Originally appeared in Jacobin on July 13, 2019.
Mass rally and march for telephone workers' strike, Boston, 1989. (Courtesy of authors)
Thirty years ago this summer, 60,000 telephone workers walked off the job in New York and New England — and stayed out for seventeen weeks. Their struggle against NYNEX, a telecom giant, became one of labor’s few big strike victories, during a decade that began with the disastrous defeat of PATCO, the national air traffic controllers union.
Within the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the model of membership mobilization and workplace militancy developed in 1989 has been used, to varying degrees, in every regional contract campaign they’ve conducted since then.
Telephone workers in the northeast, employed at successor firms of NYNEX (including Verizon) or AT&T, have struck seven times during that period, over a variety of regional and national issues. (For more on their recent disputes, see Dan DiMaggio, at New Labor Forum).
Three decades of joint bargaining and strike activity by more than thirty local affiliates of IBEW and CWA represents a major accomplishment by itself. In the rest of organized labor, workers represented by different unions which deal with the same private or public sector employer often fail to create any... (read more)