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What Should the Verizon Strikers Do?

by Dave Stratman

August 18, 2011

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.

David Stratman is author of We CAN Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life and a former union consultant. He co-edits and can be reached at .

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