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When big labour meets big politics: why the Verizon strike is important

By guest blogger Lise Lareau

LiseIt’s hard to underestimate the importance of what is happening south of the border when it comes to labour.  40 thousand workers at communications giant Verizon walked off the job this week – many of them members of the CWA, the union with which the CMG is affiliated.

The sheer numbers alone make this an important dispute.  Plus the issues at the centre of it – outsourcing and pension cuts – resonate with many working people.  They are some of the real issues of our time.

Add the political context: This dispute has been brewing for months, but CWA chose the week before the New York primary right at the apex of the U.S. presidential race to go to the front lines of the battle and take it head on.

That means this union, our union, is putting its financial war chest on the line in the fight for economic justice for workers as a whole.

So much of the U.S. election campaign has been about anger: anger at disappearing jobs, anger at closing factories, anger at wage disparity, anger at the 1%.  The Verizon dispute embodies those things.  And it is happening in the financial capital of the world and much of the rest of the U.S. northeast.

What remains to be seen is whether this strike can channel that anger into effective action and deliver a solid victory for the people at the centre of it.   A good contract would send a powerful message that people can work effectively toward a better economic reality – as long as they do it in a collective and organized way.

It’s a key moment for the union movement, which needs to exert real power and influence on the political and economic spectrum in order to be effective.  Bernie Sanders was openly endorsed by the CWA very early on his campaign and his ties to the union are close.  CWA’s former president Larry Cohen, who preached many of the same issues Sanders is doing for the past decade, stepped down last year and is now working on the Sanders campaign.

Sanders needs more than CWA support next Tuesday in the New York primary.  But by linking himself to this Verizon strike he is making it very clear that the issues that our union has been fighting for decades are now centre stage in the biggest political show that we’ve seen in some time.

Lise Lareau is National Vice-President, CMG

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