Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"The Most Powerful Workers in New York City"

Locked-out Con Ed worker in Brooklyn: "If We Go Out the Lights Go Out!"
On Sunday, July 1, contract negotiations between New York City's electric utility, Consolidated Edison or Con Ed, and its 8,500 unionized workers represented by the Utility Workers Union of America broke down. Even though New York City was entering a heatwave, stressing the electrical grid across the city, the electric company locked out the workers, replacing them in their crucial jobs with a smaller number of managers and bosses. The union for the workers has continued to try to negotiate with the electric company, but they've also been holding daily pickets and solidarity rallies across New York City.

A group of revolutionary organizers calling themselves the New York City Renegades have been agitating among the workers with some of the most powerful worker-focused propaganda I've seen in years. This is a brilliant example of some of the fruits of the Occupy Wall Street movement: class consciousness, solidarity, autonomous community/worker organizing outside the confines of existing organizations, all in convergence with solid revolutionary organizing traditions. The goal of these organizers is to "unite the workers with the 'hood." I met with some of the Renegades in time to pass out some leaflets at a rally of the UWUA workers outside the Con Ed offices on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; I found the gathered workers hungry for solidarity, the leaflets flew out of my hand.

These leaflets are a necessary challenge to the top-down strategies of existing union leadership. Union-busting is a priority strategy of state and local governments, both Republican- and Democratic -led, across the country. The Renegades are arguing that the small minority of working people who are still unionized must unite with those who are not, in order to beat back a fundamental attack on the right of people to organize themselves. A bitter defeat is possible: the unions who still hold sway with public employees desperately need allies.

Here are two of the leaflets distributed by the Renegades to the locked-out Con Ed workers in preparation for organizing a workers and community meeting to plan a course of action.


Con Ed, MTA and healthcare workers are the most powerful workers in the entire city. But they have been defeated by the bosses and politicians in every major labor fight in the last decade. Unless things change quick, more defeats are coming.

The bosses win because they pit the poor and working class public against the workers when the workers resist. In this right over the Con Ed contract, many everyday people see the wages of Con Ed workers as the cause of their high utilities bill, instead of a small taste of what all working class people could win if they stick together. Others consider the lockout a private matter to be handled between Con Ed and its workforce, instead of an issue that affects all New Yorkers. This is a trap set by the bosses and politicians, and it has worked all too well.

The only way to escape this trap is for workers to lead the whole of New York City in a struggle for a better life, including people outside their own workplaces and unions. If MTA workers called a fare strike with free transit for everyone in the city, all poor and working people would immediately support it. If Con Ed workers called for a strike to end stop and frisk and make utilities free, every young person of color in the city would have their back.

If workers provided this kind of leadership, all the crap about young people smoking weed and acting like delinquents would disappear. Young people would show up at picket lines and throw eggs at managers. They would fight the police tooth and nail if scabs were brought in. Instead of beefing with each other and hurting the community, poor and working class youth would direct their anger at the bosses, politicians and police who oppress us all. One million students are on summer vacation right now, with no work and few social programs, waiting to take up this fight.

Will Con Ed workers provide this leadership for New York City? It will require leaving isolated pickets outside Con Ed yards, and doing public actions at drop-in centers and other busy locations across the city. It will require explaining to millions of everyday people what the Con Ed workers are fighting for, and discussing how to fight together against the bosses in the common interest. It will require finding new ways to fight, and taking initiative without waiting for direction from the union leadership.

If free utilities, healthcare, and transport become part of workers' demands, the working class of New York City will unite, and become unstoppable. Then workers will be able to win not only a contract, but a hell of a lot more.

And here's a second, follow-up flyer:


Management is preparing for a long battle with Con Ed workers, and is willing to risk the deaths of New Yorkers and its own management to win. An opponent like this can't be defeated with kid gloves. Con Ed workers need to take their gloves off and beat management to a pulp. But how?

Praying for a blackout to bring Con Ed to its knees is hardly a winning strategy. It's more like the hail mary of people who don't have a plan to win by their own initiative. Rallies are often just glorified pep rallies, and do little to win over the public. The rally on July 5th was like the festivals put on during Roman times. Orgies and spectacles were the order of the day while the rest of the society was collapsing. Right now we have millions in prison, many more in failing schools, and even more with no jobs and no hope of finding them — many Black and Latino. These same people are being told in the Daily News that stubborn workers are the cause of their problems.

There is a lot of big talk about the power of the union. But a lockout tells another story, that management was preparing this for months, getting ready to sucker punch the workers. Where were the union leaders when this was happening? Sitting around, reassuring workers that they were powerful, while sipping margaritas with [NYC mayor] Bloomberg and the ruling class of this city. That's not a winning strategy.

Con Ed workers have a choice: either build a citywide counterattack against the bosses, or submit to a drawn-out, exhausting negotiation process that will probably end in an ass whooping. Tough talk is not enough.

A growing crew of young people is ready, willing and able to join with Con Ed workers. We want to strategize and try out new ways to bring the workers' struggle to millions of everyday New Yorkers. We want to uppercut [Con Ed CEO] Kevin Burke and knock his ass out. Together we can make it happen.

Here's an excerpt from a third flyer calling for a community meeting:


We believe only the rank and file of Local 1-2 can win against Con Ed and lead NYC. The ranks have power, but they have not used it so far. There are only two endings to this struggle: defeat or victory. The next 10 days will determine the next tens years of your life. Won't you wish you gave everything you had to fight against Con Ed?

The point of this meeting is not to tell each other Burke is a jerk, Con Ed is making lots of money, and the unions are under attack. All of us know these things. The purpose of this meeting is so Con Ed Workers, along with community members, can discuss how we can win against Con Ed. We must think, plan, and execute a strategy to defeat Con Ed. We do not have even a second to lose. Management is working its ass off to defeat you. How hard are you willing to think and work to win?

[...] Should we occupy Con Ed HQ, should we march through the streets of Manhattan shutting them down or occupy Brooklyn Bridge? Should we ask the people of NYC to not pay their bills while workers are locked out?... Bring your ideas to the table!

1 comment:

  1. Here's a blog from one of the locked out workers.