Post-mortem on the Blue Shield strike

Processed World analyses the situation at the end of the Blue Shield insurance workers' strike in 1981.

In Processed World #1 we published an article about the OPEIU-led strike at SF's Blue Shield offices. In that article we criticized the union's tactics as ineffective and pre-emptive of the Blue Shield workers' power over data banks and telecommunications hardware. We also challenged the union's analysis of the situation at Blue Shield and in the US today. The strike has since ended in a devastating defeat for the workers at Blue Shield:

* Lost wages and benefits for the duration of the 19-week strike.

* 448 Medicare claims processing jobs are being permanently relocated to other non-union Blue Shield offices.

* Elimination of cost-of-living wage increases, replaced by the infamous "Blue Cross settlement" (agreed to in the midst of the strike by "sister" local 29 in the East Bay) which raises wages a mere 27% during the three-year contract.

* No provisions for additional break-time for VDT operators, though the company agreed in a separate "letter of understanding," to install glare screens.

* Of the original 1,100 strikers (since the strike's end the union is saying only 950 people were on strike) 350 returned to work before the strike's end. Combining the large defection with the relocation of 448 jobs, this will leave loyal union members in possession of only about 150-200 jobs. Less than 300 strikers actually voted on the new contract (275 for, 22 against).

Judging from the speech given on National Secretaries' Day, organizers at OPEIU are oblivious to these consequences for Blue Shield workers. In a brief conversation with OPEIU representative Tonie Jones after her NSD speech, she claimed that, although they didn't get what they demanded, the Blue Shield workers did gain experience in organizing and working together. Certainly it is true that successful collective actions by clerical workers will call for a good deal of organization and preparation. During the first weeks the strike probably did encourage people to air their dissatisfactions and helped create a sense of community and support among otherwise isolated workers. But for an experience to be worthwhile, problems have to be analyzed and errors understood so that they can be avoided or at least foreseen in the next round.

The basic orientation and legal function of the union must be analyzed in detail. The OPEIU militants who refuse to recognize that they were soundly beaten and need to reconsider their approach are either plain dumb, or think the rest of us are.

--Lucius Cabins & Maxine Holz