GE Workers Strike Against Globalization
In the latest skirmish in its battle against General Electric’s globalization strategy and destruction of members’ jobs, for four days in late October Local 201 of the International Electronic Workers-Communications Workers struck GE’s Lynn, Massachusetts plant, which makes engines for jet fighters.
The IUE-CWA contract with GE gives the union the right to strike locally over exhausted grievances. Currently, the local has 2,500 members, down from 8,000 in the early 1980s.
Local 201 is not alone in taking or threatening strike actions. The largest unionized GE plant, in Erie, Pennsylvania, represented by United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 506, has conducted two-hour strikes over outsourcing and job loss. The fourth largest GE plant, in Schenectady, New York, has served strike notice over outsourcing.
The IUE-CWA international is threatening job actions in January over company increases in health care costs before contract expiration in June 2003. The union expects the difficult contract talks to focus on pensions, health care, and jobs.
Local 201 has been active in the global justice movement, leading delegations to demonstrations in Seattle and Quebec. President Jeff Crosby put the local’s fight for jobs in a global context: “The business press says each country of the world ‘does what they do best’ in an efficient division of labor where the market provides a ‘win-win’ world. Leaders from Local 201 have traveled in the last year to Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. And we can tell you the results. Apparently, what Colombian workers do best is: get shot. And what Brazilian workers do best is: get fired for organizing. And what we do best in the U.S. is: get laid off. And what GE does best is: make $16 billion a year in profits!”
The local won the support of local political and community leaders, including Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman John Tierney, who both addressed a picket line rally. To keep up the pressure on elected officials, the local has asked members to collect signatures of family, friends, and neighbors on a petition calling for congressional investigation of GE’s outsourcing of both commercial and military work.
Local 201 chief negotiator Ric Casilli said that the strike was demanding that “GE bring back work for about 35 people to avoid layoffs.” GE indicated that as many as 100 layoffs at the Lynn Riverworks plant might occur during the first half of 2003 and that it intends to send another 42 jobs to Romania in August.
Particularly aggravating to members were GE’s tactics with military contracts. GE accepted $750 million in tax dollars to develop the most advanced jet fighter engine, promising to keep the work in Lynn. It had no qualms about announcing big orders at the same time it made plans to outsource the work all over the globe. GE even demanded that its suppliers move work abroad. “The question is not whether but when you will move,” GE told vendors at a conference in Monterey, Mexico.
Picket signs proclaimed “Jobs Not Greed” and highlighted retired GE CEO Jack Welch’s outrageous retirement perks worth $2.5 million, $9 million per year pension, and stock assets worth $900 million. Strikers contrasted this with impending job losses. While job losses due to the downturn in commercial aircraft orders since 9/11 are real, the union targeted company outsourcing as the real villain.