By Dante Strobino
Thousands of workers, youth, religious leaders and civil rights activists marched through the streets of downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 14 in the third annual “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” (HKonJ) march.
Almost 10,000 people gathered in Chavis Park before the march, including hundreds of workers wearing yellow gags symbolizing the lack of a voice due to the ban on collective bargaining for public sector workers. Members of the Black Student Movement and Student Action with Workers from the UNC-Chapel Hill campus wore black shirts that read, “We Will Not Be Silent.” Other signs listed the HKonJ movement’s 14-point Peoples’ Agenda.
The HKonJ coalition was organized by the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP and includes over 80 organizations fighting for the People’s Agenda. The Agenda includes demands for quality education, a living wage and health care for all; redress of two ugly chapters in the state’s racist history; collective bargaining rights for public sector workers; prison reform; immigrants’ rights; and more.
Two demands of the Agenda have been realized since the movement’s founding: union recognition at the Smithfield pork-processing plant and same-day voter registration. North Carolina is now the only state allowing voters to register on Election Day. The new legislation is credited with helping Barack Obama win the state in November.
A major theme of this year’s march to the state Legislature was “don’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor.” With the state looking at a $2 billion budget deficit and Gov. Beverly Perdue proposing to cut the state budget by as much as 10 percent, the governor’s office has mandated all state departments cut their services and workforce. In the University of North Carolina system, proposed budget cuts would lay off workers and increase class sizes.
A powerful contingent of students mobilized from dozens of college campuses and high schools. Mohammad Amleh, a Palestinian member of the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), carried a sign that read, “From Oakland to Gaza, resistance is justified!” Amleh stated, “In the U.S., the government is supporting the strong banks and the influential figures on the backs of the hardworking people. The same in Palestine, where the U.S. government is helping Israel while the poor and weakened Palestinians are suffering.”
A strong workers’ contingent was led by UE Local 150 Mental Health Workers, who are fighting for a Mental Health Workers’ Bill of Rights. They wore yellow gags and distributed leaflets about the state’s scapegoating of workers for patient abuse and neglect within the mental health system. The state Department of Health and Human Services is threatening budget cuts of $50 million.
Among many other political messages, the marchers chanted: “Workers need power! Organize the South!” Marching in the UE 150 contingent was Charlotte City Workers member Dwayne Hardin, who stated: “We are marching for collective bargaining rights because it is a human right that we all deserve. Working … without a [union] contract means city workers will never have wages that meet those of comparable cities around the country, our equipment will … continue to break down and we will continue to see increased work loads.”
Melvin Maclin and Ron Bender of the heroic UE Local 1110 marched alongside their union sisters and brothers. Local 1110’s membership includes workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago who successfully occupied their plant and wrestled $2 million from the banks for pay and vacation time owed them.
At the front of the march was a strong group of union workers from rural Chatham County who have been on a bitter seven-month strike at the Moncure Plywood factory. Moncure Plywood tried to force the workers to sign a contract with 60-hour work weeks, continuation of hazardous work conditions and imposition of a 300 to 400 percent increase in workers’ insurance payments. The company has violated many NLRB regulations, remained indifferent to racist threats such as a hanging noose, and hired permanent scabs to replace all workers on strike.
Allen Moore, vice president of Machinists’ Local W369 in Moncure, stated: “Today we are marching against foreclosures, for the Employee Free Choice Act and for education, but also to show management that we will not settle for less and that we have lots of support. Many of our issues are covered in the 14 Point Agenda.”
Many marchers have been actively participating in people’s assemblies throughout the state to organize the unorganized in their communities and work places, and to develop strategies to challenge the corporations, the state and the banks until justice is won and their demands are met. It was repeated throughout the day that marchers understood themselves to be part of “a movement, not a moment.”