “middle-class jobs,” obscuring the class line between labor and capital. What does a striking worker have in common with a middle-class management scab!

The AFL-CIO bureaucracy has long peddled the lie that any worker with a decent union wage is “middle class.” Now they’re really pushing it as Democratic Party politicians from the White House on down prate about saving “middle-class jobs” in the run-up to the 2012 elections. Even as the AFL-CIO gears up to re-elect Barack Obama, the White House is pushing for trillions in cuts to social programs for working people and the poor. Obama’s health care “reform” last year, with its taxes on “Cadillac” health plans held by union workers, meant that companies like Verizon would try to saddle their workers with the added costs. The Democratic Party accepts the unions’ money and staffers for its election campaigns. But the Democrats represent the capitalist class no less than the Republicans. They made this clear yet again during the strike when the Obama administration launched an FBI investigation against supposed “sabotage” of Verizon property by union members.

With scab management cars clipping and injuring union members on the picket lines, police—including special “anti-terror” units in New York City—escorted strikebreakers into work and arrested striking workers. The cops, embraced by the labor bureaucracy as “fellow unionists,” have no place in the labor movement! Verizon has issued over 100 disciplinary letters against strikers, barring them from returning to their jobs. All labor must demand: Drop all the charges! No reprisals—full amnesty for all strikers!

Faced with the outsourcing of call-center and troubleshooting jobs to the Philippines, Mexico and India, union officials pushed appeals to Verizon “to create good, American jobs.” Fact: 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. In February 2010, a call by the CWA for “California work for California workers” took on a chauvinist cast as work shifted across the border to Mexico. A class-struggle labor leadership would support workers’ struggles internationally to organize into unions against the capitalists, of all flags.

Crass flag-waving is hardly surprising coming from the CWA bureaucracy, which has long embraced the aims of U.S. imperialism. In particular, the CWA tops ran point for the imperialists in the Cold War against the Soviet Union by sponsoring and braintrusting the American Institute for Free Labor Development, which worked with the CIA to destroy militant, left-led unions, especially in Latin America.

As we wrote eight years ago, when Verizon workers were facing the exact same issues as today:

“Labor needs a leadership that understands that the ‘partnership’ of labor and capital is a lie, that stands for the complete independence of the working class from the capitalists’ government and political parties. Forging such a leadership through sharp class struggle will be a crucial step in building a workers party that fights for a workers government, which would expropriate the capitalist class and build a planned economy. When those who labor rule, technological advances would not mean workers being thrown onto the scrap heap but would mean reduced workdays, better working conditions and more leisure, and the wealth of society would be used for the benefit of all.”

—“Verizon: For a Solid Strike
to Stop Union-Busting!”
WV No. 807, 1 August 2003