NAACP People’s Assembly builds a working-class movement
Posted by raleighfist on February 24, 2007
Photo: Ben Carroll
On Feb. 10, thousands of African Americans and other working people marched through the streets of downtown Raleigh, N.C., in the NAACP’s Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly. Under the new progressive leadership of its president, the Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina NAACP organized this event to put forward a powerful 14-point program demanding union jobs, health care, and education not war. This was the biggest demonstration in recent Raleigh history, only surpassed in 2003 when 7,000 marched demanding an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Statewide, the only demonstrations bigger than this in several years were last year’s May Day immigrant worker manifestations.
The HKonJ “People’s Agenda” included:
1) “All children need high quality, well-funded, diverse schools
2) Livable wages and support for low-income people
3) Health care for all
4) Redress two ugly chapters in NC’s racist history: the overthrow of the bi-racial 1898 Wilmington government and the sterilization of poor, mainly Black, women from 1947-1977
5) Same-day registration and public financing of elections
6) Lift every historically black college and university
7) Document and redress 200 years of state discrimination in hiring and contracting
8 ) Provide affordable housing and stop consumer abuse
9) Abolish racially biased death penalty and mandatory sentencing laws; reform our prisons
10) Put young people to work to save the environment and fight for environmental justice
11) Collective bargaining for public employees
12) Protect the rights of immigrants from Latin America and other nations
13) Organize, strengthen and provide funding for our civil-rights enforcement agencies and statutes now
14) Bring our troops home from Iraq now!”
Unions & anti-war groups unite
What was unique about this event was the presence of working-class and labor organizations. Union flags and banners could be seen flying in the air everywhere. Unions such as United Electrical Local 150, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the Teamsters and UFCW made a visible impact on the march, which made this a rare occasion in North Carolina—the state with the second lowest unionization rate in the country, with less than 3 percent of workers belonging to unions.
UE Local 150 and its Raleigh City Workers Union chapter had a particularly strong delegation. UE members carried emphasizing the fight for collective bargaining and living wages. Local 150 has been involved over the past two years in the International Worker Justice Campaign to repeal NC General Statute 95-98, a legacy of Jim Crow that denies public-sector workers, mainly African American, the right to be represented by a union contract. This struggle, strengthened by last September’s sanitation workers’ strike, has really pushed the issue of collective bargaining into the consciousness of most working and progressive people in North Carolina.
FLOC recently won the first labor contract for migrant workers. And, with the Food and Commercial Workers, FLOC has waged a 15-year fight to win union representation for workers in the Smithfield hog plant. This struggle has played an important role in the broader battle for immigrants’ rights, and has also helped advance an alliance between Black and Brown workers, a necessary weapon to strengthen working-class power.
Toward the back of the Feb. 10 march was a sizable contingent of anti-war organizations and local peace coalitions. Between this anti-war contingent and the labor crowd marched a vibrant youth and student contingent from Raleigh FIST—Fight Imperialism Stand Together. Their banner read: “Collective bargaining rights now—justice for immigrant workers—feed the cities, not the war.” FIST marched alongside students from Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society, who have been fighting to shut down a newly built military recruiting center.
This unity between anti-war and labor organizations is a strong sign that the movement to end the multiple oppressions caused by racist, capitalist society is developing a mass character.
A movement, not a moment
Organizers emphasized that this march was not just a one-day event. Rather, it was an initial step in forging a mass movement to fight for the people’s agenda. The event was coordinated by a number of progressive allies of the NAACP that have created a new coalition consisting of the AFL-CIO, UE Local 150, Black Workers for Justice, North Carolina Justice Center, El Pueblo, United Food and Commercial Workers, North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus, North Carolina Council of Churches, General Baptist State Convention, Triangle Urban League, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and others.
United under the 14-point program, these organizations are fighting against the cutbacks that working people face as a resulted of heightened U.S. imperialism. Organizing continues in the state’s rural and urban counties, and intersections between these struggles are now becoming institutionalized. Under the leadership of the most oppressed, North Carolina working people are in a position to build the necessary power to throw off their chains.
Saladin Muhammad, chair of Black Workers for Justice and organizer with UE Local 150, said: “If we can identify some of the key social movements that the platform represents and speak to and get these key movements to take off in a real fight around that; and make connections to struggles centered inside the work place, on environmental justice or around the war, it will have the possibility of leading flanks of this assembly movement. It will be important to establish an assembly movement towards people’s popular power. In this time it is becoming clearer that either two parties or the institutions to address social needs are not going to do anything. Just like in Mexico where there is sense of dual power or popular power by peoples, this mobilization can allow deeper education about building people’s power.”
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