For years, one of the biggest impediments to organized laborâ€™s goals to promote a more democratic America has been the media/telecom policies of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Now, with CWAâ€™s active lobbying against a federal network neutrality safeguard, CWA once again reveals its misguided, wrong-headed, short-term approach to communications policy. This week, CWA sided with Verizon, AT&T and other phone and cable giants who are fighting tooth and nail to derail Internet freedom legislation. On May 24, CWA President Larry Cohen sent a letter [PDF] opposing the network neutrality bill offered by House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner, Jr. CWA became a flack for Verizon and others when it claimed that his bill, which would ensure an open Internet, â€œwould retardâ€ the â€œdeployment of universal, affordable high-speed networksâ€¦â€ (Thanks to great work by advocates, the bill passed the committee 20-13).
Over the last decade, CWA has not served its members and the larger union movement well. Instead of advocating for an open media system, CWA has frequently sided with â€œbig mediaâ€ interests, especially the largest phone companies. For example, CWA supported the Comcast takeover of AT&T Broadband. CWA representatives will claim that by opposing network neutrality, they are helping the economic interests of their employers (and helping promote job security at Verizon, AT&T, etc.). But it is shortsighted thinking. Only with a truly open digital media system will Labor be able to get its message out and mobilize supporters. A democratic media systemâ€”with a non-discriminatory Internet/digital medium at its coreâ€”will help fulfill the goal of Labor for a more democratic U.S. CWA has largely set the communications/media policy agenda for the AFL-CIO. It has helped the union movement think â€œsmallâ€ and short-term at precisely the point when a bold and forward-thinking approach is required for it to thrive in the new media era. Sadly, CWA also violates the best interests of the journalists it represents through its Newspaper Guild affiliate. In essence, CWA is opposed to the free flow of information online. (In its letter, CWA claims that while it opposes network neutrality, it supports an â€œopen Internet.â€ But it does so by backing the toothless provisions in the â€œCOPEâ€ bill that would have the FCC set up a Bell/cable friendly â€œcomplaint adjudication process.â€)
CWA has lots of high-minded communications policy rhetoric on its website. But it might as well replace its union logo with that of AT&T, Comcast and others who are engaged in a digital land grab of the Net. The leaders of CWA should be ashamed of themselves. And its members should demand the union reverse its position and join with others supporting network neutrality.
PS: Read a brief commentary from SEIU’s Andy Stern supporting network neutrality. Here’s a union leader who gets it.