Solidarity from Cairo to NYC
New York City's utility giant Con Edison has locked out 8,500 utility workers after they refused to accept management's demand for drastic concessions. By imposing the lockout in the midst of a sizzling heat wave, management showed it is willing to gamble with the well-being of both residents and replacement workers to defeat the union.
The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), which represents some 1.4 million workers across Egypt, emerged shortly after the downfall of dictator Hosni Mubarak. The EFITU has boldly defied the long tradition of state-run unions in Egypt in order to better fight for the rights of workers. The EFITU issued the following statement in support of Con Ed workers on July 6, 2012.
THE EGYPTIAN Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) follows with concern the news that Con Edison locked out 8,500 members of Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2 in New York. This is an attempt by the company to impose worse and unjust conditions on its workers with the expiration of the current contracts.
The company insists on imposing big concessions on both health care and pensions, and is demanding that workers pay for safety equipment required by federal law.
Con Ed is a huge private utility, covering tens of millions of consumers in the New York metropolitan region. There have been recent, well-documented reports to the effect that the company has been spending money on lobbying and not paying any taxes from 2008 to 2010, instead getting $127 million in tax rebates--despite making a profit of $4.2 billion and increasing executive pay by 82 percent to $17.4 million in 2010 for its top five executives.
Even though the union has shown a significant amount of flexibility and moderation, offering to continue working under the terms of its expired contract (especially because of the heat wave which the city is currently experiencing), Con Ed insisted it would only allow the workers to continue working if the union pledged to give seven days' notice before going out on strike, which the union refused to do.
Con Ed seems adamant to use the heat wave that will leave New Yorkers more vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts as a weapon to pressure the workers and their unions into accepting an outright and unjust attack on their work conditions.
The union rightly questions Con Ed's decision to bring in replacement workers at a time when residents fighting the heat could lead to greater pressure on Con Ed's system. Replacement workers currently performing the jobs out in the field are either supervisors who haven't performed fieldwork in years or outside replacement workers, some of whom are fresh out of trade school.
The EFITU considers this behavior on the part of Con Ed to be irresponsible and very dangerous. In addition to threatening thousands of workers with dismissal and adding to the ranks of the unemployed, the company is endangering consumers in great need of its services in a period likely to witness an increase in utility emergencies. The company is also endangering the lives of non-qualified replacement workers.
In addition, the greedy behavior of Con Ed is placing unnecessary pressure on public finances during a period of huge economic difficulties. Because Con Edison locked out its workforce, those workers will be eligible to file for unemployment insurance benefits seven days after the lockout began.
The EFITU expresses its total solidarity with our American coworkers and comrades. It urges the American government to exercise its leadership by preventing these dangers and intervening in favor of just labor contracts and the preservation of workers' legal rights.
It also calls upon unqualified replacement workers, supervisors and trainees to disobey Con Ed orders and refuse to replace their colleagues. Agreeing to do so is endangering their lives as well as citizens' lives, and represents an attempt to break the will of their colleagues and impose unjust working conditions on them all.
The solidarity campaign within the American labor movement with UWUA Local 1-2 is a source of joy and inspiration for EFITU. We join this campaign, as we consider that workers' solidarity not only at the national but also the international level is the way that workers can gain their rights in the face of savage capitalism and multinational companies.
Long live the struggle of Con Ed workers!
Workers of the world, unite against the injustice and tyranny of savage capitalism!
Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions