Workers’ school strategizes to organize the South
Posted by raleighfist on December 15, 2009
Close to 60 people gathered at the Southern Workers School in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 5 to exchange experiences in organizing and to fight for collective bargaining and social and economic justice. The one-day conference included workers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee.
WW photo: Monica Moorehead
The school, which was held at the Hargett Street YWCA, focused a great deal on the need to repeal legislation forbidding government agencies to enter into collective bargaining with unions, particularly the reactionary Jim Crow statute 95-98 in North Carolina.
The program, chaired by Shafeah M’Balia of Black Workers for Justice, was opened up by BWFJ’s Ajamu Dillahunt. He stressed that in order to strengthen the labor movement as a social force, the unions must fight for the needs of all the workers, inside and outside the labor movement, organized and unorganized, employed and unemployed.
Angaza Laughinghouse Sr., president of United Electrical Workers Local 150, followed with an appeal for the unions to fight for political demands and for social justice as part of their organizing strategy. He stressed the struggle for undocumented and all immigrant workers and the fight against racism, sexism and war in proposing a vision of the labor movement as a social movement as opposed to narrow business unionism.
Donna DeWitt, chairperson of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and one of only five women who hold state AFL-CIO chairs, talked about labor law reform and stressed the democratic, constitutional rights of workers, which include the right to assemble, to picket, to strike and to organize. She traced labor law reform going back to the 1930s and ended with the message that workers have not relied on law reform to get their rights, but on rebellion. They have to “just do it.”
Raleigh Fight Imperialism, Stand Together
member Vidya Sankar and Shafeah M’Balia.
There were many important discussions and workshops throughout the day, including a Women’s Roundtable where women workers discussed the conditions with and without unions. The roundtable was chaired by Larsene Taylor, State Secretary and Department of Health and Human Services Chair of UE 150.
There was a well-attended Youth Caucus, co-chaired by Salia Warren and Angaza Laughinghouse Jr., both youth organizers for BWFJ. The caucus spoke about the catastrophic consequences for youth, especially Black and Latino/a youth, in the present economic crisis. They discussed combating alienation among youth in the community and getting them involved in organizing.
Saladin Muhammad of BWFJ, coordinator of the International Worker Justice Campaign and retired International Representative of UE, gave a rousing final talk. He held out the vision of fighting to transform the South with a broad rank-and-file movement that works to democratize society for the working class. Muhammad called for a Southern alliance for collective bargaining. He stressed that we must build not just a trade union movement but a social movement that fights for the community, for democratic rights, against racism and against all forms of oppression.
Muhammad closed by showing how the ruling class has always sought to solve its crises on the backs of the workers in the South, and Black workers especially. He showed that the South is not just a geographical unit but a social and economic unit and that organizing the South would show the world that the U.S. ruling-class monster could be defeated within its own borders.
He said it would be a great leap forward for the entire working class if the least organized and the most exploited workers—the Black, Latino/a and poor white workers of the South—could break the back of the right-to-work laws. This could be the spark that sets off a broad fightback.
The proceedings were closed by the Fruit of Labor singing ensemble, which included Nathanette Mayo, Erin Byrd and Laughinghouse Sr.
The school was sponsored by BWFJ, Labor Notes and the Communiversity.