On our last Blue Collar Buzz broadcast, we had in our studio John Freeman and Randy Cedeno, who are both striking IBEW Local 3 Spectrum workers.
They told the story about how Spectrum has broken off all good faith negotiations, done everything they could to cheat them out of dignified retirements with pensions, and kept them from earning a living for the last ten months while they use scabs, many from out of state, to do their work. Please bear in mind that all this has taken place under the noses of the very “liberal” Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council (but that’s a topic for another day).
Today’s overarching question is: How do companies like Spectrum get away with this type of bad behavior? The answer, as uncomfortable as it might make us, is: Because we let them.
Earlier this year I proclaimed it to be the year of the “rank and file,” and I was happy to see that it caused a bit of a stir on social media. Finally, there was feedback! Now let’s consider an unavoidable fact. If rank and file members take the power of the union movement into their own hands, then they also take responsibility for the direction in which it moves. In short, if we want what we want, then it is up to us to go get it. If we want economic justice, then that starts by practicing it. It all starts with solidarity.
You don’t need union leadership to show solidarity. All you have to do is think. We can all do that. Let’s think things through. If there is anyone out there with a union book in their pocket and a bill from Spectrum on their kitchen table, shame on them. We need to use the power of our wallets. We can call up and cancel our service, and make sure we tell them why. Those “customer service” calls are normally recorded. If as few as ten people a day called Spectrum and told them they won’t be customers again until Local 3 workers have a decent contract, it wouldn’t be long before everyone was back at the bargaining table.
We need to disassemble the circular firing squad in which we all seem to be participating. That means that just as we are duty bound to show solidarity with our striking brothers and sisters at Local 3, they, in turn, are duty bound to be sure they are never behind the wheel of anything other than a UAW built automobile. And it doesn’t stop there. The same is true of every other person in every other building trade and beyond.
If you are a NYSUT member, and you are driving a Honda, think about that and ask yourself why? It can’t really be because that’s all you can afford, right? You’re not really telling yourself that UAW products aren’t safe enough, sturdy enough or reliable enough are you? If you are, think again. Conversely, if you are an auto worker and are moaning about the concessions in your last contract are you voting for charter (aka non-union) schools in your neighborhood? How many union workers are busy getting good deals at Walmart? Think about that. Does that meet the definition of thrift or selfishness? Whichever it is, it isn’t solidarity.
We live in a culture of acquisition and greed. We’ve just witnessed our president and the majority of both houses of Congress deliver a tax bill that gives trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the richest among us while jeopardizing the health and safety of the poor and the working class. We, the people, didn’t seem to be able to find a way to stop that from happening. Whether or not we were actually complicit in that debacle is, I suppose, open to debate.
What is not open to debate, is that a unionized workforce is better paid, better trained, less of a burden on public services, and more likely to have the time and energy to give back to their communities when they are enjoying a dignified retirement. What is also not debatable, is that in a consumer society we exercise power every time we make a purchase. The combination of those two facts give us members of the unionized sector of the workforce tremendous power.
So, while the mainstream (aka corporate agenda) media love to report on the shrinking numbers and near demise of unions, we still comprise 12% of the working population. We also make good wages and spend most of them. When we buy, we vote. So let’s not have any more excuses. Check your cell phone service, your cable operator, your internet provider, your garage and your closet. Sometimes it means paying a little more, buying a little less, or maybe traveling a little further to get the goods or services you want.
That’s the price of solidarity.