NEW YORK, August 17 — Thousands of striking Verizon workers, wearing red shirts and full of working-class rage, descended on Murray Bergtraum High School to protest a new $120 million contract for phone and Internet services between Verizon and New York City’s Department of Education. The deal was up for approval by the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), the rubber stamp for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-student policies.
A little earlier and a few blocks away, the leadership of the strikers’ unions, the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had tried to make this protest as symbolic as possible. They began their rally with the Pledge of Allegiance and a big “thank you” to the New York Police Department for allowing the protest. But the servile union leadership could not contain the workers, who marched to the PEP meeting and filled the chairs. After schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott directed his cronies to pass the massive budget cuts coming to the city’s schools, they approved the Verizon contract by an 8-4 vote. Since Bloomberg appoints a majority of the PEP’s members, this was hardly a surprise.
Still, the striking workers dominated that meeting. They showed no fear for the thugs in blue and in suits that were protecting the stage. The workers’ chanting and shouting down the PEP shook the room with a palpable energy. They were pissed off because the DOE was helping to strengthen Verizon and therefore attacking the striking workers.
The state (the police and the courts) is the organized force by which the ruling class dominates the working class. When fear fully gives way to rage, the working class will rise up and destroy the state. The uprising by youth in England, after the cops killed a young black man, clearly illustrates this. But only communist leadership can lead the workers’ rage into an egalitarian society that will provide for their needs.
The militant speeches and loud chanting drowned out at least two votes that the PEP tried to take. Over a dozen unions were represented by their rank and file, as none of the union misleaders were present. The workers present — teachers, janitors, college professors, electricians — all expressed solidarity with the striking workers. This display of anti-racist, anti-sexist unity amongst workers shows us that the bosses’ racist and sexist ideology can be broken when workers realize their enemy is not each other, but the rulers and union sellouts who oppress us all.
A worker who discussed the meeting with a PL’er was correct when he said that what they witnessed was not a democracy. The PEP had already made up their minds to pass the contract and nothing that was said or done there would have made a difference. The U.S. ruling class has to abandon the veneer of democracy as the economic crisis sharpens and they continue to lose political power as the top imperialist. To keep itself disciplined and the workers fearful, it builds fascism at home. The worker went on to point out that the cops were threatening the workers who rushed the stage to get back. The state rules through direct and indirect force. If warnings don’t work, then they have no problem arresting or shooting workers. Because of the racist nature of this system, that is twice as true for black and Latino workers.
It is no surprise that one day after this militant action, Verizon agreed to get back to negotiating with the union and preserve some façade of democracy. For the company’s workers, this is a losing tactic. (Since then, they have gone back to work under the old contract.) Even so, their militancy represented an important step forward. The PEP meeting got significant media coverage, and many thousands of viewers saw that the workers were unafraid to challenge the bosses.
In another stage of history, communists led by PLP, will lead thousands of striking workers to occupy the factories and the schools. With a bigger force, we could have easily overwhelmed the few cops protecting their social order and routed the PEP. Instead, the workers watched the bosses pass a vote to attack them. One day, workers worldwide will lead a communist revolution where we will make all the decisions based only on our needs.