Great moments in labor history: The Viagra strike

What do we want? Four-hour erections! When do we want them? Now!


Andrew Leonard
November 13, 2009 9:52PM (UTC)

Great moments in American labor history:

1892: An attempt by Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick to break a steelworkers union led to a pitched gun battle between strikers and Pinkerton security forces in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

1894: 3000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike to protest a 30 percent wage cut.

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1913: Silk mill workers in Paterson, New Jersey led by the Industrial Workers of the World go on strike seeking eight-hour days and better working conditions.

1937: The Great Flint Sit-Down Strike led to the first labor agreement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers.

2009: The employees of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) end a strike after convincing the bosses to increase Viagra coverage: (Found via Jim Edwards' BNET Pharma blog.)

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has agreed to cover almost all of its rising health-care costs, and to increase coverage for Pfizer's (PFE) Viagra and other erectile dysfunction treatments, the Philadelphia Daily News reports. Workers are unhappy that their health insurance plan only covers about 10 pills a month.

To be fair, there was far more at issue in the SEPTA strike than merely erectile dysfunction healthcare coverage. Wages, pension fund contributions, and the prospect of changes in healthcare costs after federal legislation passes were all part of the contested deal. But when one considers what the miners, steelworkers, railworkers and seamstresses of decades past fought and died for, the right to more than ten pills of Viagra a month signifies a peculiarly modern form of labor movement progress.

Which is not to say and sex and labor militancy haven't gone together for a long long time. In Aristophanes' "Lysistrata" the women of Athens withheld sex in an effort to stop the Peloponnesian War. In Philadelphia in 2009 transit workers withheld their labor in an effort, in part, to enhance their sex lives.

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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