Momentive Performance Materials stewards and workers represented by IUE/CWA Local 81359 were joined by labor leaders and activists from around the Capital District of Upstate New York in a wide-ranging discussion of labor strategy and tactics on Wednesday, March 31 in Waterford, New York.
Momentive workers, formerly employees of General Electric, suffered 25 to 50 percent wage cuts in early 2008, and are now engaged in a two-front struggle with a case before the National Relations Board (NLRB) and contract negotiations with Momentive that face of June 2010 deadline. The meeting was co-sponsored by the Troy Area Labor Council, which has taken on solidarity with IUE/CWA 81359.
The meeting, chaired by Local 81359 President Dominick Patrignani, crowded into the dining room of Costanzo’s Restaurant to hear Steve Early, former Communications Workers of America (CWA) international representative, and author of several books on labor issues, discuss the question of how unions could fight back in a period of deep recession and general retreat by organized labor.
Early drew on his experiences in a number of labor battles during the eighties and nineties fought by the CWA against the large telecom employers like Verizon and its predecessors.
After discussing the pros and cons of striking versus in-plant strategies, Early encouraged discussion and questions from the floor and found no lack of people with contributions and queries about what could be done. I will just mention a few.
Former Albany Teachers Union President Bill Ritchie made an impassioned plea for labor to take the offensive, citing the growing unpopularity of Wall Street and its minions in politics.
Kevin Eitzmann, a former CWA Verizon worker, now a Capital District Labor Federation staffer, pointed out the success the CWA had with its “rope-a-dope” tactic in a recent showdown with management, when the union, knowing the management had strike breakers standing by, delayed a walkout in order to cost the company money.
Public Employees Federation’s Mary Mahoney described her unions campaign against former governor George Pataki, which made his life so miserable that he finally relented and signed a contract.
Bob Krisanda, President of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers Local 77, which represents Owens Corning workers in Selkirk, New York, whose contract expires in May, drew on his previous experience as a member of the Teamsters Union to urge the Momentive Workers not to think that concessions could stop a plant closing.
President Patrignani pointed out that since IUE/CWA Local 31859 was cut loose from GE, and then suffered the wage cuts, the local had come to realize the value of solidarity and the importance of participating in local labor councils. IUE/CWA members have been highly visible in the past year at many a picket line in the Capital District.
As the meeting progressed, IUE/CWA 81359 members, initially somewhat abashed by all the more experienced labor activists in the room, began to ask questions and comment.
At the meeting’s end, the participants gave Steve Early a rousing standing ovation and many crowded around to buy copies of his new book Embedded with Organized Labor.
|Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.|