Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Workers @ AT&T Poised to Strike

Submitted to us by IWW comrades in Minneapolis, MN. Article is from the forth coming May issue of the Industrial Worker. Following the article are videos and related news on the building struggle between CWA workers and AT&T.

The struggle of the CWA rank-n-file is and will increasingly become an important one as it is one more sector that has the ruling classes attempting to gain concessions from the union - steel, aero, auto and now telecommunications to name but a few and most known, although healthcare workers, city workers, teachers, and transport workers are all feeling the capitalist crisis and related offense by the bosses.

As the IWW comrade states, this would "be the first major strike under the Obama regime" and "there is a growing mood among workers at AT&T and throughout the class in general that workers should not have to shoulder the bosses’ economic crisis – that the rich must pay". There has been a near media blackout on the emerging struggle. As is often the case, real and radical perspectives may only find light through outlets designed by and in solidarity with the people fighting back. - S&D

Workers @ AT&T Poised to Strike

By x359209 IU 560 Job Shop (dual card CWA)

Job action would be biggest U.S. strike in recent years, and first under Obama

IWW/CWA dual-carders in the heart of the struggle

At midnight April 5, 2009 contracts for most of the component groups represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at the telecom giant AT&T have expired. After weeks of mobilizing, around 90,000 workers are poised to strike one of the largest and most profitable multinational corporations. A job action by CWA would be the largest and among the most significant labor action in the United States since the UPS strike in 1997. It would also be the first major strike under the Obama regime. The brewing confrontation could set the tone for class struggle in the U.S. for the near future.

Attack on Healthcare
AT&T has been pressing hard for major concessions from its call center, billing & ordering, and technical workers, especially in the area of health care. The company is demanding harsh cost shifting in the form of premiums and huge deductables for current employees and even steeper cuts for “second tier” workers hired going forward. AT&T is also demanding concessions in areas of seniority, over-time, and discipline. Raises would be replaced for the first two years by one-time lump payments.

Billions in Profit
AT&T corporate PR hacks have been spinning that healthcare must be reduced to avoid a repeat of what has happened to the U.S. auto industry. But AT&T is not General Motors. It is in a growing, innovative industry – one where AT&T bosses made $12.9 Billion in profits in 2008 alone. Besides, the U.S. healthcare crisis and its skyrocketing costs are not the fault of workers and their families and we should not be made to shoulder its burden. Workers at AT&T are furious that such a rich company would attack their families’ access to healthcare.

The company has also sought to pit the different component parts of “the new AT&T” against each other (the old Ameritech, SBC, Pac Bell, Cingular, etc) by taking advantage of real wage and benefit gaps and separate contract expiration dates. CWA has only partially resisted these efforts. A new contract at the fastest growing (and least compensated) component AT&T Wireless was approved just as negotiations were hitting the wall for 5 of the other major groups. The Union has given up on negotiating the old Bell South component contract, which doesn’t expire until August 2009. By agreeing to postpone these negotiations until summer, the union has given away more of all the workers’ leverage.

Time for Action
In the first few days after the contracts expired CWA leaders announced that workers should report to work for now, while still expressing exasperation at the “Final offers” being pushed by AT&T. It is clear that AT&T is advancing the same attack that has drastically reduced the wages, benefits and power of all the core unionized sections of the working class (auto, steel, airlines, etc.) AT&T bosses are confident that telecom workers can also be tamed for the international capitalist economy, and are hardly fearful of the business unions, which have no real experience or desire to wage militant struggle.

But there are factors that favor us, the workers, too. There is a growing mood among workers at AT&T and throughout the class in general that workers should not have to shoulder the bosses’ economic crisis – that the rich must pay. The issue of Healthcare is one that is on everyone’s mind, and a group of workers seen as struggling to defend their healthcare has the possibility of striking a chord deep and wide across the working class. Finally, Obama was elected in no small part because workers wanted “change”, and it will not be easy for his administration to openly attack any emerging struggle without damaging his standing and costing him room to maneuver.

The View from the Floor
Over the last few weeks in the Midwest call center where we work it has been interesting to join the union mobilizations and watch the attitude of our co-workers move quickly towards a determination to take action. A month ago any talk of a strike brought either yawns or fear from most people. As the deadline neared, however, the reality of AT&T’s demands hit home. At the top of the hour, union employees stand up in their cubicles and press loud “clickers”, shake noise makers, or tap pens on their desk in a show of solidarity. The effect is like a massive cloud of locust sweeping over the office and adds to the tense atmosphere. Groups of people discuss the latest news and share opinions about a strike. Red Union T-shirts are everywhere, and cubicles are decorated in union flyers. Petty discipline and rule enforcement from management have sparked a much stronger and organized reaction than usual – turning “team meetings” into heated debates. Now there is a wide group of workers who are not only willing to strike, but WANT to strike.

Strike to Win
If we are forced to go on strike it is important that we win. We have little confidence that the business union approach can beat such a committed and powerful adversary. It is likely that the withdrawal of our labor alone will not be sufficient. It is clear that AT&T is prepared to force us to strike and has calculated the short-term losses and chaos it is prepared to endure in order to implement the long-term cuts to workers’ healthcare and implement a second-class tier for newly hired workers. Certainly workers with greater skill and specialization than those of us in a call center have been replaced in strikes.

Direct action tactics like those most recently employed by the Republic Windows workers in Chicago, who successfully blocked the sell-off of their factory by staging an occupation/sit-in are ones we need to look at and advocate.

The IWW @ AT&T
Among the active core of union workers in our call center is a group of dual card I.W.W. members. The group grew out of a major struggle for greater union democracy in our CWA local about 4 years ago. We do not try and get workers to leave or dismiss the Communication Workers, but instead to participate in the CWA as “solidarity unionists”, fighting for greater militancy, democracy and revolutionary analysis of the system we are up against. We have built support for other local struggles including in the airlines, at the University, and for active IWW organizing campaigns in our area. We try and create a social scene with our co-workers built on solidarity. We do not ignore the CWA or let it exclusively define our activity. It is this mix of independent IWW organizing and dual-card organizing that really defines our GMB and points toward a successful model for bringing the IWW back to the cutting edge of the struggle for emancipation from capitalism and the state.

CWA National Video Mobilization 2009 - AT&T

Sabotage attacks knock out phone service

Fourth-generation telecommunications worker says AT&T squandering a legacy

District 4 members at the NCAA Final Four Game in Detroit, MI

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Auto Crisis: Placing Our Own Alternative on the Table

By Sam Gindin
ZNet April 10th, 2009
read full article here.

"Instead of waiting to see what else the corporations put on the table, workers need to put their own alternatives on the table...

This is an historic moment that challenges us to think big or suffer even worse defeats. Faced with immediate needs, workers and their union have too often shied away from taking on larger issues of social change that seemed too abstract, too distant, too intimidating. The lesson however is that if we only focus on the immediate, the options we have are always limited. We are all now paying the price of that failure to think bigger.

This is a moment when the elite - from the financiers through the Detroit auto executives and all those pushing the virtues of letting greed run free - have lost credibility. Yet it is the labour movement that is on the defensive and getting hammered. In this context, what is truly unrealistic is not new options, but the notion that stumbling through the present crisis will preserve past gains or bring new security.

Being realistic means resolving the crisis not so much in terms of saving the corporations, but as saving productive capacities and the economic base of our communities. And rather than speaking only (or at least primarily) for the members still working, it means also addressing the job needs of all those already, or about to be, laid off.

Being realistic means taking on a new and necessary fight - daring to put something new on the table. Rather than perpetuating our dependence on markets, competition, private corporations and the values and pressures they represent, this proposal builds on the first principle of unionism - organizing around our own, independent vision of how ‘progress' is defined. It means reviving the best of working class leadership: unions seen as not only negotiating for their members but raising the largest issues on behalf of their members and society as a whole.

Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches and putting it in the hands of workers. Workers have courageously taken over their plants only to end up 'winning most of the severance they were owed' (as a CAW press release put it); they should be encouraged and inspired to demand that the facilities are kept in operation and they be allowed to do productive work. And alongside this, it means that the need for work should not have to be traded off for accepting inferior working conditions - in fact, demanding social control over production might be a first step in going beyond defensive demands and thinking about what a truly democratic workplace might look like.

The alternative raised here will, as any significant change must, throw up new problems around democracy, accountability and balancing difficult choices. And it needs to be emphasized that this alternative is less a ‘technical' solution than a political one in the sense that it challenges the status quo of property rights in the name of democratic and social rights, and demands a cultural change in how we think of the economy and possibilities. It can't succeed, or even really begin, if it isn't part of the widest degree of discussion and debate from below, mobilization within and across unions, a clear identification of allies, and strategies for building new worker, union and community capacities."