I grew up in a union house. My dad was a chief steward in the CWA (local 7750). I remember there being one strike (and the threat of others) when I was growing up. Looking at the CWA history, I’m pretty sure this is what I remember:
1986: Post Divestiture Bargaining
1986 presented CWA with its first negotiations with the post-divestiture telephone industry. Twelve years after CWA had achieved national bargaining, the union was forced back to the old multiple table way of bargaining. CWA had to bargain not only with AT&T, but with the independent RBOCs and their subsidiaries. National bargaining had been replaced by 48 different bargaining tables.
In the AT&T negotiations, the company attempted to take back health care benefits, lower clerical wages, and eliminate cost of living adjustments obtained in earlier contracts. CWA had no choice but to strike. The strike lasted 26 days and AT&T agreed to provide wage and employment security improvements and retain the health care benefits intact. Although the negotiations with the RBOCs were also difficult, they were less contentious than those with AT&T. Strikes were necessary against some of these operating companies, but none lasted more than a few days.
So I was five going on six at the time. Needless to say, my memories aren’t that sharp or specific. But things I do remember?
- Going with my dad to where the everyone met and getting food for our house. Also getting my fingernails and toenails painted because I was wearing sandals. I’m pretty sure this is from the strike, but don’t quote me.
- Learning what “scabs” are, and that they’re bad. Well, of course they’re bad, I thought. Scabs are pretty gross, and you pick them off and flick them away, and then whats underneath is all gross and oozy. Why would you want to be like a scab?
- My parents not wanting to buy things or spend money because they didn’t know how long the strike would last.
- Having a play picket line with my older brother outside our house, because we saw dad with his sign for the picket line. My brother had a sign on a stick. I had a little sandwich board sign made with poster board and string.
That’s honestly it. When you’re that young, things don’t impact you the same way. And I think my parents worked hard to make sure we didn’t really know what the financial situation was like… because you try to keep your kids out of those worries until they’re too big to hide.
I was a member of the CWA for the just shy of six years that I worked for AT&T, later. There was one time when we had a strike vote–I voted yes, but at the time a lot of my coworkers argued with me, because they thought the union was pointless and what they were going after wasn’t worth a strike. I had my doubts at the time (I was young and stupid and that’s a whole other blog post – and I also didn’t have much of a strike fund saved up, so that was scary too) but I was glad about being union later when I needed my rep to sit in a couple meetings between me and my supervisor. And I was weirdly glad that because of the union, I knew when my job was on the layoff chopping block, because I was low on the seniority list. I’d rather get let go for that than because I didn’t suck up to my boss sufficiently.
This post brought to you by me taking a break from writing about the Ludlow Massacre and feeling angry. And because the WGA West has asked its membership for strike authorization and I’m already seeing people (who aren’t writers) bitching about it because they don’t want their TV shows interrupted when the world is a fiery political hell pit.
People don’t strike because it’s fun. It disrupts your life in ways you can’t imagine and can fuck you over financially even if you win in the end. People strike because the companies never stop trying to push workers further down the hole. Because it’s the only way the workers have to defend themselves from a line getting crossed. So I’m sorry if it inconveniences you, but the writers (or communications workers, or electricians, or truckers, or grocery store workers or…) aren’t the ones you should bitch at. The bosses trying to kill them by inches are.
It’s not greedy to want a decent life for yourself and your loved ones, and it’s not out of line to want your labor (and writing is labor, fuck off) to be respected. If you already have that good of a life, don’t shit on people trying to get to that level. And if you don’t have what they do, why the fuck are you shitting on them for wanting better, and why aren’t you fighting for better for yourself?
In 1886, during the Great Southwest Railroad Strike, Jay Gould (owner of the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific Railroads) famously said: “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”
Whose side are you on?
People who are against strikes and unions are a lot like anti-vaxxers. They see the inconveniences and forget the benefits. That 40 hour work week we love? Thank the unions. Laws prohibiting child labor? Thank the unions. Minimum wage laws that allowed people to earn a living wage? Thank the unions. (The failure of minimum wage to keep up with inflation? Thank the big bosses via “Right To Work” which is a euphemism for “Bust The Union”.) Laws against wage theft? Thank the unions. Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog? Thank the unions.
In short, unions do a hell of a lot more good than bad. We need them, even when we don’t like them. Or maybe we need them even more when we don’t like them.
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