NEW YORK CITY, July 2 — Over 9,000 workers were set to strike the billion-dollar Con Ed electric company at midnight last night when a “tentative” agreement was reached in the early hours of this morning. Few details were released. The rank and file will be voting on it over the next month.
Con Ed was preparing a massive scab operation, ready to work non-union managers 24 hours a day on two 12-hour shifts, in automated control rooms, dispatch centers and on service trucks, but without routine maintenance.
The bosses had “offered” what amounted to a wage-cut: a one-half of 1% annual wage “increase” in a four-year contract, healthcare cuts, a switch to 401(k)-style pensions for new hires (which first reports said was scrapped) and a clause to make workers pay back workmen’s compensation benefits from their pensions. With inflation mounting at 4.2% a year (excluding food and gas costs!), a less-than-one-percent wage “increase” is a gigantic slash in real wages.
Meanwhile, the “neutral” government has taken the company’s side, with the State Public Service Commission saying, “Con Edison has a plan….We are confident…they are doing everything they should be doing” (NY Daily News, 7/1).
Yes, a “plan” all right — a massive strike-breaking scab operation to protect their tens of millions in profits reaped off the backs of the 9,000 workers and from charging exorbitant rates to millions of customers.
How to beat such a plan, in a company thriving on automation? If the union was worth anything it could have been doing the following:
• Calling on workers throughout the city’s labor movement to come out in support of Con Ed’s workers, and together with them surrounding the company’s buildings and barring anyone from entering or leaving;
• Better yet, preparing in advance to have thousands of Con Ed workers remain in the buildings in a mass sit-down strike to prevent any scab supervisors from performing union jobs;
• Mobilize New York’s working class to the strikers’ side, calling attention to Con Ed’s constant rate hikes that impoverish electricity consumers, especially in black and Latino neighborhoods where non-payment of exorbitant bills lead to service cut-offs.
Such a plan would inspire the entire working class with a militant, no-holds-barred strike that could deal with the company’s scab-operated automated equipment. No matter how automated, workers are still needed to operate it.
A sit-down strike could hold Con Ed’s billion-dollar automated plants hostage, just as the communist-led autoworkers did in their 1936 seizure of GM’s key plants to win their demands on threat of immobilizing the company’s machinery. In fact, the utility workers industrial union itself grew out of the militant CIO in the 1930s, largely led by communists, and is responsible for the wage and benefit levels these workers have today.
No doubt Con Ed would cry that the workers “don’t care about the public.” But it is the bosses who don’t care, raking in millions in profits while offering what amounts to a huge wage-cut to workers who are suffering skyrocketing costs in food and gasoline and being forced to pay for the bosses’ trillion-dollar oil wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Irish and Italian workers have long-dominated the workforce, lately half the workers hired are black and Latino, with one in five women. The company would like to use this situation to drive a wedge between the older and newer workers. The fact that for decades the older workers had not fought to integrate the workforce could be coming home to roost now, giving Con Ed the racist tool with which to divide the workers, and feel it can get away with offering such a lousy contract.
The kind of action needed to carry out the above plan won’t happen with the current crop of union leaders whose main aim is to elect “pro-labor” politicians and who always side with the bosses. Workers need a long-range plan to build communist leadership. Organizing solidarity and unity in this current battle could help prepare the workers for the kind of action that, with red leadership, would result in a revolution that would shut off Con Ed and their partners’ in the bosses’ state.