“Gerry was run down like a dog”

Verizon strikers honor Gerry Horgan, killed at a picket in 1989

By a WSWS reporting team
16 August 2011
Gerry Horgan

Approximately 250 Verizon workers and retirees marked the 22nd anniversary of Gerry Horgan’s death Monday in a ceremony in Valhalla, New York. Horgan died in Valhalla in 1989 from injuries sustained on the picket line after being struck by a vehicle driven by a strikebreaker.

Horgan was killed during a four-month strike against NYNEX, one of the components that make up the present day Verizon. Some 45,000 Verizon workers are currently on strike against demands for $1 billion in concessions from the company.

Workers traveled to the small town, 25 miles north of New York City, from as far away as Albany. A memorial service is held each year, but numbers swelled this time, sharply reversing a declining trend. This year also brought out the police, who kept a watchful eye over the event, as they have over the strikers as a whole.

Workers lining up for the ceremony along the roadside where Gerry Horgan was killed

A solemn atmosphere prevailed at the ceremony, which included the remarks of Horgan’s brother for the first time.

A sense prevailed throughout that Gerry’s death took on added significance with the renewed struggle unfolding. At least 30 strikers have already been injured during the weeklong strike, and the company is ramping up a propaganda campaign, with the assistance of police, attempting to blackguard strikers as saboteurs.

In addition to the hundreds of workers at the memorial service, striking workers everywhere throughout Verizon paid tribute to Gerry with a minute of silence.

On August 15, 1989, Gerry Horgan was picketing along with other workers when he was struck by a car driven by the daughter of a high-level manager.

The Bulletin, a predecessor to the World Socialist Web Site, reported at the time, “Workers who saw the incident said that Horgan was hit by the car and thrown up on the hood. The driver then accelerated and carried Horgan another 100 to 200 feet as he shouted for her to stop, before he was thrown off onto the pavement head first.”

Gerry Horgan died from head injuries. He left behind his wife and two daughters.

One worker told the Bulletin at the time, “Gerry Horgan was a martyr for the labor movement. Things are going back to the 1930s, when union people died on picket lines. This is a remake of the 1930s.”

The driver was never charged in his death, and police never investigated the complaints of strikers that the scabs were racing through the line. Instead, they covered for the company, claiming that Horgan jumped on the hood of the car. They planned to charge Gerry with criminal mischief if he survived.

One worker told the Bulletin: “They were waiting for him to get better so they could fingerprint him. They let her go and they were ready to charge him… The police chief made sure that the company didn’t get any bad coverage because the police chief is good friends with the owner of the property of NYNEX.”

Charles Pearce

Charles Pearce, a retired lineman who knew Gerry, spoke to the World Socialist Web Site at Monday’s memorial. “Gerry was just trying to stop a scab. We were called over to stop the scabs from coming through. I was on the other end of the picket line when it happened. I was told that a 19-year-old girl, whose father worked for the company and was a summer hire, acted like she was determined to get through. Her father had told her to just go. She ran down Gerry. He bounced off her hood and landed on his head.

“We were hit by cars before in the strikes in ’71 and ’89, but Gerry was run down like a dog. That is the difference.

“We were called over to that side of the picket after Gerry was hit. I still remember when she went away in a cop car she gave us all the finger. That is an image burned into my memory.”

Speaking about the cover-up afterwards, Pearce said, “I don’t know how the case against her went. It was basically stifled. The phone company has a lot of money, and you get a lot of power with money.

“The ’89 strike was about protecting medical benefits,” he added “It is happening all over again, and it brings a sickening feeling to my stomach and makes me cry.”

The killing of Gerry Horgan came at the end of a decade that saw a wholesale attack on the working class by the corporations and the government, beginning with the firing of the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in 1981. In each of the struggles that followed, the trade unions worked to isolate the strikes and ultimately facilitate the defeat of the workers.

The killing of Horgan was followed four days later by the use of military-style violence against striking Pittston coal miners, with company guards opening fire on strikers and using an armored vehicle to destroy a picket shack. The AFL-CIO leadership did nothing to wage a campaign against this violence and intimidation.

Each year, Communication Workers of America Local 1103, holds a memorial service for Gerry Horgan, but this is the first year that the CWA international leadership ever attended. Even at the time of his death, most strikers were kept in the dark about what happened to Gerry, and the CWA never mounted a campaign to demand justice for him or prosecution of those responsible for his death.

Within a few weeks of his death, the CWA leadership betrayed what Gerry was fighting for by agreeing to a contract for CWA members at what was then Bell Atlantic, another company that was to become part of Verizon. That betrayal split the union in half and allowed the company to isolate the NYNEX workers and leave them on strike for four more months.

The splitting of the CWA and the betrayal of the NYNEX strike was a step in the betrayal of the workers that has led to today. Since 1989, the CWA has accepted the destruction of tens of thousands of jobs through employee buyouts, allowed Verizon to broadly use temporary, term and contract employees and accepted concessions in retiree benefits.

The effort by the CWA leadership to attach themselves to the memory of Horgan now, after ignoring him for 22 years, is merely an attempt to cover themselves for the betrayal they are preparing in the current strike.

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