Category Archives: Presente

Sister Ida Boddie-Presente!

Ms. Ida

Sister Ida gives presentation to South African students and teachers at the BWFJ Workers Center

We first met Sister Ida in 1989 as a result of a call and outreach by the Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ) to workers in manufacturing plants scattered across Edgecombe, Nash, and other counties. With the help of members and allies, we leafleted many plants that season, calling for workers to come forward and organize their workplaces to fight discrimination, injustice, and unfair treatment. At the end of that day, a meeting was held, where more than 60 workers came out to speak about conditions in their plant. Sister Ida came to that meeting with another of her co-workers and spoke out for the first time about unfair treatment of primarily black and women workers at Rocky Mount Undergarment. Sister Ida worked at Undergarment for 26 years.

Sister Ida was already a leader in her plant by that time where hundreds of workers toiled each day and she had a history of being outspoken on their behalf. Together with BWFJ organizers, Sister Ida formed a small organizing committee that began the process of organizing, meeting with workers, making house visits every Saturday morning for weeks and months on end, conducting surveys, and leafleting. Before long, we had built the Undergarment Workers for Justice, an in-plant organization, that produced a monthly newsletter, filed grievances, led delegations to speak to the management about problems, filed charges at the labor board, and sold copies of Justice Speaks there each month, the BWFJ newspaper.

The Undergarment Workers for Justice became a member of the Worker’s Unity Council, a labor council formed to unite and coordinate the various in-plant committees and shop floor organizations built throughout the area.Strategies and tactics of the shop floor struggles were shared and discussed at the Council meetings and Sister Ida and other members of the UWFJ attended those monthly meetings.

The Black Workers for Justice Women’s Commission also spearheaded many years of work with Sister Ida and Rocky Mount Undergarment. We learned so much from her. She once educated us that when she first started working for Rocky Mount Undergarment, the plant had had a history of not allowing Black women to work there. She said only white women were employed and that Black women served as maids and housekeepers in the homes of white women workers in those days. The Civil Rights movement opened the door for Black women to work inside those plants.

But she was the leader and main spokesperson for all of the workers, black, white, male, and female at Undergarment. When the plant decided to lay-off a number of the white women after many had worked as much as 40 years in that plant, they came to Sister Ida and she stood with them outside of the plant and spoke to the media about how they were being treated.

In the Spring of 1991, the Undergarment Workers for Justice conducted a community sponsored and observed union election at the plant, where workers stopped outside the plant before going to work and cast their ballot on whether they wanted a union in the plant or not. More than 100 workers voted and kept in touch all that morning with Sister Ida inside the plant to learn the results as soon as possible. Over 90 percent voted in favor of forming a union. Sister Ida told us that when she shared with the workers the result of the vote, a feeling of joy shot across the plant floor, as if the women were finally free. This victory at Undergarment formed one of the first of several “non-majority unions without a contract” we organized in the Edgecombe/Nash area in that period. Management was informed of the union’s existence and a “Stewards Manual for Union’s Without a Contract” was developed for leaders and stewards on the shop floor.

In September of 1991, when 25 workers at Imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina were killed in a plant fire, Sister Ida had workers in the plant take up a collection for the workers and victim’s families that she later presented to them herself. She spoke at the solidarity program organized by the Wilson Labor Council (another labor council organized through BWFJ’s work in eastern North Carolina) in support of the Imperial Foods workers. Back at work, Sister Ida also called the fire inspectors in to the Undergarment plant, where a number of safety violations were found, in order to protect the workers. That plant was among hundreds across North Carolina that had never been inspected.

Eventually, Undergarment thought they would break her spirit by firing her but that didn’t work. She went back to school, got her GED and a degree from Edgecombe Community College. Years later, when Rocky Mount Undergarment closed and moved its operations to Haiti for cheaper labor, many of the women workers who had been a part of the Undergarment movement and fight in the plant, also went back to school. Sister Ida told us that the fight at Rocky Mount Undergarment had given all the women dignity and self-respect and that she could see it when she caught up with various former workers from time to time over the years. She said they all grew from their struggle for fairness and justice.

In 1992, Sister Ida and members of the BWFJ traveled to Cuba, where we were among the first US workers to attend the Cuban Workers Federation Trade Union School. We attended classes, toured worksites, schools, hospitals, and communities. Sister Ida remarked that back in the day, Fidel Castro was portrayed as some sort of monster to the people here and that Cuba was a very bad place. In traveling there to see for herself what was going on, she said she could see a society and poor country that was taking care of its people with free healthcare, free education through university levels, unions run by the workers, women’s rights and community organizations, and so on. This trip made her more conscious and committed to fighting for a more just society in this country, one that cares more for its own people. That same year, back here at home, Sister Ida participated in the historic conference on environmental racism in New Orleans, LA.

Throughout those eventful years of organizing and fighting for justice and fairness for working people and their families, Sister Ida traveled throughout the Midwest, building support for unionization in the South. She worked with survivors of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 in the town of Princeville which was totally destroyed. She spoke at churches throughout Edgecombe and Nash Counties and so on calling for support for worker’s rights. When people asked her why she was doing all this and that her actions wouldn’t change anything, she said that “they changed me”! We recognized her historic and impactful contributions when she received the Black Workers for Justice Self-Determination Award.

These experiences and struggles, including many others unnamed here in Sister Ida’s long and fruitful life, reinforced her determination to stand for what is right and enriched her already kind and generous being and spirit.Her life of struggle led her to become a “free” woman — a woman of wisdom, foresight, and commitment to social, economic, and political justice.

National Lawyers Guild Mourns Passing of Leonard Weinglass

weinglassNEW YORK – March 24 – The National Lawyers Guild mourns yesterday’s passing of an extraordinary criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Leonard I. Weinglass. A long-time member of the Guild, he now joins the pantheon of great lawyers who have devoted their careers to making human rights more sacred than property interests.

Weinglass graduated from Yale Law School in 1958 and went on to defend some of the most significant political cases of the century. He represented Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society when Hayden was indicted in the Newark riots. During the Vietnam War, he represented Anthony Russo in the Pentagon Papers case, and in 1969 he co-counseled in the Chicago Seven case, with the eventual overturning of the guilty verdicts. He also represented Jane Fonda in her suit against Richard Nixon, Puerto Rican independence fighters Los Macheteros, and eight Palestinian organizers facing deportation known as the LA 8.

When he represented Amy Carter in 1987 after her arrest for protesting CIA recruitment, Weinglass told the Hampshire County District court, “the students’ reaction in that incident was the reaction any right-thinking American, peace-loving American, would have in the face of the serious harm the agency has done.”

Weinglass served as lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row for nearly 30 years. Other well-known clients included former Weatherman Kathy Boudin, Angela Davis when she was charged with murder for the Marin County shootout, and Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five. He also represented Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army who were charged with the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.

The National Lawyers Guild honored Weinglass on several occasions, including at its 2003 national convention with the Bill Goodman Award. “For most lawyers, the work that Len did on any one of countless cases would be the achievement of a lifetime, not just for the brilliance of his advocacy but also for the causes he espoused and the passion with which he fought,” said Guild President David Gespass.

Ron “Slim” Washington

Newark Rally1On August 22, 2010 Ron “Slim” Washington, surrounded by his family with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue playing, made his transition to join the ancestors. His death was a tremendous loss to the workers movement and the Black freedom struggle. While not well known to the mainstream media and civil rights movement, Slim was an important figure in the Black Student Movement of the early 1970’s, the African Liberation Support Committee and numerous struggles in the New York/New Jersey area.

Black Workers Take the Lead – For Brother Slim

(Statement presented by Saladin Muhammad)

Slim, as many here and around the country fondly called him; was a dedicated working class revolutionary and African American Freedom Fighter. If I fail to make this point clear, I have no doubts, that Slim will be organizing the other ancestors to call me a revisionist. Slim knew, felt and promoted the power of the working class. He understood and projected in his work and writings, the importance of the centrality of organized Black workers to developing the power, consciousness and vision for revolutionary change of the African American people, and wider US and international working class.

Slim understood that the struggle for African American self-determination was critical to shaping not only the national consciousness of the African American people, but also to shaping the class consciousness of the Black worker outlook about internationalism, and the need to build unity with the struggles of other oppressed peoples and nations. Slim was a founding and leading member of the National Black Workers Organizing Committee and the Black Workers Unity Movement, two efforts to build, further develop and promote the centrality of Black workers as a conscious trend in the African American people’s and workers movement. As part of Slim’s work in promoting this trend, he wrote a trend document called the Ten Task of the Conscious Black Worker. Slim understood that correct ideas have to be confirmed by practice.

His organizing of the Black Telephone Workers for Justice, a sister organization of Black Workers For Justice in North Carolina, brought new and young Black workers to activism within the trade union movement, and to levels of political consciousness that we need today, to carry out an organized challenge to the intensifying and racist attacks on the conditions of life for oppressed and working people.

Black Workers Take the Lead!; Black Workers Take the Lead!; Black Workers Take the Lead!: was Slim’s mantra. It also shaped his character, intellect and enthusiasm about jazz music. Slim’s drive to organize and promote the historical influence of Jazz as a genre representing the centrality of the Black working class, expressing the pain, suffering and struggles of the African American people, left its powerful mark in this New Jersey area. Today, as some Black activists are uniting to launch a national effort to engage the Black masses in developing a Black Manifesto Against Racism and for Human Rights, as a manifesto of national resistance, we will greatly miss your presence and leadership. However, we will always remember and be guided by your mantra – Black Workers Take the Lead!

Black Workers For Justice
August 28, 2010

RIP Sister Njeri Alghanee: Reparations Leader Joins the Ancestors

NjeriIn a tragic accident on June 24, Njeri Alghanee, and her son were involved in an accident that claimed her life and injured her son. As president of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), she was returning to Atlanta from the US Social Forum in Detroit. She was scheduled to be in New Orleans the following day for the NCOBRA National Conference. She was an important actor in the national and international reparations movements as well as bedrock of the Black community in Atlanta, serving in many positions, including that of talk show host on radio station WRFG where she was known on air as Sister Courage. Her life was commemorated in Atlanta on July 3 by hundreds at event that lasted for 5 hours.

Following is a brief statement issued by the Black Left Unity Network upon hearing of her death.

Sister, Soldier, Comrade Njeri,

We honor you today for all of your yesterdays; and for your spirit of struggle that will contribute to our victory of reparations and liberation for tomorrow. For being the bright shining star and energy that you always brought to the deliberations of our people, struggling to find answers that will move us closer to transforming society in the interest of all humanity.

Moving from one venue of struggle to another; you were taken from us too soon comrade! This sends a strong and earth shaking message, that there needs to be more of us, doing the work of liberation that too few of us disproportionately carry on our shoulders.
Sister Njeri, we will never forget you. As we start our meetings in the Black Left Unity Network we will call your name – Njeri! As we forge ahead to build Black left unity and the regroupment of the Black liberation movement, we will do so in your uplifting spirit.
Take your rest comrade Njeri! And always know that your life of struggle was not in vain.

Black Left Unity Network
July 2, 2010

Eugene Godfried-Presente!

Eugene04xIt is with great sadness that I inform you that brother Eugene Godfried passed away on Sunday. He had been in the hospital since last Monday due to a stroke. It was reported to me that he was listening to a dvd of The Afro-Cuban Legends when he passed away. As an authority on Cuban Son, it was appropriate that his final transition was in what brought him joy. For those of you who knew Eugene, Rhythm & Blues was another of his passions — Eugene loved R&B, especially the music of Motown, which he was also listening to in his last days.

I will never forget when we were in Santiago De Cuba talking to an 80 year old Afro Cuban lawyer who was one of the founders of the University of the Oriente that we had bumped into by chance. Eugene was so excited to have met this elder because he was involved in one of the black societies who consciously fought against the racism that existed in Cuba. In fact, the founding of the university was so that Black Cubans would be able to get a college education in the 50´s because of the segregation nature that existed during that time. Anyway, as Eugene spoke about his research of Black people in Cuban and begun to talk about and sing some of the verses of the music of Cuban Son, the elder began to cry. He asked Eugene how did someone as young as you know this. The elder said that Eugene made him happy and hopefully for Black Cubans that someone is passing the tradition on.

That moment reminded me of the exchanges I had witness growing up in Harlem, on the corner of 117th street on 8th Avenue, where the older men would sit up against the wall and discuss politics and the events of the day.

Eugene´s passing is a great loss. He was very talented, committed and dedicated to creating a new society in which all people are equal, free and able to develop according to their abilities. Eugene dedicated and sacrificed the majority of his life for the Cuban revolution. He was a humanitarian and an internationalist of the highest degree. He was born in Curacao, and was fortunate to spend the past year or so with his family. Several years ago, Eugene had to have his leg amputated as a result of some complications with diabetes. I went to visit Eugene in Cuba to take him some material support when many of you made contributions. Even after his recovery, Eugene began to carry out his research on African Cuban history and was able to get a commission developed in Cuba around honoring the Party of the Independents of Color, which existed in early 1900´s — several thousand of its members were massacred in 1912. Eugene continued to write and post on as well as do internet radio broadcasting. Eugene spoke 7 languages fluently. I remember one evening when we were in Boston and went to a Chinese restaurant to eat. Eugene ordered the food in Chinese. The waiter was absolutely stunned. He called the cooks and kitchen help who came to the door smiling to look at this Black man who was speaking their language.

Eugene was the one who opened the doors to Cuba for me. It was because of him that I was able to convince the chair of the Africana Studies Department to develop an exchange program. As a result, several colleagues, Professors Marc Prou and Robert Johnson along with Eugene visited Havana, Matanzas, Santiago and Guantanamo, setting up a program for students at the University of Massachusetts Boston to visit. Eugene was also the connection that got Assata Shakur to write the introduction to my book, State of the Race, edited by Jemadari Kamara and myself.

What I love the most about Eugene was that he was a grassroots person and made it clear, as my wife said, he acknowledged that ordinary people were extraordinary. He was a true revolutionary.

He loved observing how the very least of us lived their lives and how they survived, how they were innovative and creative. We would visit and hang out with working people in some of the poorest areas in Havana, Santiago and Guantanamo, talking and listening to their likes and dislikes, about music and food. He would eat, sign and joke with them. It is important to understand that Eugene was a member of the communist party in Cuba and was a member of its ideological bureau. Yet, Eugene was not lecturing, debating or imposing on the people, he was humble among them, learning from them and reinforcing their value, and the people didn´t know that Eugene was a party person, a linguist, a musicologist, a historian, or a journalist. Like all of us he was not perfect. He loved to smoke, have a drink, say the occasional curse and loved his women. Despite how hard life was, Eugene had, if any, very few regrets. He enjoyed and lived his life as full as he could. There are projects that I´m sure he would have loved to continue but time was short. When he worked, he worked hard, often doing so with very little resources, but nevertheless, producing good products. Even when he was sick and living in Michigan, getting dialysis every Tuesday, he had established a makeshift radio and broadcasting studio in his living room. He would post them in English, Spanish, French and Dutch Creole on YouTube. I was amazed at his persistence and the volume of work he was able to produce.

I also witnessed Eugene sternly and principally challenge the views of some very powerful people in Cuba, and I watched them acknowledge and even agree with his points. I also want to make it clear that Eugene loved Cuba – he sacrificed his life for Cuba. He was a Che Gueverra. He was more Cuban than some of the Cubans I have met.

There have been a few people I have met in my life who walk the walk and practice much of what they preached. There have also been few people that I have met that were humble, authentic and self critical of their own actions and had the passion, courage and perseverance to stand up against the giants of the world and speak truth to power – Eugene was one of them.

I am also going to miss the Eugene who made me laugh so hard that I had to bend over because it was hurting in my gut and made tears come to my eyes as I have now thinking about him. We know that our lives are not permanent, but when the time comes to visit the ancestors it is still a difficult process for us who are still here to deal with the loss. Eugene is one of the people I always mentioned in my prayers to the Orisas asking to protect and help him. Now I ask the ancestors to welcome him and I will now ask him as an ancestor to continue waging a spiritual battle to help us on earth continue to fight for humanity and our right be self determining and free. As Eugene always said as we departed, “we don´t say good bye comrade Tony, we will see each other again,” – well, I salute you comrade brother Eugene, I look forward to seeing you again when it’s my time to visit the ancestors.