The Power of Action and Hip-Hop: What’s Happening With Cablevision and James Dolan

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By: Gus Navarro

In January 2012, the technicians of the New York City based cable company, Cablevision, came together and voted to form a union as part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). At that time, Cablevision workers in Brooklyn voted 180 to 86 to join the CWA Local 1109 despite the company’s vigorous anti-union campaign, becoming the first of the company’s workers to organize in what is largely a union-free industry. However, in June 2012 there was another vote concerning the formation of a union. The result was another landslide, this time with 43 workers voting in favor of unionization and 121 workers voting against it. In the time between the January and June votes, Cablevision officials such as C.E.O. James Dolan came under fire for threatening employees that voted for unionization and for attempting to sway the election in favor of no unions. According to the Huffington Post, Cablevision officials took part in:

  • Illegally firing 22 workers earlier this year. (They got their jobs back as a result of tremendous support from the community and elected officials.)

  • Paying techs in Brooklyn about 20 percent less than workers doing the same jobs in the Bronx and other locations to stop any more workers from choosing a union. This and several other unfair labor practice charges are the focus of a National Labor Relations Board hearing set to begin next month.

  • Refusing to fairly bargain with workers as the law requires.

As these events have unfolded, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has gotten involved. As reported by The New York Times in April, 2013, “the labor board’s regional office for Manhattan and the Bronx is accusing Cablevision’s chief executive, James L. Dolan, of illegally telling the Bronx workers that they would be excluded from training and job opportunities if they voted to unionize.” As one would expect, Cablevision officials have adamantly denied these allegations of wrongdoing. This ordeal has been over a year in the making and as the legal issues get sorted out, Cablevision workers are still waiting on fair contracts for over 200 workers and the right to unionize.

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The technicians of Cablevision may be waiting, but they definitely aren’t waiting around passively for the politicians and Boss Tweeds of the world to sort it out. Instead, the workers are taking part in one of the most important and honorable American traditions; the struggle for ethical working conditions, fair wages and the right to unionize. From the Haymarket Square Massacre of the 1800’s to Phil Ochs, the relationship between labor activism and art has played an integral role in the history of the United States and the fight for workplace equity. In the case of Cablevision, the employees are engaged in this struggle and are not backing down from the fight. While lawyers and HR representatives battle it out in the courtroom and through the media, the workers are getting the word and are using hip-hop to do it.

“Dear Mr. Dolan” is an example of how music, and in this case hip-hop, is a form of expression that is empowering for all of those involved. It allows the Cablevision workers to make their experiences known in a creative and collaborative manner. At the same time, it allows the viewer(s) to learn from the content and hopefully look into the situation further, gaining more knowledge along the way.

This knowledge is crucial for people who are unaware of situations such as these that occur everyday, all over the country, and the world for that matter. Of course, art has been a means of resistance and agency throughout history. This is not new, but its relevance to the way in which we live is as fresh as ever. When hip-hop is used to create a space in which oppressed individuals can create and make sense of their conditions, the power of hip-hop is revealed and organized action is revealed.

You can watch another video by the Cablevision employees here.

Check out more from the Cablevision Workers here.

Check out the CWA site here.

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