About 5,000 Communication Workers of America rank-and-file members and local leaders last week participated in a national teleconference to hear a report on the union’s strategy for resisting the nationwide attacks on the working class and turning these attacks to our advantage. CWA represents 700,000 workers in communication, manufacturing, and the public sector.
“This is an awakening,” said Larry Cohen, CWA president referring to the massive demonstrations taking place in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin to protest union busting, anti-worker legislation. Cohen said that CWA has developed and will be implementing a strategy to revitalize a labor movement that can win gains for workers on the job, in their communities, and in government.
Cohen said that there are three keys to winning: Organization, Education, Mobilization. He urged local unions to continue efforts to organize the unorganized. He said that rank-and-file members should turn their workplaces into education centers where workers can hear the truth about the real reasons that their standard of living has been declining and learn how to fight back effectively against these attacks.
And he said that this education work should lay a foundation that will prepare union members to mobilize millions of union and non-union workers alike to resist attacks aimed at taking away our collective bargaining rights, making it more difficult to join unions, and eroding our working and living conditions. “We need to get more people in the streets,” said CWA vice-president Annie Hill in her opening remarks.
Cohen also urged members to build the union as political movement that fights for good jobs and good communities not just for CWA members but for all workers.
Those participating in the teleconference also heard reports from local union members who are on the frontlines in the recent anti-worker attacks. Mark Fry, Wisconsin telephone worker, said that CWA members have been attending the demonstrations in Wisconsin because Gov Scott Walker’s union busting bill “is the largest assault on working families” that we’ve seen in recent history. He urged participants to stay on message about how these attacks in Wisconsin are attacks on all working families and to take this message back to work and spread it in the community.
Marty Miller, who works for the local government in Beaver Creek, Ohio, said that Republican Governor John Kasich like his counterpart in Wisconsin is trying to curtail collective bargaining rights for all public workers in Ohio and that CWA locals like his have been part of a united effort to mobilize public and private sector workers to fight back against Gov Kasich’s union busting.
Tom Anderson from the Tennessee United Campus Workers, CWA local 3865, talked about work that his local was doing to stop legislation that would take away collective bargaining rights from public school teachers even though his local is not directly affected by these attacks.
Tennessee United Campus Workers is a union with 1,200 members who work at nine higher education institutions in Tennessee. Cohen said that the work done by United Campus Workers is a good example of the work that all CWA locals should be doing. United Campus Workers has faced every obstacle imaginable to union organizing. Most public workers in Tennessee have no collective bargaining rights, there is no dues check off to make collecting dues easier, and political leaders are hostile to unions, yet they’ve managed to gain a foothold in the state and are growing.
They did this, said Cohen, by taking on community fights (the union began as a living wage campaign), by being active politically, and by constantly reaching out to workers with the message that we can win if we educated ourselves, if we organize ourselves, and if we mobilize ourselves.