Southern workers converge to organize the South

by on March 21, 2016

Southern workers converge to organize the South


SWA schoolRaleigh, 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’


SWA school 1

Saladin Muhammad, co-chair of the SWA, addresses school participants on the opening day

“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’


Rolanda McMillian, McDonald's worker from Richmond, VA and Raise Up for 15 member (photo credit: Wisconsin Bailout the People Movement)

Rolanda McMillian, McDonald’s worker from Richmond, VA and Raise Up for 15 member (photo credit: Wisconsin Bailout the People Movement)

“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,

The struggle to organize the South just took a momentous leap forward.

SWA Plans Southern Workers School in March – Help support this historic gathering!

by on December 27, 2015

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!


bonita johnsonBonita 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 mooreLawrence 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 BealeDerick Beale – Richmond, VA
KFC fast food worker
Raise Up for $15

“I’m looking forward to the Southern Workers School having this knowledge to organize is power. I’m excited to hear from the other workers who will be there to learn from them, share my experience being a part of the Fight for 15, and connect with other movements for justice to figure out ways we can all build together in the South.”


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.

Low wage workers strike from coast to coast, across US South

by on November 19, 2015
Kinston $15 rally Nov 15, 2015

Kinston $15 rally Nov 15, 2015

A wave of strikes and protests by low-wage workers fighting for a $15 minimum hourly wage and a union swept the U.S. on Nov. 10, and made this the largest day of action ever as this movement enters its third year. From Boston to Los Angeles; Seattle to Chicago; New York to Durham, N.C.; and Philadelphia to Atlanta, nearly every major city saw strikes at fast food restaurants during the work day and larger demonstrations in the evening. In total, some 500 cities counted strikes and other actions throughout the day.

Fast food, home health care, childcare, airport, retail and low-wage workers from many other sectors took to the streets to raise their demands for $15 and a union. What began in November 2012 with a group of fast food workers in New York City who walked off the job has since sparked a national movement that has become a rallying cry for workers everywhere.

An encouraging development with the latest round of strikes is the growing alliance between the Black Lives Matter movement, the immigrants’ rights movement, and the fight for 15 and a union. In many cities, visible contingents were organized by Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights activists within the demonstrations, and many speakers raised the connection between the low-wage workers struggle and the fight against racism and police terror.

On the same day, a demonstration of many thousands confronted the Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Milwaukee. The demonstration raised the demand for $15 and a union, to end racism and police violence against oppressed communities, to stop deportations of immigrant workers, and many other issues. Nate Hamilton, the brother of Dontre Hamilton, who was murdered by the Milwaukee police, was a featured speaker at the demonstration.

Which way forward?

Charleston, NC

Charleston, SC

Most of the demonstrations around the country on Nov. 10 ended with protests outside of city halls, with calls for the elected politicians — who represent the bosses and their interests — to take action around the demands for $15 and a union.

A key question for this movement — an upsurge that has been marked by militancy and the leadership of Black and Latino/a workers, along with many women and young workers — will be whether it will maintain its independence and build rank-and-file democratic union organizations in the face of the looming 2016 presidential elections. Without rank-and-file democratic organization and political independence, these elections tend to influence the main character of the workers struggles of mobilizing workers power eventually pulling popular movements away from strikes and street action, which is what is needed, into the framework set by the two major political parties, both of which represent the interests of the big capitalists and bankers.

The courageous actions by low-wage workers, who have gone on strike multiple times in the last several years and have helped breathe new life into the U.S. labor movement, clearly demonstrate their commitment to staying the course and seeing this struggle through. That these workers are now broadening relationships with the Black Lives Matter movement and others indicates a new potential for this movement to expand and deepen.

Tying the workers of this movement in the US South to a strategy to the developing strategy of the Southern Workers Assembly’s to organize a Southern Labor Congress, is critical to infusing social movement unionism as a perspective for organizing the working-class throughout the South.

State DHHS workers rally in Kinston, NC, join the fight for $15 per hour, union rights and Black Lives Matter movements

On Tuesday, November 10, members of the UE local 150, North Carolina Public Service Workers Union that work at Caswell Developmental Center held a rally at Kinston City Hall, joining with over 500 such actions nationwide. The action called for wages of at least $15 per hour, union rights and the recognition that Black Workers Lives Matter. Department of Health and Human Services workers and other state and city workers support striking fast food, child care and other low wage workers and are organizing for the same issues at their workplaces. A majority of front-line D.H.H.S. employees currently make less than $15 per hour, even those working with the state over 20 years. $15 per hour for a full-time worker is just over $30, 000 per year.

Peggy Price said she’s worked at Caswell for nearly 20 years, she told the press “But the problem that I see is, why should we have to work two jobs to make ends meet, when we’re working for, as they say, the State of North Carolina?” Price said. “All we’re asking is that we be paid fairly for what we have worked. Not just being made to stay over, and then when it comes time for us to do our time sheets, you want us to just take time off. You’re interrupting our lives when we have to stay over, because it’s part of our job to stay over. We cannot leave, some of us. So, why can’t we be paid for our overtime?”

Memphis, TN

Memphis, TN

Price and her fellow workers called for a $15-per-hour minimum wage and proper pay for overtime instead of comp time.

“And it’s not just, to me, just dealing with (mandatory overtime),” Price said. “Some get the choice to say they’re not going to do it. And the supervisors accept that. And then a lot of us, if we say we’re not going to do it, we get penalized — written up, possibility of suspension or maybe even terminated. We just want fairness out there and the pay that we deserve.”

“$15 per hour is a bare minimum that we are asking for,” stated Milton Green, a member of UE150 and a Developmental Technician at Caswell Center. “These wages we are asking for are just a beginning of what we need to survive. Working at Caswell Center, I am always behind on my bills.”

The union workers at the Kinston rally were specifically calling for all pay scales to be increased to at least $15 per hour. They called for state, city and all levels of government to pay workers a living wage. Currently, employees at many DHHS facilities do not get paid for overtime, despite being forced to work hundreds of hours of overtime every year due to understaffing. The rally demanded payments for overtime work, not compensatory time because workers, their communities and the Kinston economy are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from this policy.

“You wanna know why we are always coming to work tired?” retorted Robbin Clarke-Hines a union member and DT-2 at Caswell Center. She continued, “It’s because we are forced to work two jobs to make ends meet. And when we work overtime at Caswell, they take our personal time and don’t want to pay us.”

The rally also demanded the internationally recognized right for public workers to collectively bargain, a right banned under state General Statute 95-98. In recent years, the United Nations International Labor Organization has ruled that this state law banning collective bargaining rights for public employees is a violation of international human rights. The workers are also requesting to have a representative in grievance meetings, to defend themselves against unfair disciplines and firings.

Richmond, VA

Richmond, VA

The rally had a third demand which centered around the national movement calling for an end to police killings, most commonly known as Black Lives Matter. Recent uprisings in Baltimore, M.D. and Ferguson, M.O. have drawn international attention to the disproportionate number of Black people killed by law enforcement. The workers at the rally support the demand for justice for those killed by police, but are also extending the demands into their work places saying that “Black Workers Lives Matter too!” They are demanding the DHHS facilities hire enough staff and provide proper equipment to reduce injuries in Black-majority jobs.

“My story reads like this,” stated Bonita Johnson, veteran 21-year employee of DHHS at Murdoch Center, “I’ve been standing on my feet over 20 years for the state, 8 years I’ve had to work a second part-time job because of my low wages. This created a disease in my feet called Plantar Fasciitis. But the state refuses to pay my workers compensation. We say Black lives matter at work too!”

Other UE150 chapters rally in Eastern NC

Simultaneous as the Kinston rally, there were other rallies in rural eastern N.C. Over 35 people picketed and rallied at City of Greenville City Hall. The rally included fast food workers, adjunct professors at nearby universities, public workers and the Pitt County Coalition Against Racism. A rally in Rocky Mount included CAAMWU-UE 150 and laid off Tri County worker from Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant and call for rehiring Tri-County workers who petitioned for pay raise and were replaced by higher paid Insource workers.

Durham, NC

Durham, NC

Later that night, nearly 400 people rallied and marched through the streets of Durham, concluding at the City Hall. Marchers included UE150 members that work for the City, Central Regional Hospital and Murdoch Center. All rallies called for $15 per hour and union rights for all workers and to support Black Lives Matter.

Rocky Mount UE

Rocky Mount UE

In N.C., the City of Greensboro recently adopted a commitment to raise all municipal workers’ salaries to $15 per hour over the next few years. This is a growing trend across the state, U.S. South and entire nation – Birmingham, A.L. also passed a similar ordinance, following on the heels of Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York and many other areas.

S.W.A. Supports Days of Grace

by on August 11, 2015

Days of Grace

Days of Grace March and Rally

Charleston, S.C.

Labor Day Weekend

September 5, 9:00am: National Mass March & Rally

Southern Workers Assembly Meeting:
12:30pm (immediately following the march)
at ILA local 1422 Union hall
1142 Morrison Dr. Charleston SC

Strategy Conference

Saturday, Sept 5 2:00 – 6:00pm Conference @ ILA Local 1422 Hall
1142 Morrison Dr
Sunday, Sept 6 7:30am Interdenominational Service (Location TBA)
Sunday, Sept 6 10:00am – 3:00pm Conference @ ILA Local 1422 Hall
1142 Morrison Dr

Labor Must Join the Fight to Stop the War on Black America!

The assassination of the Charleston, South Carolina 9 in bible study at the Mother Emanuel AME Church by a white racist terrorist continues to point out how the corporate owned media and government policies criminalize Black and people of color to make us scapegoats for the deep economic crisis caused by a system of corporate greed.

Like the racist terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed 4 young Black girls and injured 22 others in 1963; Black and people of conscience throughout the U.S. and internationally are rightfully outraged by this criminal attack on the Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The mantra by those who oppose labor rights, voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, quality public education, expanding Medicare and living wages, that this act of racist terror has brought people in South Carolina closer together, symbolized by taking down the confederate flag, does not address the real issues and the forces that devalue Black lives and divide the people.

It is no coincidence that Dylan Roof chose the Mother Emanuel AME church to carry out his racist terror. This church represents a historical place where people of conscience meet to organize and plan the struggles against injustice and for Freedom; a legacy left by Denmark Vesey a founder of Mother Emanuel AME who gave his life in the Black Freedom Struggle.

Racism is more than negative thoughts in white folk’s heads. It is part of an organized system of capitalism that devalues anything for profits, not only in the U.S. but globally. The extrajudicial police and vigilante killings of unarmed Black people every 28 hours, and the failure of the courts to convict these killers, sends a racist message that the government devalues Black lives.

Young Black and people of conscience across the country are rebelling against this economic and politically driven racist climate that has declared War on Black people in the form of economic, political and social violence – the police killings, high unemployment, attacks on public education, environmental racism, mass incarceration, gentrification, low wages and attacks on worker, women, union and human rights. In addition to being the conditions of an oppressed people; they are the conditions of the most impacted section of the working-class.

To challenge and defeat this racist system, the power of the people, especially the Black and general working-class must be organized and mobilized against the economic and political forces and system that places profits over human needs and rights.

The last 7 years has made clear, that without the organized power of the people, especially the Black and general working-class, that elected officials at best, try to exercise power within a system dominated by the corporate power of the 1-percent. Most unfortunately follow the dictates of big money.

Just as the ILA 1422 struggle for labor rights built a national and international movement that demanded and won the Freedom of the Charleston 5, all workers must utilize the Days of Grace/Rage mobilization to inspire all of labor to mobilize their power to stop this War on Black America and the working-class!

End Racism and Police Terror!

Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour!


Gov’t funding for full employment, not for war!

Single Payer National Health Care for All!

Repeal bans on Collective Bargaining Rights for All Public Workers!

Free education through college, abolish student debt!

Continue reading »

Aug 9: All Out for Solidarity City!

by on July 30, 2014
Solidarity City

Aug 9: All Out for Solidarity City!
Workers Fighting To Organize the South!

August 9 | 10am-5pm | 803 Harris St, Goldsboro, NC

Visit the Facebook Event Page

On Saturday, August 9 workers from across NC and other Southern states will gather in Goldsboro, NC for Solidarity City – a day long gathering of workers to discuss strategy, develop their organizing skills, and lay out how to continue to build a united effort to organize the South.

Summer 2014 will be a time of looking back to the history of the South for inspiration and guidance for the contemporary Southern freedom movement. It is in this spirit that Moral Freedom Summer has taken root.

In the late 1960s, prominent civil rights leaders focused their attention to the struggle for economic justice for all Americans. Shortly before Dr. King was assassinated, SCLC and allied organizations launched the Poor People’s campaign, which called on the federal government to take bold steps to eradicate poverty in the richest nation on earth. The campaign climaxed in Resurrection City in 1969, a diverse gathering of low income and unemployed people from across the nation in Washington DC. (An important “second act” of the Poor People’s Campaign was the Charleston Hospital workers strike of 1969.)

In this spirit, we will convene low wage workers in August 2014 for education, culture building and strategizing. We believe that such a gathering will be a powerful experience for workers, labor activists, the Forward Together movement and the broad public.

Solidarity City will carry on the spirit of the Forward Together Moral movement with a specific focus on the issue of living wages and labor rights, focusing on the goal of $15 and the freedom to form a union for all workers.

The conference will be targeted at workers from North Carolina and workers from other Southern states but will also include clergy, community activists and organizers. Worker participants can be union members or be unorganized.

We hope you can join us as we make the call to create a new Poor People’s Movement to change the South and change the nation and demand a future for working people.

Email us at for more info