New York—On July 24 at historic Union Square, 8,500 workers with Local 1-2 Utility Workers Union of America, UWUA, who had been locked out by Consolidated Edison, were surrounded by 5,000-10,000 supporters, similar to the numbers from the big unions who had marched a week earlier.
They told News & Letters: “It’s about the pension. We’ve had this pension for 75 years. They want to take it away from the younger workers. That’s not right; it should be for all or no one. Utility workers are the last ones to have good benefits. If they break us, everyone loses.”
The lively, spirited march, with enthusiastic support from bystanders along the route, was part of the nationwide “Workers Rising Day of Action” centered on low-wage workers.
Mingling in the crowd—many who were happy to receive a copy of News & Letters—were workers from Communications Workers of America Local 338 (CWA), LiUNA (Laborers’ Local 79), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, RWSDU, plus substantial number from Occupy, the IWW and community organizations including a group from the Brooklyn-based Make the Road Straight.
Workers from Walmart, JC Penney, airport workers, taxi drivers, supermarket workers and library workers declared their solidarity with each other and the locked-out Con Ed workers. Local politicians and clergy added their voices. Everyone enjoyed the inspiring rap performed by—who else—Communications Workers of America.
The very next day, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had up to then refused to intervene in the three-week-old lockout, brought the two sides together for an emergency return to work plan as a line of severe thunderstorms approached the city.
The tentative contract announced the following day was approved two weeks later by 93% of the members. There will be no changes to the pension plan for workers hired before July 1, 2012, for 25 years, but future hires will have pension terms not yet specified.
Beyond the festive atmosphere, we need to think about how to continue the momentum for future labor battles. Will the participants act to support each others’ struggles? Will traditional unions continue to embrace community organizations and low-wage, non-unionized or unemployed workers as allies?