Category Archives: Public Employee Organizing

Building People’s Assemblies, Platforms and Power “Before, During and After” the 2016 Elections

The Political Landscape:

The central issue in the 2016 presidential and local election campaigns is NOT the Republican and Democratic Party candidates or even Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton.  It is the growing economic and social crisis of the US capitalist system.  Most important is the crisis’ devastating impact on workers, black and brown immigrants, Native Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, youth and the elderly.BlackWorkersMatter2

Amid all the TV debates, news stories in the media, and billions of dollars spent by corporations and billionaires, workers, black and oppressed people have a human and fundamental democratic right to discuss and organize political campaigns to address our needs! We also have a right to discuss how our community, workplace and society should be run and even dare to organize and run it ourselves!

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Moral Monday and Malcolm X

Malcolm-X

“We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” Malcolm X, 1965

May 19 is the first Moral Monday of the legislative short session in N.C. It is also the birthday of Malcolm X a courageous and gifted leader in the fight for Black freedom and human rights. Almost fifty (50) years after he uttered those famous words North Carolinians find themselves in the street once again in the quest for full humanity.

The assault on our voting rights, health insurance, unemployment benefits, public education, Women’s reproductive rights and workers rights calls for the response that is expressed in the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement.

When we spoke out and challenged them they criminalized our actions and arrested us. Now they want to silence us with even more drastic restrictions. But we will not be silenced and we are determined to speak out and resist those who seek to trample on our democratic and human rights.

And so we are called to build and strengthen Moral Mondays.  And we take the spirit and morality of the movement to our local communities and workplaces.  We are compelled to run and elect People’s candidates and to fight for democracy in our workplaces. Contact us to talk about this work.

Stop Criminalizing the Right to Protest!

Drop the Charges Against All MM Arrestees!

Forward Together, Not One Step Back!

 

Tens of Thousands in North Carolina Vow ‘Not Now, Not Ever’

Willamor photo croppedExcerpted from http://www.labornotes.org/2014/02/tens-thousands-north-carolina-vow-not-now-not-ever

Tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina, Saturday to show their opposition to the extreme right-wing agenda that has gripped the state since the Tea Party gained control of the legislature and governor’s office.

The march and rally were called a Moral March—in connection with the sustained Moral Monday protests that resulted in nearly 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience during the spring and summer of 2013.

The diverse thousands who descended on the Capitol came from all over North Carolina and 32 other states, and represented a broad array of social justice movements. Labor, environmental, women’s rights, youth, LGBT, health care, and teachers groups joined with civil rights and faith-based organizations to hold what may have been the largest march and rally in the South since the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965.

Youth groups from across the country who were planning events for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer joined the events and held their own conference.

The Moral March was a continuation of the HKonJ Peoples Assemblies that have grown in size each year, reaching 10,000-15,000 last year on the seventh anniversary of the original event. (HKonJ refers to “hundreds of thousands” on J Street, where the Capitol is located.)

This year’s phenomenal numbers can be attributed to the outrage of North Carolinians in response to, among other things, the governor’s refusal to accept federal money to extend Medicaid for 500,000 uninsured people, cutting extended unemployment benefits for 150,000 workers, and passing an extremely restrictive voter suppression bill.
With attacks on women’s reproductive rights, labor rights, and LGBT families added to the toxic mix, thousands decided to take a stand.

Labor Shows Up

Unions and labor groups joined in with spirited delegations. United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150, Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, and Farm Labor Organizing Committee had the most notable groups.

Labor delegations from out of state included 1199 (health care workers) from New York City, the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment from South Carolina, and individuals from New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, and other states.

A large teachers delegation from the North Carolina Association of Educators wore red as part of their campaign calling on teachers not to sign individual employment contracts that would require them to give up tenure in exchange for five yearly bonuses.

Fast food workers formed another of the more exciting delegations, wearing red knit caps with the slogan “Raise Up.” Dozens came from North and South Carolina and Georgia. They conducted strikes in August and December last year, and have had a constant presence in the Moral Monday movement.

“I felt awesome about the march and being a part of a movement for justice, fighting the man, and it was like we were back in the 1960s,” said Morgan Greene, a Taco Bell worker from Charlotte. “It was amazing to see so many causes out there—like women’s rights, civil rights, equality, and more… We gotta keep on pushing. We’re having an impact: Obama raising the minimum wage to $10.10 [for federal contract workers] shows we’re being heard and gotta keep pushing forward for $15.”

North Carolina AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan opted for a poem rather than a traditional speech. The last three stanzas reflect the emphasis the national federation promises to put on Southern organizing:

The bosses want their workers cheap,
Meek and docile like sheep.
They move their companies South,
Hoping we won’t give them any mouth.

Well, imagine their surprise
As they watch the South arise.
From the mountains to the sea,
Black, white, and brown agree.

Now is the time to take a stand
For justice throughout this land.
That’s why we’ll organize every workplace, every town,
And there’ll be no stopping us, no backing down.

Civil Disobedience Next

UE 150 Vice President Larsene Taylor said Governor Pat McCrory’s effort to enshrine the Jim Crow-era ban on public employee collective bargaining (via a constitutional amendment) would “strip away the already weak rights of unions and the working class.

“We need a Workers’ Bill of Rights made into law that supports and guarantees basic human rights for all workers,” she said.

The Southern Workers Assembly, a new regional rank-and-file alliance, marched with a casket signifying the number of deaths— 2,840—that are predicted as a result of the failure to extend Medicaid coverage.

They also demanded that charges be dropped against all those arrested during the Moral Monday protests. Many have been found guilty of some or all charges against them, and are appealing. SWA and the U.S. Human Rights Network say the charges criminalized protest and represented a violation of human rights protected by international conventions.DSC_0344

Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, laid out the movement’s current demands, which put labor and economic justice at the top of the agenda:

Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability
Provide well-funded, quality public education for all
Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state’s communities
Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation, or sexual preference
Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly, and students, to safeguard fair democratic representation.
The crowd responded with cheers and shouts when Rev. Barber said the march and rally were the start of a new season of mobilization that will include civil disobedience, voter registration, and legal action.

Outside Agitators

When the Moral Monday protests launched last year, the governor and the Republicans contended that the participants and arrestees were “outside agitators,” a return to the white supremacist mantra used during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

The charge was false, but in response the NAACP invited others to join the movement. Many have answered the call, both out of solidarity and out of an understanding that North Carolina is ground zero for the anti-worker, anti-women, and racist legislative agenda being promoted by the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Moral Movements have sprung up in Georgia and South Carolina. Activist groups in many other states are considering taking up the same approach in response to austerity budgets and attacks on the poor.

In his keynote address, Barber described the attacks on the quality of life in North Carolina as “low.” The crowd responded “that’s low” after each one. He intoned that the people will not accept these policies—“not now, not ever.” He ended with a call for the movement to push the state and the nation to seek “higher ground.”

It’s hard to imagine that we can go any lower in terms of workers’ rights and economic justice in North Carolina and the rest of the country. But it is indeed possible—and probable—without a rigorous response like that emerging in North Carolina.

Ajamu Dillahunt is a retired Raleigh Area Local Postal Workers president, a member of the Black Workers for Justice Coordinating Committee, and a former Labor Notes Policy Committee member.

Go here and here to see videos of the crowds who marched and danced through Raleigh’s streets February 8.

The Question of Power

An Interview with Saladin Muhammad

SaladinSaladin is a founder and organizer with the Black Workers for Justice, based in North Carolina. He was recently arrested for protesting at the NC General Assembly on May 13th and became a member of the 940 Moral Monday Arrestees and the first to be convicted.  He is also a lead organizer with the Southern Workers’ Assembly? This interview was conducted by Buben Solis and Niqua Douglas and published in the Fall/Winter Issue of “As Goes the South” a publication of Project South.

Ruben Solis: What was your entry point into the overall movement?

Saladin Muhammad: It was in the early 1960s, I was active in the military where I was exposed to a lot of racism. I was in Santo Domingo in ‘65 before I was out of the service and got pretty deeply involved in the struggle against racism in the military happening against Dominicans and against Black soldiers.  What probably triggered me was in 1964, a Black soldier from my barracks was lynched/hung. This brother was on his knees with a rope around the neck. Some white soldiers were sitting in the barracks shining their boots claiming they knew nothing about it. He was dead. That led to a rebellion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When I left the military, I joined the black liberation movement and the civil rights movement.

Ruben: That was quite a moment for liberation groups. The Caamano revolution was happening at the time as were student protesting the presence of US marines, and the shooting at students with live ammo, and even killing some students to stop the revolt.  The US Marines were responsible for putting down the military rebellion by the progressive nationalist officers.

Speaking of Black Workers for Justice and the Black and the African Liberation movement, how do you connect those to the Moral Monday protests?

Saladin: The South has always been pretty central to the oppression of African American people in the United States, and as you know, the South and Southwest have been regions where national oppression of African Americans, Mexican Americans, those from Mexico, and indigenous people in the West has happened. The examples of structural racism, which we call national oppression, has always been the strongest in the South, an anchor for how we express ourselves, an example for the rest of the country.

My mother was from the area where I live now, although she went to Philadelphia in the thirties and I was born there. I came down here (North Carolina) every summer and knew a lot of people. I got married shortly after leaving the army to Naeema who was born in Rocky Mount, NC and we moved to Philadelphia, PA.  We were very active in Philadelphia for fifteen years, and decided to move back to Rocky Mount to continue this work in the South. We began building Black Workers for Justice in 1981 around a struggle for three sisters fighting against race discrimination at a K-mart store in Rocky Mount. We developed a petition asking people to sign demanding that the K-mart rehire the workers and other demands dealing with worker rights. Some people went around to the churches and other community places with the petition. A couple of us went to work places where we spread the basic. The workers we spoke to realized they faced the same problems in their workplaces. In 1982, we began to form a state-wide organization, and we have been deepening that infrastructure since then to build consciousness in the black community and among Black workers about the need to build organization and power at the workplace.

The Moral Monday struggle grew out of a people’s assembly organized in 2007 that became known as HKonJ – Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the state capitol is in Raleigh. We established a fourteen-point program about particular issues such as collective bargaining rights. Others were against the war, for healthcare, and public education.  That program guided HKonJ, which has 120 NAACP branches and 150 other organizations of various types that began to battle the legislature, which at that time was Democratic Party-controlled. The emergence of the Tea Party as a right-wing and racist social movement financed by elements of the 1-percent capitalist elites that was shaping a political climate of intimidation and attacks on vital needs and rights of working-class and oppressed, became a major factor in the development of the Moral Monday Campaign. The Moral Mondays are led by Rev. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina State NAACP.

Moral Mondays, began to raise challenge the legislative attacks on voting, immigrant, women’s and gay rights, on the social safety-net and the racist impacts of these attacks as morally wrong. This took the high-ground away from the so-called moral agenda of the right-wing that has consolidated a base among religious fundamentalist to dictate what is moral and what is immoral, including issues like a women right to abortion, sexual orientation, etc. We wanted to show that the real immorality is attacks on health care, unemployment, and dismantling public education. Those are the things we see as immoral.  It became a counter-movement to challenge and defeat the social base of a corporate financed push for austerity and increasingly repressive government.

Moral Mondays drew large numbers of people, including many whites, some that had been previously influenced by the so-called moral agenda of the right.  Identifying an issue every week became part of the Moral Monday movement building process. I became part of the delegation organized by the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA) for the Moral Monday 3rd wave on May 13th. Labor is weak in North Carolina, less than 3% are organized and many don’t have contracts. The identity of the rank and file of the old labor movement was not showing itself as part of the Moral Mondays. We as a labor contingent, wore yellow bands, bringing up the issues and calling on the rank and file at workplaces to become a more visible part of this movement. The anti-worker, anti-union, racist policies and attitudes of the state legislature created a climate at workplaces that increased the management’s abuse of power to intimidate and oppress workers. We wanted to be visible at both the workplaces and the General Assembly.

The entire labor delegation, about ten of us, were arrested, mainly from my union the NC Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150, but also some letter-carriers, workers from FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee), and Black Workers For Justice. Shortly after that, we organized the Labor Fight-back Conference in late June 2013 that brought more forces together from wider areas. We’re engaged in the Workers Democracy Campaign that developed out of that conference.

Ruben: That is awesome.  There was a lot of thinking that went into that. It’s impactive, not only locally but in terms of the political moment.  What do you think the Southern Workers Assembly needs to do to bring a workers’ movement together for the South?

Saladin: Last year, at the opening of the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, NC we brought together workers in the Southern Workers Assembly to begin to develop a program of action. During the Convention, there had been a veiled threat from the AFL-CIO that they would not participate because it was being held in a right-to-work state. There was news coverage about the threat. We saw it as an opportunity to call for a convergence of unions, worker organizations and worker centers in the South in the form of a Southern Workers Assembly to begin developing a program and rank-and-file workers movement to organize labor in the South. There was national and international news coverage of the Southern Workers Assembly as the only voice promoting amidst the many activities created by the Democratic National Convention speaking to organizing labor in the South.

 Finally, we were part of developing a resolution that one of the labor councils close to us sent to the AFL-CIO about organizing in the South. To be able to appeal to the rank-and-file of the national unions to push for the carrying out of the resolution, we need a strategic campaign on the ground.  We need other forces. The rallies held by the Southwest Workers Union in San Antonio, Texas on November 1st along with those in NC, and a petition campaign with more than 1500 signers sent to the NC Government, the Courts and Obama to drop the charges against the 940 Moral Monday arrestees, shows the potential for the SWA to expand.  The question of consolidating as an assembly has included challenges, including resources to have the concentration we really need, the importance of a regional campaign, to connect more people to this campaign. These are the questions we are facing.

 Ruben: One of the working groups that materialized at the Southern Movement Assembly in Jacksonville was from a worker/labor front of struggle and brought their issues to the assembly. We still have to follow up and build that up as an Assembly. Not inventing another assembly, but converging with the Southern Workers Assembly. It could multiply geometrically the power of the workers. One of the notions that the University Sin Fronteras and the Southern Movement Assembly process has been working with is the U.S. South as the labor colony for the United States. With the labor laws that restrict collective bargaining and striking that make it almost illegal to be in a union in the south. What are some next steps to change the correlation of voices to enable more systemic changes?

 Saladin: You’ve laid out the Southern Movement Assembly. A couple of us attended to the Assembly in Jacksonville, Fla. We were impressed by the gathering of forces, the discussion of issues, and what it means for building an infrastructure and linking labor to the other social movements. I had a discussion not long ago with Brother Emery about how to look at some kind of labor commission/component of the SMA so that a part of the digging in of the Southern People’s Movement will be in the workplaces as well. That is part of your question about how to prepare for the next phase. A movement has various components. We have to figure out how to build strategic bases and areas of contending power in the South. The South has the highest concentration of foreign direct investment and global capitalism. All kinds of concessions from county and state governments. So these locations of new plants come from those new resources as a part of finance bringing industries into the South.

 In Mississippi, there’s the Jackson Plan, which seeks to use the election of Chokwe Lumumba as mayor as a part of a state-wide strategy to build areas of people’s governance and a beginning of areas of contending power. How do we as a Southern People’s Movement/Assemblies begin to help the various states and locations throughout the South to develop these strategic zones of contending power? How do we look at taking control of institutions: school boards, hospital boards, etc. To go against the forces bringing in capital. How do we develop a perspective about that as part of the broader Southern Freedom Movement? These are thoughts about the next steps.

 Ruben: That’s fantastic. Our strength and power will come from building that infrastructure together so we can sustain a long-term movement.  Some of us will not be here forever, but if we go beyond the single-issue approach to build people’s power, we can correct weakness form earlier decades. We appreciate your words and your wisdom, especially concerning the social movement struggles. Thank you for your time, Brother Saladin, and your commitment.

 Niqua: I would like to continue this conversation that we started on the Youth Speak Truth radio show, Friday of next week, if possible, November 29.

Saladin: We’ve got to see that as this crisis deepens, there are going to be all kinds of struggles, fight-backs that we have to be a part of, but the problem has been that we enter them and lose the focus on our bigger strategy. We have to engage from a strategic orientation for the struggles to come.  New directions are often shaped by these struggles if there is no strategic program that anchors and guides our work. This has been a weakness because the fight-back has been a protest against injustice and not struggles for power. It’s not so easy, but we have to go into these struggles with more than simply a hope to achieve the immediate objective. How do we try to reshape power relationships to give more power to the people? When we are just protesting injustice and we are not using these struggles to reposition our movement and get into a more offensive posture. We are beginning to understand and practice the difference between the struggle for the reform and the struggle for rightful change. We have to keep those things in mind and hopefully the assembly movement and other collaborations will help build this kind of thing and strategic unity. ⍟

N.C. Legislature attacks unions and worker’s organizations

198461With the passage of Senate Bill 727 today in the NC State Senate, we are seeing an escalation of the attacks on workers and our organizations. Activists have expressed a need for unity and bold action now more than ever to help fight back this vicious tide.

They are asking workers and their organizations to continue to pressure the House to vote against this bill and then focus attention on Gov. Perdue, demanding she veto it. A veto of this bill is viewed as a pro-worker veto!

Below is a statement of solidarity from UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union.

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The Attack on NCAE and Education Workers is an Attack on All Workers!

As the NC GS 95 98 bans teachers and all public sector workers in North Carolina from collective bargaining that arrives at contractual agreements, the bill “targeting” NCAE to eliminate payroll deduction for voluntary dues, is clearly meant to destroy NCAE and is part of a strategy to destroy all public sector unions and associations that give public sector workers a collective force.

This is an attack on democracy, and the right of teachers and all public sector workers to voluntarily contribute resources to their organizations that aid them with information, training and other tools to collectively and individually advocate for themselves and for the millions of people who they provide education, public services and healthcare.

The same politicians making the major budget cuts impacting jobs and services are the same ones attacking worker rights.  This attack is part of a larger agenda to privatize public services, to use government to repress people’s democracy and to shift power and control over vital public resources to the banks and corporations – who are unwilling to pay their fair share of taxes – to be used to make more profits.

All public sector unions, associations, the rank-and-file and faith, community and student organizations must stand and act together against this attack on workers rights, public services and democracy.

The struggle against this attack must be more than the traditional lobbying at the state legislature. Our unions and associations must mobilize our rank-and-file members and their families to participate in people’s assemblies, rallies, forums, and other actions in the communities, work places and business districts within various political districts to show the breath and dept of our resistance and resolve not to allow the clock to be turned back on democracy.

The NC Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150 commits to stand in solidarity with NCAE in fighting against this attack.

We call on NCAE and all public sector unions and associations to join with UE150 and others in the Labor Faith and Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector, to help build a united and powerful movement based on the labor movement principle that An Injury to One is An Injury to All.”

In Solidarity,

NC Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150