During Election rush, Workers School lifts up Southern organizing
During Election rush, Workers School lifts up Southern organizing
By Dante Strobino
Workers from 12 Southern cities, several workplaces and a number of unions gathered here for the Southern Workers School over the Aug. 5-7 weekend to continue their study of the political economy of the Southern region of the U.S. and develop organizing skills. Attendees also participated in a strategy session about “How might the 2016 elections open opportunities for organizing Southern workers?”
The Southern Workers Assembly has been building the Southern Workers School as an important institution to train and develop rank-and-file workers to organize the South. The school has held eight sessions since March, tackling issues such as the role of slavery in shaping the political economy of the U.S. South, lessons from the history of past organizing campaigns such as Operation Dixie and the Civil Rights movement, fighting women’s oppression in the workplace, and building campaigns at work for more protections for LGBTQ people after passage of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which targets trans people. The school also offered basic organizing skills such as learning how to map your workplace and tips for one-on-one discussions with co-workers.
“The school is really important for us to continue to draw in Southern workers to educate ourselves and to continue to broaden out this fighting movement at the workplace,” stated Leonard Riley, leader of International Association of Longshoremen Local 1422 and the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment in Charleston, S.C.
The latest school session occurred amid a massive year-long media onslaught about the capitalist presidential elections, making workers feel like almost nothing else is going on in the world or at their workplaces. While workers are confronted with a choice between voting for an outright racist billionaire who hates workers like Donald Trump, or giving lukewarm support for Hillary Clinton, the school sought to elevate workers’ roles in building a social justice union movement. After all, it is the class struggle that is the motive force that changes history, not rich politicians.
The class struggle expands
The movements for Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 have rocked this country over the last few years and totally changed the expectations of the masses. They are forcing the politicians to change their political programs in an attempt to hold onto their fading support base. Yet, the Bernie Sanders campaign,which helped expose Wall Street’s profits and greed along with the growing economic inequality in this country garnered huge support from workers, collecting over 12 million votes in the primary. But even Sanders, who has a long history of supporting unions, was pushed by the grassroots movement in the streets, and workers organizing at the workplaces.
“These politicians don’t care about low-wage workers or Black people. They just want our votes,” stated Rolanda McMillan, a McDonald’s worker from Richmond and leader of Raise Up. “That’s why we must organize our people and build power to challenge them and the corporations.”
Delegations participating in the school included ILA dockworkers from Charleston, S.C.; fast food workers and members of Raise Up from several cities, including Richmond, Durham and Biscoe; state and city workers belonging to the United Electrical Workers (UE) from three states, including Local 150 from North Carolina, Local 160 from Virginia and Local 170 from West Virginia; the National Nurses Union/National Nurses Organizing Committee leadership from El Paso, Atlanta and Tampa; members of the Communication Workers from Virginia, some who victoriously struck Verizon and won a better contract and others who are currently voting on an AT&T contract; day laborers from New York City who belong to Jornaleros Unidos; and members of the Pitt County Coalition Against Racism in North Carolina. Several other workers who are not yet organized but are helping to form organizing committees came from plants and workplaces across the South.
Leaving the school, workers identified roughly 50 workplaces in their areas where they will begin leafleting as part of a massive agitation campaign to draw in more workers to the Southern Workers Assembly, build organizing committees and plant seeds for future union organizing campaigns.
SWA Affiliates Across US South Support Striking Verizon Workers!
This week members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are heading into their second month on strike against the greedy Verizon corporation. These courageous 40,000 union members are on strike from Virginia to Massachusetts.
In an outrageous move, on May 1 (May Day), Verizon cut off health benefits for active members on strike [and we have to get the info about the retirees]. Verizon has also pressured judges to issue injunctions in Virginia. The members are doing their part for the entire working class by standing strong on the picket lines for all workers. They are fighting for respect, job security, living wages and benefits, and a dignified retirement.
It is urgent we increase our support to assist them right now.
How you can help:
- Unions, student, community, faith-based organizations and individuals can join CWA-IBEW pickets if there is one near you. Or organize one at a corporate Verizon wireless store near you. [Link here]
- Make a much needed donation to the strike fund and share how supporters can contribute: [Link here]
- Pass solidarity resolutions in your organization and take up collections for the strike fund
- Build awareness and solidarity: http://standuptoverizon.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/CWAUnion
The fight being waged by CWA-IBEW is our fight too. Solidarity Forever!
Charlotte, NC – Organized by Raise Up for $15 – May 6
Durham, NC – May Day Rally with CWA local 2204 Guests from VA – May 2
Roanoke, VA – Strike lines (see banner above!)
Attended by Virginia Educator Association (NEA) members – May 9
REPEAL NORTH CAROLINA HOUSE BILL 2!
Tell the General Assembly to stop their divisive tactics, taking away local Citizens Power & our self-determination!
Workers Must Organize at their Workplaces to Expand Protections Against Discrimination!
Workers and our communities must have the international recognized human rights and freedom to Peoples Power! The power to address our human rights to public accommodations, living wages, terms of employment and cultural, social, and economic standards. The Human Right to exercise our power, work without discrimination and to speak in our own voice and organizing our own power in our unions and organizations was stripped away with House Bill2!
In late March, the NC General Assembly quickly called a special session and in about 8 hours (with out any public debate) quickly passed House Bill 2/ “HB2”. Tactically, they used this law to demean and scapegoat the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Queer (LGBTQ) community. They used this attack to create division among the working class as they took away “Peoples Power” in local cities, towns and counties. They took away working peoples power to address workers’ rights, wages, sick time, benefits and our local communities rights to self-determination to fight discrimination and address our local demands.
Under the North Carolina Constitution, the legislature does have the authority to determine what local governments can and cannot do. For decades, however, the General Assembly has provided our municipal and county governments freedom to regulate local public institutions and private businesses in a limited way. This includes local governments addressing discrimination and boosting the wages of their own city/county employees as well as public contractors. This also included the right to put local laws in place to support Minority/Women Businesses in their struggle to get local city/county government contracts that put us to work on public jobs.
The City of Charlotte recently used this authority to pass an important ordinance preventing public and private discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The extremist right conservative NC State Legislators is taking these rights away from our communities.
Their new law takes various powers away from local communities:
- Ban local governments from prohibiting businesses from engaging in any type of discrimination. …. effectively overturned Charlotte’s new ordinance, permit private businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgendered residents, and prevent local communities from regulating race, national origin, sex, religion and other types of discrimination by private businesses.
- Enacts sweeping new restrictions on the ability of governments to protect workers rights and raise wages. Public contracts with private businesses have been an important tool used by local governments to raise wages and working conditions and ensure basic fair job standards in their community. In an unprecedented overreach, their new bill prohibits local governments from considering wages, benefits, sick leave and basic job standards when awarding public contracts—in effect telling local governments what they can and can’t do with their own money.
- Eliminate state law remedies for employees who are fired based on their race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap.
THIS LAW means North Carolina will join Mississippi as the only state without any state law protecting private sector employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age or disability. The bill eliminates any employee’s private right of action to sue an employer who fires him or her for a discriminatory reason in State Courts.
This law continues to take Peoples Power from us. They attacked our VOTING RIGHTS, MEDICAID,UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS MEDICAL, OUR UNIONS’ PAYROLL DEDUCTION, HEALTH INSURANCE,LOCAL RIGHT TO PROVIDE LOCAL SAFE CLEAN WATER, AND NOW WORKERS RIGHTS!!!l North Carolina’s workers and UNIONS MUST READ, EDUCATE AND MOBILIZE WORKERS IN OUR UNIONS, COMMUNITIES AND CHURCHS/ HOUSES OF WORKSHIP AND SCHOOLS ABOUT THIS RECENT “HB2” AS DIVISIVE AND TAKING AWAY “PEOPLES POWER” ! It gives even greater power to businesses to ATTACK AND discriminate against workers and weakens the ability of local CITIZENS /governments to raise wages and fair labor standards AND PROTECT THE HUMAN RIGTS OF ALL CITIZENS IN OUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES!—Your voice and all workers in our community must be heard now.
Take Action! Tell the General Assembly to stop THEIR DIVISIVE ATTACKS ON OUR FELLOW RESIDENTS and taking away our power from workers and all local communities’
Take Action! Get a copy of your workplace policy, handbook or union contract clause regarding workplace discrimination. We are encouraging workers to fight their employers to expand this language to include ALL forms of discrimination including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Download this flier and discuss with your co-workers today!
Southern Workers Assembly pledges solidarity with Verizon workers strike
The Southern Workers’ School, a project of the Southern Workers Assembly in session tonight April 12, 2016 composed of workplace union activists from 8 Southern states pledges its solidarity and support to the 40,000 sisters and brothers about to go on strike for a just contract against Verizon organized by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions from Virginia through Pennsylvania.
WE reaffirm the absolute necessity for collective bargaining rights enforced by the right to strike for Verizon workers and for all workers regardless of employment status.
WE affirm the necessity for Verizon to continue and improve employee benefits and wages particularly in these times of rising income inequality and working class insecurity.
WE point out that continual downward pressures by corporations on working class wages and benefits is not only bad for working people and our families but also for our communities and our world.
WE will take support action in the southern states where the strike will take place and where the member organizations involved in the Southern Workers’ School exist.
- Southern Workers Assembly
- UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union
- National Nurses Organizing Committee – Florida
- National Nurses Organizing Committee – Texas
- Black Workers For Justice
- Southern Workers Organizing Committee/Raise Up for $15
- Appalachian Workers Alliance
- Boston School Bus Drivers Union, USW local 8751
- Muslims for Social Justice
- Organize2020 Caucus of NC Association of Educators
- Saladin Muhammad, UE* Retired/ Black Workers for Justice*, Rocky Mount, NC
- Larsene Taylor, President, UE Local 150/BWFJ*, Goldsboro, NC
- Angaza Laughinghouse, Vice President, UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union, Raleigh, NC
- Justin Flores, Vice President, Farm Labor Organizing Committee*, Dudley, NC
- Ed Bruno, Retired Southern Regional Director National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses Union*, Tampa, FL
- Peter Knowlton, General President, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)*, Pittsburgh, PA
- Chavel Lopez, Southwest Workers Union*, San Antonio, TX
- Deborah Casey, Norton Area Vice President, CWA local 2204*, Roanoke, VA
- Sandra Wakefield, National Nurses United/NNOC-TX, El Paso, TX
- Charles Brave, Vice President, SC AFL-CIO*, ILA local 1422*, Charleston, SC
- Leonard Riley, ILA local 1422*, Charleston, SC
- Shafeah M’Balia, Black Workers for Justice*, Savannah, GA
- Lutalo Tyehimba, ILA local 333*/Ujima People’s Progress Party*, Baltimore, MD
- Martha Grevatt, Civil and Human Rights Committee, UAW Local 869*, Detroit, MI
- Donna Dewitt Retired, CWA local 3719*, Orangeburg, SC
- Erin McKee President, SC AFL-CIO*, Columbia, SC
- Freddie Coakley, ILA local 1422*, Charleston, SC
- Deb Gornall, President, Eastern Region UE*, Erie, PA
- April Lofton-Beach, UE local 160*, Petersburg, VA
- Vera Nedrick-Jones UE local 160 VA Public Service Workers Union*, Petersburg, VA
- Abdul Burnette, Raise Up for $15, Durham, NC
- Gary L. DeLuke UE Local 170 – West Virginia Public Workers Union*, Charleston, WV
- Benji Piles, Appalachian Workers Alliance*, Huntington, WV
- Don Cavellini, Co-Chair, Pitt County Coalition Against Racism*, Greenville, NC
- Bryan Pfeifer, Roanoke Education Association*, Roanoke, VA
- Khem Irby, Guilford County Education Association (NEA)*, Greensboro, NC
- Bonita Johnson, UE150, Butner, NC
- Darrion Smith, UE150, Butner, NC
- Tiffany Downey, UE150, Butner Chapter Recording Secretary, Butner, NC
- Daryl Brunson, UE150, Durham, NC
- Brenda Hines, Black Workers for Justice*, Burlington, NC
- Dante Strobino UE*, Durham, NC
- Will Cox, NC Healthcare Workers United (Winston-Salem Organizing Committee) *
- Isolene Peele, UE150, Durham, NC
- Ben Carroll, Raise Up for $15, Durham, NC
- Enrique C. Alba, Jornaleros Unidos de Woodside*, NYC, NY
- Roberto Meneses, Jornaleros Unidos de Woodside*, NYC, NY
- Gustavo Medina, UFT/Independent Workers Movement*, NYC, NY
- Minnie Bruce Pratt, UAW Local 1081/National Writers Union*
- Chris Nelson, Healthcare Workers United*, Charleston, SC
- Wendy Williams, Healthcare Workers United*, Charleston, SC
- Tyaisha Williams, Black Workers for Justice*, NC
- Dennis Orton, UE* / BWFJ*, Virginia
- Steve Bader, UE* International Representative, WV/NC
- David Cohen, UE* Retired, MA
- Greg Butterfield, National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320*
- Susan E. Davis, National Writers Union, United Auto Workers Local 1981*
- Eric Fink, Greensboro, NC
- Rita Valenti, National Nurses Organizing Committee*, Atlanta, GA
- Dianne Mathiowetz, retired UAW local 10, producer, The Labor Forum, WRFG 89.3FM, Atlanta, GA
Southern workers converge to organize the South
Southern workers converge to organize the South
Raleigh, N.C. — Longshore workers from Charleston, S.C. Hospital workers from El Paso, Texas. Diesel engine parts manufacturing workers from Rocky Mount, N.C. State mental health workers from Petersburg, Va. Farm workers, union organizing committees and social movement activists from 10 states and over 30 workplaces.
They all came from across the U.S. South to attend the first session of the Southern Workers School. Organized by the Southern Workers Assembly, the school took place March 4-6 in Raleigh, N.C. Seven more school sessions will take place over the next six months to continue to develop an action plan and give workers the opportunity to engage in joint study.
This session of the school had several main objectives, including building a plan, with the worker leaders and rank-and-file activists gathered, to strategically organize workplaces across the region and begin the development of a committed core of activists. This core will study political economy and the organizing lessons of past union and Civil Rights campaigns in the region to inform a strategy where workers can best build unions and workers’ power.
The school was also held to help develop social movement conditions and bottom-up worker activism in order to attract support from international unions and other sources and be able to challenge those among the world’s largest corporations that invest in the region. Net income from U.S. and foreign investments in the South now equals $3.7 trillion, making it the world’s fourth-largest economy behind Japan.
‘For a broad fighting movement’
“The Southern Workers School is not an event,” stated Saladin Muhammad, of Black Workers for Justice, in his opening remarks. Muhammad is a retired international representative of the United Electrical Workers. “It’s about building infrastructure for a broad, fighting social movement that exposes the capitalist system and to build workers’ power to transform the economy.” Along with Muhammad, Ed Bruno, retired southern director for the National Nurses Union, developed and presented the curriculum for the school.
A school document reads: “The U.S. South is a region where forced labor and a system of racist apartheid were legalized. It shaped a culture of social, economic and political divisions that has made the U.S. South a region of low-wage labor, low union density and political conservatism. Because of the role of the U.S. South in fueling the growth of U.S. and global capitalism, particularly as a region producing the majority of the world’s cotton for the European textile industry during the 18th and 19th centuries, there was an acceptance of the conditions of forced labor and racist oppression in the European countries and developing global economy profiting from the international slave trade and forced labor.
“Rank-and-file workers, especially in the South, need a new orientation and organizing forms that break with business unionism that demobilizes members, bargains concessionary contracts, and aligns with corporate-run political parties.”
The school also sought to connect to the broader social movements, including the Black Lives Matter movement and against racist police killings. In the week before the school, a 24-year-old Black man, Akiel Denkins, was killed by a Raleigh police officer, and several demonstrations took over the streets.
‘About more than getting paid right’
“I lived through the 1960s,” stated Rolanda McMillan, a fast food worker from Richmond, Va., with Raise Up. “It’s about more than getting paid right. It’s about, am I gonna get killedtomorrow by a cop because of the color of my skin? Am I on a terrorist list because I am a Black woman?” McMillan also testified about being fired from McDonald’s for going on strike for $15 an hour and union rights, but later winning her job back after her co-workers, the community and Raise Up pressured the company.
Professor Patrick Mason from Florida State University led two major sessions about the political economy of the South. Mason’s presentation focused on the role of chattel slavery in shaping the economy here, including the continued repression that Black folks have faced in the region since abolition: the counterrevolution after Reconstruction, Black codes, sharecropping, Jim Crow, segregation, mass incarceration and overpolicing.
So-called “right-to-work” (for less) laws were enacted in the South to maintain segregation in the workplace and thus prevent the unity of workers organizing into unions and into a united working class that fights to bring about a society that addresses the human rights and needs of all. New York State alone has more union members than all 12 Southern states combined.
“Right-to-work,” anti-union codes and stripping of collective bargaining have now spread outside the South to states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Workers from Detroit and Wisconsin attended the school to show solidarity and connection with the workers’ movements there. A strong delegation of day laborers from New York, who belong to the Movimiento Independiente de Trabajadores (Independent Workers Movement), also attended.
The victorious Boston School Bus Drivers Union, United Steelworkers Local 8751, which recently defeated the global apartheid corporation Veolia/Transdev, led a session Sundaymorning. Their two-year campaign to reinstate four unfairly fired bus driver leaders, win a just contract, fight hundreds of stalled grievances, take back their local union under progressive leadership and beat back criminal charges provided rich experience and lessons to share with Southern workers and inform future campaigns.
Recently elected Local 8751 Treasurer Georgia Scott connected her experience as a young girl in Alabama, where she and others in the Civil Rights Movement were attacked in 1965 by police while marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, to her recent union efforts.
President Emeritus Donna Dewitt, of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, told the assembled workers: “The Southern Workers Assembly was responsible for drafting the resolution that was adopted at the national AFL-CIO convention in 2013 to organize the South.” Yet the national unions and the two labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, have not engaged in coordinated efforts in many years to organize labor in the South.
With few exceptions, unions organizing in the South tend to be trying to make up for the loss of union members elsewhere. They lack a long-term strategy, including allocating financial resources to organize Southern labor as a social movement. Dewitt continued, “This school was a critical step to move this plan forward.” At the end of the school, workers discussed a constitution for the Southern Workers Assembly and vowed to take it back to their locals for adoption and support.
The school is taking place within the mainstream media showcase of the general elections. At the workers school there was a fishbowl with presentations by Charles Brave, Vice President of International Longshoreman Association Local 1422, Sandra Wakefield, leader of Texas National Nurses Union and Angaza Laughinghouse, Vice President of UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union. After the presentation, workers assembled discussed and voted to support the resolution for “Building People’s Assemblies, Platform and Workers Power Before/During/After the Elections”. Unfortunately, most unions are rushing to endorse candidates and have left no real space and time for its members to discuss all the important issues at stake. This school was an opening of a process to develop a workers platform representing our own interests and to build local workers and people’s assemblies. Many school participants vowed to take the resolution back to their workplace, local, regional and national unions for further discussion. If you would like a copy of the resolution, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The struggle to organize the South just took a momentous leap forward.
SWA Plans Southern Workers School in March – Help support this historic gathering!
SWA Plans Southern Workers School in March – Help support this historic gathering!
On March 4-6, 2016, the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA) will hold the Southern Workers School in Raleigh, NC. This will be the first of an 8 session series of education, training and development of organizing tools to help prepare SWA worker-representatives to embark on a plan to build the organized rank-and-file infrastructure in workplaces and industries across the US South for the development a Southern Labor Congress.
Several dozen rank and file leaders of unions and workers organizations from Virginia to Texas are planning to participate in this historic gathering – but we need your help to make it a success!
WHAT WORKERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE SCHOOL
Bonita Johnson – Butner, NC
State mental health worker – NC Department of Health and Human Services
UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union
“As a worker, its important for me to go to the Southern Workers School to improve my organizing skills. In NC, public workers are still denied collective bargaining rights. This school will help us learn to organize, mobilize our labor power and strengthen our union movement and expand our rights on the job!”
Lawrence Moore – Columbia, SC
Manufacturing at Koyo bearings, JTEKT international
JTEKT Workers Organizing Committee
“I am attending the Southern Workers School to help educate my co-workers about the importance of having a union contract and having a seat at the table, especially when the company starts dividing up the money that we create for them. The school will bring working class people together to understand the struggles we are each going through, and help connect struggles for justices on the job with the broader social movement.”
Derick Beale – Richmond, VA
KFC fast food worker
Raise Up for $15
The restructuring of the US national economy resulting in the loss of millions of decent paying union jobs and the bankrupt of major cities, is the result of 4 major factors – the automation of major industries, the relocating of major companies to the US South, the outsourcing of jobs to other countries in the global South and the lack of a strong, united, rank-and-file led social movement to organize labor in the US South. The 12 Southern states combined have less union membership than the state of New York.
The US South has the highest regional concentration of anti-labor right-to-work laws, low wage labor, environmental injustice. As a region, it provides major financial incentives taken from community and infrastructure development needs, to bring US and international companies to the South. The profits made from these conditions have made the US South the 4th largest world economy.
The AFL-CIO passed a resolution at its 2013 National Convention on Organizing the South. This important resolution was drafted and presented by rank-and-file trade union activists and leaders from the US South and was supported by others from across the country. It must be given life and meaning by a rank-and-file social movement.
The Southern Workers Assembly (SWA) is a growing rank-and-file labor network of local unions, worker organizations and activists with support of allies committed to building a social movement to organize labor in the US South has been organizing itself since 2012.