By Dante Strobino /Erie, Pensilvania
More than 3,500 workers from several General Electric factories, and more than 20 states, gathered at the Hammermill Center at Gannon University in Erie, Pa., on June 4. Cheers of solidarity and the spirit of fightback against GE’s corporate greed filled the hall.
The rally was hosted by Erie-based United Electrical Workers Union Local 506, which represents more than 2,300 workers at GE’s largest U.S. factory. There was an amazing show of unity among workers from the 11 unions that organize GE workers represented by the Coordinated Bargaining Committee.
Even the workers’ T-shirts showed militancy; they were decorated with pictures of fierce bulldogs and fanged badgers. Members of the Communication Workers’ division of electrical workers (IUE-CWA) from as far away as Louisville, Ky., wore T-shirts which proclaimed, “Hands off our healthcare.”
“This is a three-generation attack; no one is spared,” said Ric Casilli, business agent of IUE-CWA Local 201 at GE’s plant in Lynn, Mass. His militant speech got the crowd roaring. “They are not leaving anyone out — no one will be spared — retirees, current workers and future employees,” he said.
Caselli reminded the crowd that GE made record profits of $14 billion last year and didn’t pay any taxes.
“Many of you have been turning it loose in your shops,” said UE Local 506 President Roger Zaczyk. “I’m telling you that New York City is hearing you loud and clear.” He was referring to recent workplace actions and rallies at GE facilities across the country.
Jim Clark, IUE-CWA national president and chairperson of the CBC, told the cheering crowd that their union had taken $400 million from their strike fund to make available to union members if they turn down GE’s final contract offer in mid-June and go out on strike.
There was also a powerful showing of international solidarity at the rally. Andrew Dinkelaker, president of UE Eastern Region, said that the union had recently received letters from unions and labor federations in 12 countries representing 40 million workers, expressing solidarity with the CBC unions in their fight with GE.
Dinkelaker showed a video containing statements and letters from the Sindicato dos Metalurgicos de BH (CUT from Brazil); Communication, Energy and Paperworkers union of Canada; Canadian Autoworkers union; and Mexican unions, including Stumam, Sintrametlife, Stracc, Stimahca and Frente Autentico del Trabajo.
There were also solidarity messages from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Union; International Metalworkers Federation; French Metallurgical workers; India’s New Trade Union Initiative; Kilusang Mayo Uno in the Philippines; Zenroren, the National Confederation of Trade Unions in Japan; and the National Union of Metal Workers in South Africa.
Unions push back at contract talks
The CBC, which represents about 15,000 workers, is currently negotiating a national labor contract in New York City with GE, one of the world’s largest corporations. This comes at a time when workers and oppressed people countrywide are under brutal attack by the corporate super-rich, who are on a rampage to undercut unions and workers’ jobs, wages and benefits.
Despite its 2010 all-time-high profits, GE seeks to further exploit its workers and is ruthlessly attempting to force them to accept major concessions in wages, health care coverage, pension plans, the Special Early Retirement Option and more. The company is pushing two-tier contracts, which would give new hires lower wages and fewer benefits.
Yet GE workers are highly productive. Not surprisingly, no corporate official has told the truth: that the workers are actually responsible for making GE’s record profits. Each GE worker made about $42,000 in profits for the company in 2010.
So ruthless is GE that, during these negotiations, the company has “bragged about” the elimination of 50 percent of GE’s union jobs in the U.S. between 2000 and 2011. Wayne Burnett, UE Local 506 business agent, emphasized that while GE wants wage concessions from the workers, he didn’t hear any company representatives criticize the $11 million bonus given to CEO Jeffrey Immelt. (www.ueunion.org, June 9)
Another issue that the union and workers have to contend with is GE’s construction of a new locomotive-manufacturing plant in anti-union, low-wage Fort Worth, Texas.
The contract negotiations are now into their third week. A tentative agreement is expected by June 19. Then unionized workers nationally will have to decide whether to accept or reject the contract.
UE and the other CBC unions are well aware of the ferocious attacks coming down on workers and unions today, and they are also well aware of the need to stand strong against concessions.
The Erie rally showed the spirit of unity and fightback by the unions representing GE workers. It cannot be stressed enough that the fightback of workers and community members against anti-union attacks in Wisconsin has spurred on the drive to struggle against attacks by corporations and their government representatives.
For updates on contract negotiations and the struggle, see the UE website at http://www.ueunion.org/unity2011.html.