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, emailinfo@southernworker.org.

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

SWA Salutes Teachers Resistance To Education Cuts in NC – Moral Monday Action, June 9, 2014

by on June 14, 2014

Onwards to building local Worker Assemblies !

Thousands of teachers, bus drivers, housekeepers, kitchen and other education workers, along with students and parents from hundreds of schools across the state of North Carolina have been organizing over the past year, starting with the incredible “walk-in” at school flag poles on Nov. 4, 2013 protesting Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly’s massive cuts to public education and attacks on education workers rights. Since then, there has been a flood of rallies and actions by public education supporters at county school board meetings across the state that effectively shut down the 25% contract scheme. Several teachers and students have gotten arrested at the Legislature as part of the Moral Monday movement. NC is 48th out of 50 states in both per-pupil funding for public education and average teacher’s pay.

Raleigh Worker SpeakOut SWA NCAE UEGovernor Pat McCrory, State budget Director and retail store mogul Art Pope, Sen. Thom Tillis, Rep. Phil Berger are to blame for the slashing funds for instructional supplies and textbooks, eliminating thousands of teacher assistants’ positions, gutting tenure rights for teachers (making it easier to fire teachers). Now they want to hold a carrot of a minor pay raise over teachers as an effort to eliminate your rights and further erode public schools.

It’s time to stop being afraid, ”stated Clara Stiers, a Westlake Middle School counselor speaking at a town hall in Apex. “Today is the beginning.”

Workers taking collective action, such as the walk-ins and speaking out at county school boards, and joining the Moral Monday movement is the only way that working people can defend our jobs, our communities and the vital services that we provide. We must continue to stay organized and support each other in our struggles for democracy in the work place. The initial call for a walk-out teachers strike shows how determined many teachers are to fight for quality education for the students that includes job security for education workers. The walk-ins that were later organized to engage education workers, parents, students and our communities, begins a the direction of forming people’s education assemblies where real educational democracy comes to life.

This action – like many before including the recent fast food and Walmart workers strikes – was a continuation of united struggle for workers across N.C., the South and the entire country. We must continue to meet after work, before work, during lunch and continue to organize actions that bring voice and power to workers. After all, we run the schools, the factories, the mental health institutions, the cities and all of society. Should we not be allowed to make decisions about how things are run?

In fact, not only is it teachers but all public service workers, and all workers generally that have seen a major decline in their standard of living and increased work loads. State employees in NC have not seen any real raise since 2008. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 1983 to 2010 the bottom 60 percent of Americans actually lost wealth, despite the fact that the overall U.S. economy has grown over this same time period,

Even in a state without collective bargaining rights for public employees, workers will find ways to organize and express our opposition to bad decisions made at the expense of our lives, our dignity and our communities. We must continue to work to over-turn the anti-worker, anti-student, anti-poor the ban public workers that basic right to a union contract and right-to-work (for less) laws.

The Southern Workers Assembly – composed of workers from across the public sector, in private industry and also farm workers – salute and congratulate the bold and important action of education workers on November 4 to finally take a little power back. We vow to continue to work hand-in-hand with the NC Association of Educators, Organize 2020 and other rank-n-file education workers across the state to help improve schools and our workers rights. We support the work of Public Schools First NC to stop privatization of public education, so that private companies can not get rich off public services.

At the Statewide NC Workers Fightback Conference in September 2013, we launched the Workplace Democracy campaign and Local Workers Assemblies in regions across the state including Charlotte (Western NC), Goldsboro (Eastern NC), and Durham (Triangle area). These formations can help education workers unite with all other workers in public and private jobs to fight for our common interests, build democracy in the workplace and challenge corporate and government forces to achieve fully funding of all public services and build workers power.

Join us next Monday, June 16 at the Moral Monday focused on labor and workers rights!

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Education is a right!

Build the Workers Assemblies!

Organize the South!                                                                      June 9, 2014

 

North Carolina Local Worker Assemblies

by on February 7, 2014

Raleigh/Durham

Sat. February 22, 12noon, Teamsters Union hall, 6317 Angus Dr, Raleigh (off HWY 70 Between Raleigh & Durham). Contact Angaza Laughinghouse at 919-231-2660 for more info 

Goldsboro/Greenville/Wilson/Down East 

Saturday, March 8, Wilson, NC, International Working Women’s Day  at 10:30am – 2:30pm (with lunch break)
Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts & Education, 1004 Herring Avenue E. Wilson, NC 27893, contact Larsene Taylor at 919-273-2735 for more information

Charlotte 

Sat. April 20., Greenville Community Center, 1330 Spring St, Charlotte, NC, Contact Ben Carroll at 919-604-8167 for more information.

 Lucia, fast food worker

 “I am inviting all workers to join this movement, to stand up and to not be afraid, together we will continue to fight for $15 an hour”

 Lucia , Fast Food Worker, NC Raise Up 

 

Larsene Taylor, UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union ” There are increasing attacks on front-line city and state workers and the services we provide. We need a “Workers Bill of Rights” made into law to guarantee basic human rights. Divided we beg for a living wage, safe working environment, and a seat at the table…united we bargain! “

–  Larsene Taylor, State Mental Health Worker, DHHS; Cherry Hospital, Goldsboro NC; Vice President, UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union 

Kristen Beller, teacher

“I fight for public schools because I believe they are the great equalizer in our society. Everyone gets the opportunity to make themselves stronger and smarter. An educated community has a greater quality of life. I fight for my students’ right to a quality public education because if I don’t, who will?”

–  Kristin Beller, Teacher, Millbrook Elementary 

 

Moral Mondays: the emergence & dynamics of a growing mass human rights movement

by on February 2, 2014

This statement is written in the build-up to a Southern-wide Mass Moral March, which is the 8th Annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street, on Saturday, February 8 in Raleigh, N.C. bringing together hundreds of unions, civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, environmental justice, community groups and churches to march against the reactionary policies of the N.C. General Assembly.   This is expected to be the largest march in the U.S. South in 50 years. To learn more about this march, visit http://www.hkonj.com

By Saladin Muhammad

Introduction

The Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina that is mobilizing thousands to speak out against the legislative attacks on Black, working-class and poor people throughout the state is being talked about across the country, as it expands to other cities.

A Moral Monday rally in June 2013. Hundreds pack rotunda inside NC General Assembly; 151 were arrested that day. Photo: NC Student Power Union

Moral Mondays in North Carolina have a particular history that needs to be understood to recognize its political aims and the dynamics in moving it forward as a mass campaign and human rights social movement. Broad campaigns and movements for social justice have twists and turns that are influenced by the strength and bases of the class and political forces acting within them.

The critiques of social movements by many progressives too often rely on what’s written by the mainstream media without any contact with left and progressive forces which are active in those social movements. They also tend to analyze social movements as if there is only one permanent, leading political tendency and that other tendencies are merely tailing it and have no internal struggle, strategy and independent initiatives. The history of the Civil Rights Movement — where Dr. King was the mass spokesperson — points out the internal dynamics that exist within mass movements. Continue reading »

Workers struggle forces international rulings on public sector collective bargaining rights ban

by on August 16, 2013

Does the Prohibition of Bargaining Rights Violate International Law?

by on August 3, 2012

State mental health worker, Rebecca Hart, marches in Birmingham at SHROC in 2010.

Yes. International covenants are clear: workers have the right to bargain collectively and freely associate. In March 2007, the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) found North Carolina’s ban on collective bargaining to be in violation of international labor standards. In that decision the ILO called on the United States government to “promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina” and called specifically for the repeal of NCGS § 95-98.

But North Carolina’s and Virginia’s backwards statutes also violate international law because of the miserable working conditions they have created for public workers. In the autumn of 2005, the International Commission on Labor Rights (ICLR) sent an independent delegation of international labor rights experts from around the world to North Carolina to document working conditions of public sector workers. After meeting with workers, visiting work sites, and taking substantial testimony, the ICLR delegation found that NC’s prohibition of collective bargaining had resulted in deplorable working conditions for state and municipal workers, including widespread race and sex discrimination and unsafe workplaces. Both employment discrimination and unsafe working conditions violate numerous international covenants.

Laws that Restrict Collective Bargaining

by on

Although public workers in North Carolina and Virginia have the right to form and join a union and can negotiate with their employer for fair wages and benefits—as well as fair working conditions — it is illegal for employers and their employees to sign a legally-enforceable collective bargaining agreement.

North Carolina General Statute § 95-98 prohibits state and local governments from entering into collective bargaining agreements with their employers. Virginia Code 40.1-57.2 outlaws collective bargaining in Virginia. North Carolina and Virginia are the only two states in the country to have such laws on the books.

NCGS § 95-98 was signed into law in 1959 by an all-white legislature during the time of Jim Crow segregation and major human rights violations in the United States. The NAACP has deemed NCGS § 95-98 to be North Carolina’s last Jim Crow law.