Madison gives back solidarity

August 17, 2011

Andrew Cole reports from Wisconsin, where activists are repaying a debt of solidarity.

WHEN WORKERS' rights were under attack in Wisconsin, members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) sprang into action. On August 13, Wisconsin returned the favor.

In a show of support for the 45,000 members of CWA and IBEW striking Verizon, workers, students and activists demonstrated in front of a Verizon Wireless store in Madison.

Technicians and customer support employees in Verizon's wire line division walked off the job August 7 and launched a strike that's been called "the Wisconsin of the private sector" after the telecommunications company demanded concessions on health care benefits, pensions and job security provisions.

U.S. Uncut-Wisconsin took the lead and worked with the local anti-concessions group Wisconsin Resists and the Madison branch of the International Socialist Organization to organize the event.

Protesters attempted to enter the store and speak with non-union Verizon Wireless workers to explain the purpose of the picket, but were turned away by managers, who had already called the police. Two officers responded and told demonstrators to avoid obstructing the sidewalk and store entrance, and the protest proceeded without incident.

Strikers got solidarity from activists who picketed a Madison, Wis., Verizon store
Strikers got solidarity from activists who picketed a Madison, Wis., Verizon store (Jenna Pope)

Addressing the crowd, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field of the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) explained how Verizon's proposed contract jeopardizes the retirement of long-time workers and forces them to pay more for their health insurance. Verizon won't budge from a long list of demands that also includes cutting paid holidays and reducing sick days--and for workers with fewer than two years on the job, eliminating sick days altogether.

At the peak of the demonstration, roughly 40 people marched and chanted, "Chop, chop from the top, make the bosses take the losses" and "When union busters come to town, Verizon workers shut it down." Motorists passing by on University Avenue honked to show their support.

This winter's mass protests in Madison and the three-week occupation of the state Capitol building were still fresh in the minds of demonstrators. "We're all union brothers and sisters," said Todd Andres of Laborers International Union of North America Local 236, which represents Madison city employees. "It just shows you the solidarity we feel since what happened here in February."

Wrigley-Field told a cheering crowd that the Madison ISO had already gathered $400 to buy pizza--a popular gesture of solidarity during the Capitol occupation--for Verizon workers on picket lines up and down the East Coast.

Wrigley-Field also spoke to the solidarity on display for the strikers, as well as the increasing militancy of the labor movement. "The level of solidarity and support is absolutely unprecedented," she said. "There's a sea change in workers' attitudes toward strikes taking place."

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