Yves here. The tone of this piece is a tad polemical, which may put some readers off, but the underlying point is worth considering. Basic worker protections, such as safety standards, minimum wages, rules against child labor, didn’t come about because business owners offered them but because workers demanded and fought for them.
By Dave Stratman, author of We CAN Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life who also writes at NewDemocracyWorld
They’ve been out now for two long weeks. Hard weeks. Their savings are running out. Mortgages are a concern. Verizon threatens to cut off health care benefits for strikers’ families on August 31.
Billionaire Warren Buffett said, “There is a class war in this country, and my class is winning.” These 45,000 Verizon employees, members of the CWA and IBEW, are on the front lines of the class war. They are fighting for us all.
Verizon’s demands for concessions from its workers are part of the relentless attack that corporations and the government have waged on working people for the last forty years. Verizon is trying to set the clock back before the 1960s and early ‘70s, when workers won new benefits on a rising tide of militancy. Millions of ordinary people in those years challenged the powerful and demanded racial and social equality, an end to savage wars, and real democracy.
In response, the rulers went on the counter-attack. The government gave corporations tax breaks to ship millions of jobs overseas or to automate them out of existence. It slashed support for housing and unemployment and welfare and jobs programs. Corporations wiped out millions of pensions. Strikes were betrayed or crushed. In a multitude of ways people’s lives were made less secure. The result? In the years since 1972, profits, productivity and inequality have soared, while wages and benefits have plummeted.
A great deal is at stake in this strike, perhaps more than most people understand. It is not just about health care and other issues on the table, important as these are. This strike is part of a larger class war about the role of working people in society. It is about what values should shape our society and who should control it. Do we want a society based on greed and competition and inequality? Or do we want a land of solidarity and equality for all? Do we want a dictatorship of the rich or real democracy?
The strikers need to explain far and wide the meaning of their strike as part of the class war, and they need to go on the offensive. What can they do? Three things:
1) Extend the strike in any ways possible to other Verizon employees and to other workers, whatever their trades, on the Eastern seaboard and nationwide. Millions of workers support the Verizon strikers. Encourage them to take whatever solidarity action against their own employers that they can.
2) Mobilize 45,000 strikers to reach out with handbills, speaker teams, media, whatever, to every union local, every community group, to workers everywhere, to explain the meaning of their struggle: “Our strike is part of a class war over the future of society–what values will shape it and who will control it: the exploiters and billionaires or the working class. We are all in this together. We need to build a movement of all working people to win this war—to overthrow the dictatorship of the rich and create a real democracy. Join us!”
3) Organize a solidarity movement–not a top-down movement hemmed in by union structures and officials, but a worker-to-worker, bottom-up movement independent of the unions—that reaches out to union and non-union workers, employed and unemployed, U.S-born and immigrant, here in the U.S. and in other countries, and declares its goal to be to win the class war. The unions can’t do this. Their goal is to negotiate a truce in the class war—a contract—not to win it.
Nothing would frighten Verizon or the ruling elite more than seeing 45,000 workers reaching out to other workers with this message. Nothing would give the strikers more strength than to begin to express what their strike is really about: it’s about what it means to be a human being. Nothing would encourage other workers more to join the strikers’ struggle than a call to end this rule by the rich and create an equal and democratic society.
The Verizon struggle is one battle in a long war. Success in the struggle will not be measured only by the next contract. It will be measured by whether the strikers emerge strengthened from the strike and better able to wage the continuing struggle. This is what their strike strategy should aim for.
They’re right about the unions. The unions are the pigs running the farm now – large and indistinguishable from the owners.
“The unions are the pigs running the farm now – large and indistinguishable from the owners.”
Except by the size of their paychecks.
I am not and never have been a die hard union fan, always describing myself as someone with mixed feelings about unions. I have never belonged to a union or particularly wanted to. And I can happily name plenty of union abuses, particularly with regards to work rules.
Nevertheless I occasionally indulge in something called “thinking”, instead of being a mindless knee jerk. What these people want is entirely reasonable. Verizon is a profitable company that just wants to squeeze these people. The unions are just asking to keep what they have, not get some outrageous increases.
If Verizon owners are really concerned that excessive labor costs will make them unprofitable, then tell them to start by cutting the highest cost labor first and foremost. In most companies the highest paid labor has a position called “CEO”. That’s right, fancy three letter types are labor – the capital is the owners (sometimes called shareholders). Cut that guy’s total compensation by 20% and then the rank and file can take a 10% cut. Lead from the front. Sounds reasonable, no?
I am so glad I have a face to put to a name for a change. Pigs you say. It is interesting that unions are compared to those running the farm. What of those who own the farm? The reference to ANIMAL FARM is cute, if that is what you intended. Unfortunately for you, in your youth, you will live to see the tremendous falling off of the US and the West in general. It is clear to me how little substance there is to the character of so many young activists who main strength is their keyboarding skills. This will not help you survive the chaos, that we are only beginning to witness in the terminal phases of capitalism.
But the unions as you may have seen, have been the only group to extract any material benefits from DC in the form of bailouts during this crisis. The rights of capital in the form of share holders, bond holders, and even the petit bougeoisies auto dealer agencies, went out the window, but union benefits in the form of health care and pension funds were placed beyond reach of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.
The lessons of unionism are clear, as people are little more than calculable human capital, an input cost at best, dangerous class demanding actual respect of their consent over what happens to them at worst, organization is better than capitulation.
Oh, would it be that unions ran the farm, oh would it be that we are sell outs, in bed with the Wall St banksters, oh Would it be that we were living high on the hog, especially the elected leadership, sipping champagne out of fine stemware. Oh, would it be that we were the prince of workers, the countesses of labor!!! Please, Warren Buffett, take us into your corrupt bosom, and embrace us as your brother and sister in power and glory!!! I can’t wait to fly to my next strike in sympathy of my fellow aristocratic plebeians in my time share Netjet.
And not even a clever troll…just a troll…
Funny how you make a false equivalence the 50 and 60 thousand dollar a year “pigs” to the $5 million a year “pigs” which have done incalculable harm to the economy and the citizens thereof.
You’ve should choose your venues more wisely when you want to post stupid tripe like that.
Do not confound this site with Fox news: we THINK over here!
Now, go away!
Sorry for the OT post, but my first visit/post here in a long time. Market has the seem feeling as March 2008 and BAC is beginning to look a lot like FRE/FNM.
The domination of BAC in the mortgage and derivatives markets makes them TBTF.
The powers that be always want to market collapses to take place during an election year but BAC’s mgmt seems unequal to delaying that and we might see the crisis much earlier.
What if the Verizon Strikers already have their hands too full to be able to do very much of what this article says they should do? What if they are like miners inside a caved-in mine who are doing their best to survive but will only survive in the long run if someone from outside the mine digs their way through the cave in to reach the Verizon Strikers inside the mine?
Who among us might be those rescuers digging their way to the Verizon Strikers from outside the mine? The rest of the Union Movement or parts of it? Other civic or political groups? Random individuals such as those of us who read these posts and threads? Should someone try to reach Verizon subscribers and see how many of them would join a Credible Threat Movement to cancel their Verizon subscriptions or contracts unless Verizon accepts the Strikers’ demands?
I think your miner analogy is good. Because the most that the verizon workers can do is win this one fight.
These suggestions are right on. Especially important is becoming assertive about calling this what it is, class war.
I’d also recommend that these flyers be basic fact sheets listing corporate profits and CEO bonuses/extractions, for the particular employer and in general. (Also how much these pay in taxes.) The obvious question:
“How can they be making so much profit and paying executives so much, but still be claiming they need to squeeze the worker? Didn’t capitalism promise to make all of us richer?
We demand that capitalism keep its promise.
That’s what this strike’s about.”
Compare GE, which extracted obscene “profits” and executive looting, paid no taxes, and yet is demanding austerity from those who actually do all the work. (And the cowardly/treacherous union is thinking only in terms of trying to mitigate the loss, rather than demanding that the wealth be spread. The loss is taken for granted.)
That example leads to this point. The advice to supplement or supplant the capitalist union organization from the bottom up, perhaps on an anarcho-syndicalist basis, is also critical. Capitalist unions will always sell out the rank and file in the end, if not premeditatedly right from the start (as in France last year). They’re also congenitally incapable of the aggressive challenge described here. But this challenge, however difficult it may be at first, is imperative.
This is war, and no one ever won a war by offering his neck to the aggressor. All he ever got was his throat cut.
I spoke with some IBEW strikers and took there flyer, which is exactly the type of flyer you recommend.
Unfortunately, though they were adamant and articulated the issues well, they had nothing for me to do beside sign a petition.
Verizon made $7 billion in profits in 2010, it then demanded concessions from its workers to the tune of $20,000 each. That’s way more than class warfare,it’s trying to bring back slavery. Verizon enjoys the support of part of the public. The comment above that unions are indistinguishable from the owners ignore the simple fact that the owners made heavy millions while make less that $60,000 each. Clearly, some of the public is badly informed and other parts, mainly white collar workers, feels superior to the worker. The total lack of support from the Democratic Party and the president encourages Verizon as well.
The striking Verizon workers already have the support of other unions. Additional solidarity strikes seem difficult in today’s huge unemployment and the current weakness of the union movement in the US.
Can such solidarity and support as exists be leveraged into systematic survival-support for the Verizon Strikers?
Is there a fund that would-be supporters can send money to which could be used for such things as Verizon-Striker-Family/Dependents healthcare-cost support? Mortgage payment support? Etc? If the Strikers can pay all their living expenses and all their families’s living and survival expenses for a year, then they can strike for a year. Is there a movement to steadily raise enough ongoing survival/support money to allow them to strike for a year or for 5 years if that is necessary? Is there a publicised address to which such money can be sent?
That would be a more class-defense-effective way to spend money than sending it to any Upper Class Collaborator political office-seeker or wannabe office-retainer.
Re: the suggestion that Verizon workers reach out to workers in other countries.
For over a year, the Obama administration has had the Justice Department harassing labor activists who tried to work with labor unions in other countries. The government has raided the homes of “prominent peace activists and politically active labor organizers,” seized documents and other materials, and served union and peace activists with grand jury subpoenas.
From the Washington Post:
The union’s statewide group, which says it represents 46,000 workers, called on Obama to investigate and passed a resolution expressing “grave concern” about the raids.
This “if only the czar knew” scam is so manifestly fraudulent that we have to assume it’s a conscious attempt to misdirect the rank and file on the part of those proclaiming this “gravity”.
(And what will they do when this weighty resolution accomplishes nothing? Call themselves a black hole?)
The managers feel pressured to deliver in order to keep their nice compensation packages and do care only as far as it may affect their benefits. Maybe soon the time will come that people will attack those who enrich themselves in the process.
Generally, people can accept austerity and deprivations quite well, once they have time to get used to it; however they do not accept that others may benefit from their plight and will at one stage take “revenge”.
I am talking in historical terms here.
A secondary boycott of businesses who deal with Verizon would really help. Unfortunately the 1947 Taft Hartley law took away labor’s best weapon in strikes. It has been a struggle since then. If Republicans get control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, we can expect a 21st Century Taft Hartley law. Even now, the Labor Department investigates and prosecutes more unions for “corruption” than it does banks. Those who will be fighting new anti-labor legislation should demand that the same performance standards be applied to banks, and especially big banks. Proper “processing” for out banks is past due.
When Patco went down years ago, the most notable item was the complete lack of support from other Union organizations.
Besides supporting the Verizon workers, there should be a call for support from all other unions, and someone should be keeping track of who steps up to the plate.
And any number of people should send Obama a warm pair of soft slippers. (Through the mail, not by throwing them.)
two things: 1) i’m a verizon fios customer in the mid-atlantic whose fios equipment failed just a few days after the strike began. every verizon scab i spoke to on the phone in trying to get this fixed seemed to be reading from a script that blamed strikers for everything from delays to sabotaging individual customers like me. i was so incredulous i didn’t know what to say.
2) my neighbor is a high-level verizon engineer. he said the company started training non-union employees like himself to do things like asnwer the phone and go into the field more than 2 years ago. the company has been preparing to destroy its employees’ unions for years. the four non-union verizon folks turned technicians who came out to fix my fios said the company is telling them to prepare for 3-6 months of work stoppage.
Why don’t you cancel your account with Verizon?
Is having their fios really worth the destruction of what’s left of the middle class in this country?
FiOS is a one-way thing. Verizon won’t bring your copper line back.
You can insist they not cut your copper. They do that routinely if you don’t demand it.
because fiber is superior technology, and i rely on that superiority to make a living from the work i do at home.
This isn’t about copper vs fiber, that’s Management bullshit.
I’ve been using ADSL for years now incidentally.
Verizon nickles and dimes with their QOS – gotta pay to play. Verizon also has massive subsidization with huge needs within the Gubbmint. This is about a Corporation seeking to fuck people for mo’money. Media isn’t touching this one much, and politicians are in bed with the Inc. WAR!
Telcos often cut the copper when fibber goes in,
to give customers no way out…..I think that was
the point above.
sadly it’s gone to the point where the unions have to learn from the WWII Russians and destroy the village in order to save it–stop supporting the corporatists in the Democratic Party.
Yes, having Republicans would suck but by 1000 cuts from the current Democratic Party isn’t better. (ie the future of the DEmocratic Party post-Obama is Cuomo.)
Throw the current corporate DEmocrats under the bus, regroup and reconstitute the Democratic Party.
After reading this I’m not going to pay my Verizon Account. I’m going to send them a check for One Dollar with a note that the balance will be paid when the strike is
settled. I encourage all Americans who are sick of
corporate rapaciousness to do the same if they are
Putting the burden on striking workers to articulate a meta-message about how their plight figures into the larger American/Global class struggle is as asinine as enlisting Elizabeth Warren to run for the Senate so she can spread her gospel about class war in that forum.
I have been finding myself asking more and more where are this generation’s singer-songwriters/folk singers to put social activism into poetry and music? How about other media, like film?
Just print up some Boycott Verizon buttons or bumper stickers. Get 1% of the country (me for one) wearing them and the Internet should do the rest.
I recommend the AFL-CIO offer associate Union memberships to anyone willing to contribute. This would bring in a whole new group of people and spread union sensibility out into the general population. The truth is the unions are still very guild oriented which limits participation and keeps them isolated from folks with money and different ideas and backgrounds.
The unions and the intellectual left have been split since the hard hats went after the hippies during the Viet Nam war. This split has weakened both sides and tipped the scales to the corporate class. The political efforts in Wisconsin were a major victory in political cooperation between the organizing ability of the unions and the voice,vision and money of the intellectual side(PCCC,DFA, Move-On, etc.)
This needs to continue and develop.
What I think should have happened in Wisconsin is a general strike, and we should be thinking about such a thing on a nationwide basis. There will be enormous resistance to this, but circumstances keep getting worse, and this is gradually becoming apparent to the public.
To demand what? Oh, there’s a long list: a real investigation of the banks; full and untrammeled funding of the EPA; a fair taxation schedule; Medicare for all; balancing the budget with revenue; increasing the funding for SSI, as opposed to cutting benefits. This is not the right order, but–
General strikes are illegal under Taft-Hartley, which is why senior union leadership won’t call for them.
They face either a certain slow collapse in living standards, or breaking the law to save themselves and having a chance of survival.
If the Verizon employees are laid off, they won’t likely find jobs at their current income level. This means foreclosure, losing their homes, losing their retirement savings, no college for the kids, etc.
Therefore, if union leadership and members face the hard facts, it is more logical for them to pursue civil disobedience (illegal general strike) in hope of maintaining their living standards, rather than the certain slow collapse that will result if they cannot up the level of pressure on the Verizon leadership. Verizon workers have their backs to the wall. Morally, I don’t see the problem here, since MLK and the civil rights movement proved that sometimes principled, non-violent civil disobedience is an excellent and justifiable way to fight unjust circumstances.
What the Verizon union leadership, and Americans generally, need is less hope and more fatalism. When one’s back is to the wall, then one must take whatever chance of survival that exists, vice standing still and accepting certain death. If one is going to die anyway there is little to lose by fighting.
Or as a wise man once said, it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
I agree with you.
We’re to the point where the federal government is merely a corrupt, criminal operation controlled by a subset of big business. It doesn’t even pretend to obey its own Constitution any more (imprisonment without trial, anyone?)
At this point it is time to stop paying attention to the archaic division of “legal” and “illegal” activity, such as the plainly abusive Taft-Hartley law, and to simply figure out what works.
Of course, the thing is I’m not sure what works yet, and I suspect the major problem is that most people have not figured out what works yet.
Building occupations and takeovers have shown some promise, I suppose, but I’m not convinced yet.
The 40 year ruthless movement by U.S. ruling elites to annihilate American labor as a political and economic force has succeeded all too well (see, e.g. labor arbitrage policies, co-option of union leadership, the refusal to enforce labor laws, Clinton-Gore “free-trade” pacts, etc., etc.). Yes, Verizon workers should fight management inroads, and yes, the writer’s proposals are commonsensical, if unlikely to ever come to pass.
The short-sightedness, greed, and depravity of those elites is stunning, even by the very low standards of human history. Clearly, in a post-industrial society where increasingly productive workers create even more labor surplus (over and above demographics), only a social democracy with progressive and redistributionist policies will allow the overall demand to keep the system humming. A good capitalist would see that, but she has left the room and turned off the lights. When globalization forces, recede, as they surely will when energy inputs decline and resource struggles increase, the bets of US CEOs and their political cronies on emerging markets will turn up snake eyes. Serves the mofos right.
It’s ominous that the Verizon big shots are apparently unconcerned with any blowback by their workers i.e. lower morale, good trained workers leaving the minute the economy improves.
Maybe they see something that eludes the rest of us: the economy will NEVER improve and the workers are simply presented with this Hobson’s choice because the bosses CAN.
It might be advisable for the workers to take some lessons from their 19th and early 20th century forerunners. Why is everyone so timid? It would be refreshing to see some serious sabotage and just this much short of shooting wars between strikers and Pinkertons. That would certainly get everyone’s attention like nothing else. Why not? Think of what is at stake. The future of the middle class.
This just illustrates one of the dead ends the populist left has to confront. The stakes in this dispute do not include child labor laws or any of the other last battles. The Verizon workers are not fighting for “us all,” but for themselves. Jobs in their industry are evaporating because the underlying technology is becoming obsolete. Solidarity and (economic) equality for all will never be the cornerstones of American society.
A more constructive approach, it seems to me (admittedly not a member of the populist left) would be to strengthen the national pension and healthcare systems, put less of the onus for both on employers, and thereby mitigate the impact of creative destruction on workers–rather than have them cling bitterly to stupid obsolete jobs. To my friends on the left, I say: the unions will always be a losing trade, and will never help bring about a more just and egalitarian future.
You’re just wrong. Look up the Republican attempts to abolish child labor laws (Iowa, I think was the most recent…)
It’s all about supply and demand. Historically unions have NEVER made progress in the face of a flooded labor market. By shipping jobs overseas to overpopulated countries, while importing record numbers of foreign workers, the rich have destroyed the value of labor. Wages will fall, and there is no way that unions can get traction.
Old style labor leaders, like Samuel Gompers and Cesar Chavez, understood this. So did progressive politicians, like Teddy Roosevelt, his cousin FDR, and Dwight Eisenhower. These people made progress. Once the union leadership sold out on this issue they doomed their membership. With 1000 desperate workers competing for any job at any wage, the Verizon workers are destined to lose.
Unions are like agents for professional athletes: they only make sure that the people they represent get what they are worth. But they can’t make what is worthless valuable. The economic value of a commodity has nothing to do with its utility, but only the balance of supply and demand. As the supply of labor keeps exploding upwards, its value will decrease, and unions can’t stop this.
A 45,000 worker strike will change nothing. Perhaps a general strike might stand a chance to change anything, however, that won’t happen simply because the average American has been thoroughly conditioned inro a selfish, greedy, and individualistic consumer moron, utterly unable to identify with and support the needs of fellow human beings. Really, what makes anybody think that a nation with tens of millions of people lacking access to health care, with a panhandler on every corner, and 1 in 5 children going to bed hungry will ever support these strikers.
So sorry, but this nation deserves to sink back into the 19th century, simply because that is where it belongs. Just look at the latest crop of presidential candidates, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how the average American thinks.
No one deserves to suffer, and fuck you for suggesting otherwise.
Despite my infliction with “Ron Paulism” I’m not “afraid” to look at other arguments. I read Keynes and Minsky and Mises and continue to wonder at least on an analytic level what we’re all arguing over as to causes. I get the policy prescription debate as that is opinions, but I pursued a different track which I completed today.
I read “False Economy”, by Alan Beattie, and could not help but latch on to his Mancur Olson citations. As a hack econo-amatueur, I went to my Dad, who actually is a PhD in Ag Econ and worked for the Carter administration (wonder how I got Ron Paulism?) and he was very excited to point me towards Olson’s “The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities” and now I got a new merit badge because I finished that today.
So match Olson with Ron Paul and you get a very good argument against “distributional coalitions”, of which unions are a part of and you wonder why we should continue the union fight? To be fair, his logic is simple. It’s easier for a smaller group with greater access to either actual resources or government to coalesce and extract advantages because the larger groups have so little to gain marginally on an individual basis that they have no incentive to fight the big fight for a few extra dollars. Over time, in stable societies, the smaller groups build up some power. He published in 1982, and like Minsky, it’s reads perfectly to recent events. I think this fits Yves bankster logic perfectly. So banksters are a “distributional coalition” as well, but Olson’s sign off says that all these types of things are a reason for involuntary unemployment and I have trouble right now finding fault with his argument. That means no unions either though.
Any sympathies or opinions on Olson?
If anyone find this post “polemical”, send them my way. This post is pink pepper compared to the pure napalm fire of the pile of pamphlets from L’Humanité and Komsomolskaya Gazzetta (translated)
I know this is redundant, but for all the ratx believers and the freidmenites I cannot believe this argument is not out there. It’s probably the ongoing joke in academic departments too, but once again, this layman found this it interesting. To paraphrase Mancur Olaon
You can’t have equilibrium without disequilibrium, otherwise equilibrium is a construct.
In today’s economic climate your lucky to have a job. In the end your compensation is what your worth in the competitive labor market. The corporations represent the stockholders money. They have a fiduciary responsibility for the stockholders hard earned money and savings. Often these stockholders are employees of the same corporation they work for. As a self employed individual, I can’t demand a certain price for my goods and services. If tried that,I’d be out the door in one minute flat. Instead I must compete for the price I wish to charge. If I can’t compete,then I’ll have to get into a different business. It’s not easy out there today.
I don’t understand why the Verizon workers don’t do what labor would (and did) do 100 years ago – deny the owners access to the means of production.
The Verizon network should stop functioning for a few hours. I imagine that would bring management to the table fairly quickly.
Of course it could get ugly with workers being labeled as “domestic terrorists”, but when all is said and done, it needs to get ugly if we are to have any hope that it gets better.
What they should do is show up for work and occupy the workplace. Take a lesson from the French and the Argentinians. Set up independent workers councils to keep the heat on the union bureaucrats that are selling you out. Hold the managers hostage and threaten to blow the place up. Mobilize local support to bring in food and supplies and to ring the work sites with supporters willing to tangle with the cops. Add a demand to the list that goes beyond the specific needs of Verizon workers — something like an increase in the minimum wage, or an raise in unemployment benefits, or a moratorium on foreclosures, or something like that — and refuse to end the occupation until that specific demand is met. Make it clear that if you get forcibly evicted, you will trash the place. Otherwise, with the bosses and the union leadership both scheming against them, the workers are screwed.