Management of Consolidated Edison demonstrated complete contempt for its workforce, locking out 8,500 members of the Utility Workers Union of America the morning of Sunday July 1st. The lockout continues, now 6 days later. Managers have opted to do the work themselves, in a full take-over of the utility, already resulting in a number of injuries of scabs on the job.
In a dispute over wages, pensions, health insurance, and other benefits, Local 1-2 of the UWUA refused to extend its contract past the June 30th deadline. One of the conditions for the extension was that there would be no strike, something threatened earlier in the negotiations, and authorized within the union.
ConEd is an investor-owned utility, a private enterprise. The utility serves 3.2 million customers in the New York metropolitan area, and earns billions in annual revenues.
City politicians seem to have mostly taken the side of the locked-out employees, but the reality is that they’ve taken the side of services not being interrupted, production not stopping, daily life in New York continuing as usual. For workers to make any gains, this conformist mentality, reinforcing the normality of business as usual, will have to be disposed of.
Last summer, 45,000 members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers went on strike against Verizon, the largest strike in 5 years. Verizon is pushing for a pension freeze, fewer sick days, an end to job security provisions, less responsibility toward health coverage, and the ability to expand its outsourcing. This August 7th will mark a year since the workers have had no contract, though the strike itself was called off after only two weeks to return to negotiations, which drag on, no end in sight.
Since January 15th, 34,000 members of the Transit Workers Union are working without a contract, though their struggle has had few pickets, rallies, or any apparent visibility. In December 2005, the TWU went out on a 3-day strike during the holiday season, one of the boldest moves in recent labor history. The union admirably ignored the strike’s illegality under the draconian Taylor Law of 1967—where New York state public employees are prohibited from going on strike, ever, under any circumstance—but was severely attacked in its aftermath, leadership jailed, fined in the millions, and automatic due deduction was removed, crippling the TWU.
Typically the withdrawal of labor is seen as one of the most militant actions that can be taken by workers. Now it is the employers occupying that militancy, as lockouts are seen with increasing frequency. It’s the same logic of the strike—asserting one’s control over production—but reversed.
It should be noted that neither the Communication Workers of America, nor the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, nor the Transit Workers Union, nor the Utility Workers Union of America participated in the May Day General Strike, promoted widely throughout the Occupy movement. It is going to take such bold mass actions of militancy and solidarity in order to move beyond trying to win this or that concession, in this or that contract, for this or that union, at this or that time.
As more workers are without a contract, or a union, or collective bargaining, or even a wage, it becomes clear that our own self-organization, our own solidarity to each other as a class, is our only option in struggle. Political, secondary, solidarity, sympathy strikes—themselves illegal since the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act—are no longer a possibility, as every worker, in every workplace, in every union, in every contract, has reason to strike. We must strike for ourselves, together, as a class, towards the total concession. The Utility Workers will not win until they are joined by Transit Workers, who will not win until they are joined by the Communication Workers, the Electrical Workers, and all the rest.
A picket should not be a welcoming committee for scabs, but rather a line prepared to prevent workers’ labor from being performed by traitors. During any strike, or indeed any lockout, we witness our enemies: management, retirees lured back to fuck over their replacements, professional opportunists traveling the country for such moments, all in the service of those that own and control our utilities, communications, transportation, cities, states. It is this we have to disrupt, obstruct, so business cannot continue.
This July marks the 35th anniversary of the New York City blackout of 1977, caused by a series of lightning strikes on the night of July 13th. As soon as the power went out, people spontaneously organized their own wildcat strike. Amidst another of capital’s financial crises, which hit New York especially hard, neighborhoods all over the city took to the streets, a thousand stores were looted, a thousand fires lit. The blackout showed that given the opportunity, given the spark, we will respond to our misery in the ways that we can.
At the time the lightning strikes were called an “act of God” by ConEd. We must now introduce our own state of emergency, divine, ignoring all boundaries, ignoring all laws, a strike without warning: the proletarian general strike.
Agitate at any of the following picket locations, currently running 24/7:
Headquarters, 4 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003
125th Street Office, 360 West 125th Street, New York, NY 10027
110th St Yard, 2141 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10029
The Learning Center, 43-82 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 11101
Astoria Yard, 31-01 20th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11105
30 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217
3rd Ave Yard, 222 1st Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Netpune Yard, 1201 Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224
College Point Yard, 124-15 31st Avenue, Queens, NY 11354
Hillside office, 88-11 165th Street, Jamaica, NY 11432
Fordham Yard, 448 East Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458
Van Nest Yard, 1601 Bronxdale Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462