On Saturday Camille and I attended the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) meeting. It was generally a positive experience with most of the time spent looking back at the election and ahead to next year when there will be non-Unity endorsed members on the UFT Executive Board for the first time since 2007. The co-chairs of MORE's coalition partners New Action were also in attendance.
I had a thought after the meeting when a few of us went out to eat. MORE will be having study groups on a few books this summer. One of them will analyze yet again the 1968 UFT strike. I would argue that it is time to stop spending so much time looking back 48 years to an era when the UFT clearly had some courage even if you think the cause in 68 might have been misguided in opposing community control of schools.
If we take the union at its word, the teachers shut the schools down for months because a small group of members were forced to transfer out of a district. In 2016 the UFT allows a significant number of its members called Absent Teacher Reserves to be transferred as often as every week and they do virtually nothing to stop it. The 1968 strike has been dissected to death. We can do it again but what will it prove?
Instead of yet again breaking down the 1968 UFT strike or even the 2012 Chicago Teachers strike or the Seattle Teachers strike of 2015, the strike we should be reviewing in great detail is the Verizon strike of 2016. When we speak about Verizon, we are talking about on balance a clear cut win for labor. 10.9% raises over 4 years with a $1,000 bonus thrown in is clearly better than Michael Mulgrew's pattern for city employees of 10% over 7 years with a $1,000 bonus. Yes I am fully aware that Verizon is a private sector corporation and public school teachers are government workers so it is a little bit of an apples and oranges type of comparison but it is still union verses management and there are important lessons to be learned.
Beyond the salary increases, Verizon workers beat back management's attempts to basically destroy them. For example on outsourcing call center jobs, Salon said this:
They (Communication Workers of America) secured a commitment to add 1,300 call center jobs over the next four years to accommodate demand. Since over the previous four years, 5,000 customer service jobs got outsourced from the United States, this is an even bigger win than it sounds like. Under the new contract, a certain percentage of customer service calls must be answered by a unionized worker inside the Verizon footprint. The company can more efficiently route calls because the footprint gets spread across the whole network rather than state-by-state, but the jobs are more protected.
Verizon also gave up a demand to transfer workers for weeks at a time away from their families. In addition, some Verizon wireless employees will actually be unionized because of this settlement.
How about disciplining employees? Workers made gains. Here is how Lee Sustar and Alan Maass put it in Socialist Worker:
Another big win for tech workers in New York City in particular was the abandonment of the hated Quality Assurance Review (QAR), a productivity program that in reality was a disciplinary tool that led to unpaid suspensions, often 30 days long. This is a rare gain for blue-collar union employees across the U.S., who have had their jobs made increasingly miserable by similar management schemes.
Management also dropped a number of other aggressive demands, such as a cap on pension credits at 30 years and measures intended to strengthen management's hand and harass high-seniority workers into early retirement.
The not so pro labor NY Times called the settlement a victory for labor.
Why did the Verizon workers do so well? Could the key be that there was a reform slate elected in 2011 called Rebuild 1,101 in the CWA that really did rebuild the union from the ground up. (The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were also involved in the strike.)
Could it be that a union can still win a strike?
Here is what a union shop steward told Socialist Worker:
[A] lot of the important things that happened because of the strike won't appear in the contract language, because they happened to the strikers themselves. For a section of the membership, it was
a transformative experience where we really felt our power. And it was obvious that this came from our personal participation and the widespread popular support for the strike.
Verizon managemment put all of its corporate muscle behind hiring scabs and a publicity campaign to discredit the workers. It failed.
While the final settlements were not perfect as there were concessions on healthcare (agreed to before the strike started) and there is a second tier wage scale for newer employees, the setbacks here appear to be minimal.
I will leave it to Sustar and Maass to draw the final conclusion:
What won the Verizon strike wasn't just good public relations, community allies or the intervention of the politicians and the federal government, but more centrally the activism and determination of workers during more than six weeks on the picket line.
Getting the public on board certainly helps but there is nothing that compares to activist working people willing to stay out on strike for as long as it takes to gain real victories at the workplace. What a novel thought.
We can all argue internally about social justice verses contract unionism but CWA and IBEW just taught us a valuable lesson on how effective a strike can still be in 2016. Let's learn from it.