Who’s Gonna Stay Out One Day Longer?
This post is part of the “Marks of Capital” weekly column, which provides reporting, commentary, and analysis on stories related to labor, workers rights, and union politics.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown is a unique part of the city. It’s really the only place in town where most things aren’t written in English. Everything is in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, or some other East Asian language, except for one building, 900 Race Street. 900 Race Street is an ugly building. It’s not the kind of structure you’d ever want to look at if you didn’t have to, and seems really out of place in its spot across the street from a Vietnamese restaurant . This is because 900 Race Street is the former headquarters of Bell Atlantic, a spin-off of the late Bell Monopoly. Bell has a long a storied past, most if it pretty bad, which is why nowadays Bell Atlantic calls itself Verizon. But just like the Bell Atlantic of 1989, the Verizon of 2011 has proven itself a mortal enemy of the working-class. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a corporation by any other name will be just as evil.
The two major unions that represent Verizon’s employees, the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, came into contract negotiations this year with about the most safe request possible: that nothing change. All labor asked for was that the contract be renewed, not exactly a revolutionary manifesto. Verizon, however, just couldn’t let things end that easily, so the bosses insisted on what has become a depressingly familiar list of demands: a two-tier pension that freezes current workers and leaves out new hires, taking more out of workers’ paychecks for health care AND increasing the frequency of premiums, and putting wage increases under the control of coordinators. Because as anyone who’s ever worked with a manager over their shoulder knows, supervisors are infallible.
If there was any doubt that capital was negotiating in bad faith, Verizon made it clear that its outrageous demands weren’t just a starting point for a hard bargain, they were the only contract the bosses would accept. So, quite naturally, when the contract expired the CWA and IBEW voted to strike.
To learn more about the strike, you can check out my friend Carlos’ post on the struggle. I can’t detail it much better myself. But there have been developments since then, and they are pretty major. In perhaps the most shocking and aggressive move we’ve seen from Verizon so far, the capitalists have scheduled workers to lose their health care at the end of the month. This, combined with threats to run people over, a horrifying ultimatum for all of us that remember the murder of Gerry Horgan, spells trouble. Actually, it doesn’t just spell trouble, it screams trouble from the rooftops, in the form of blunt intimidation.
That’s why it was so encouraging to see the massive turnout for Friday’s rally outside of 900 Race today. The street was packed with workers from not just the CWA and IBEW, but also UNITE HERE!, AFSCME, SIU, Jobs With Justice, and the IWW, among other organizations. And the inflatable rat was huge!
Despite the aggression Verizon is bringing down upon its workers, most of the union bureaucrats spent time with conservative talking points about the “middle-class” and a “balanced approach,” as if capital has any interest in balance. But my experience talking to workers at the rally gave quite a different take on how Verizon’s workers are feeling.
When I asked if they thought Verizon would agree to a balanced compromise, most workers at the rally responded with laughter. One CWA activist told me that he thought that Verizon was looking for a balanced contract, namely one balanced “on our backs.” When I asked what they thought about the unions’ concession offers, I was met with more frustration than a willingness to give in to the bosses. Another CWA member named Malia questioned the whole point of concessions this early in the struggle at all, asking “if we gave up enough to get Verizon to like [the contract], how could it be fair? They won’t give up anything.”
I was met with a similarly insightful sentiment when I asked people at the rally if they identified themselves more as middle-class or working-class. Out of the 50 I asked, 46 said they thought of themselves as members of the working-class over the middle-class. One IBEW member by the name of Brandon told me “they keep talking about this middle-class. Now, I don’t know who they’re talking about there, but it sure as fuck ain’t me.”
Despite the disconnect between the crowd and the speakers on those subjects, there was an inspiring moment of solidarity and strength shown when the last speaker asked the workers how long they were willing to stay out on strike, they all simultaneously looked up at 900 Race and began to chant “ONE DAY LONGER!”
We can only hope.
Wait, who am I kidding, we can do way more than that! If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, check out this map to see if there are pickets in your area.
If you want to show support, go to the picket closest to you, tell the workers that you’re there in solidarity and want to join the picket line, and pick up a sign. Stay for at least an hour, and wear red.
If you’re a Verizon customer, contact Verizon and tell them that if they don’t concede to all of the workers’ demands you plan on cancelling your service with them. Even if you have no intention of cancelling it at all, still tell them you will. They’re keeping track of that stuff.
If you want to go a bit farther than that and actually block scabs though, email me at Shields@iww.org for legal advice.
Dare to struggle, dare to win my friends.