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8,000 Electrical Workers Strike at Con-Edison

Local 3 Takes to the Picket Line to Smash Company Union

(4 August 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 31, 4 August 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY – The 8,000 skilled electricians in Electrical Workers Union, Local 3, AFL, are out out on a general strike, the first general strike in the industry since 1907.

By unanimous vote and with great enthusiasm the men have undertaken to smash the Brotherhood of Consolidated Edison Employees, a company union which is being used by big boss Con-Ed in an attempt to undermine Local 3.

So strong has been the stranglehold of Con-Ed on its employees that at an NLRB election held a year and a half ago, the Brotherhood of Consolidated Edison Employees, a stooge union, won against Local 3 and the CIO. With the company’s nerve strengthened by the results of the election, it went further and took away from Local 3 the construction jobs on its new $1,000,000 power plant at 39th Street and First Avenue, Manhattan.

For 20 years Local 3 men had been getting the work on all construction for the Con-Ed system – at the union scale. But the 600 construction jobs on the new plant were filled by members of the stooge union – at an average wage of $1 an hour, instead of the $2 paid union men. And, whereas the union. week is 30 hours, the 50-hour week was instituted. It was only after Local 3 began its agitation that the company was compelled to shorten the week to 40 hours.

The strikers claim: that these 600 construction jobs belong to Local 3 at union wages and conditions. They say, if they let Con-Ed get away with this union-busting ruse, other employers will soon follow suit, and union standards, won through long and bitter struggles, will be permanently undermined.

On Tuesday morning, when the strike began, more than 3,000 men congregated at strike headquarters and threw their mass picket line about the new plant, This was at 7 a.m. Later the pickets divided into groups and went to other construction jobs to picket, leaving about 600 at the First Avenue plant. Several hundred strikers picketed the main office of the company on Irving Place.

At the union meeting held at Manhattan Center Monday night, at which the strike vote was taken, rank and file members were the ones who urged the strike. It is a well known fact among Local 3 men that it costs the big monopolist of the light and power of New York City only half a cent a kilowatt hour to make power which it sells to the public at 7 cents a kilowatt hour. When this aristocrat of profit-makers goes in for breaking down decent union standards by means of its stooge union, bona fide union men have something to say about it, and they did.

Because electrical construction workers are key men on all building jobs, the general strike of Local 3 involves some 250,000 building workers. Walls and floors cannot be completed in new buildings without electrical installation. Local 3 expects many of these building workers to strike in sympathy.

Before the workers voted to strike, there had been futile conferences with the company and with the State Mediation Board. The Electrical Contractors Association, with whom Local 3 has an agreement, was considering applying for an injunction to restrain the union officers from calling the strike. However, Harry van Arsdale, business manager of Local 3, told the men: “Your officers may be restrained from telling you to strike. But there is no injunction on earth compelling you to work.” The men liked that.

Meanwhile, William Green, one of the labor leaders more worried about the boss war than about union men, was singing his theme song down in Washington: “Strikes must be avoided at all costs.”

Local 3, however, has a reputation for not pulling its punches.

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Last updated: 26 August 2014