following is a speech by Saladin Muhammad given on November
5, 2009 at the commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of Greensboro
Massacre where 5 members of the Communist Workers Party were killed.
The speech was presented at the New Life Baptist Church in Greensboro,
Thank you for inviting
Workers For Justice to participate in this 30th Anniversary
Commemoration of the Greensboro Massacre and the Communist
Workers Party (CWP) 5. In our struggles for justice
and a better society and world, the struggle against racism must
be given high priority.
their tactical mistakes; and we all make them, the CWP 5 must be
counted as heroes in the struggle for a better world. Their mission
and actions were courageous and honorable.
today are faced with a list of issues that require learning past
lessons; new and creative thinking and actions; and a greater involvement
and leadership by the rank-and-file of the unions, worker and community
needs to be a better understanding of the connections between workplace
and community issues; and local and global issues. Questions of
race, gender, immigration, sexuality, religion and war have all
become issues impacting working and living conditions and shaping
unions must therefore be more than economic organizations, defined
in the narrowest sense of only fighting for gains and rights for
union members. This narrow view has allowed corporate power to divide
and manipulate the working class against itself.
total national union membership is about 12 percent of the employed
workforce; 5.9 percent in the Southern region; and slightly above
3 percent in North Carolina. New York State has more union members
than the 12 Southern states combined. More than half of the national
union membership, about 8 million are located in 6 states, all outside
of the South.
failure to make a serious effort to organize workers in the South
represents a major weakness in the power of the national trade unions
in challenging corporate power’s exploitation, globalization and
lack unaccountable to the needs of the working class. It is really
a misnomer to define the US trade union movement as a national labor
labor laws that were won by the US working class have always been
weak to non effective in the South. Those that have been imposed
by corporate power like the Taft Hartley Act in 1947 were made worst
in the South by “right-to-work” laws, a section of Taft Hartley
that was demanded by Southern states.
laws were enacted in most Southern states during the Jim Crow Period
in the late 1940s and 1950s, when Black people were denied the right
to vote and when racist Southern Apartheid shaped the social and
political character and application of all laws.
part of the South’s political superstructure to maintain the region
as a source of largely unorganized and low wage labor, “right-to-work”
laws help to maintain the divisions among the Southern working class.
laws provide a framework for employers to encourage workers in the
private sector to refuse to join unions even though they participated
in government supervised votes where the majority voted in favor
of union recognition. In most cases, the divisions breakdown along
racial lines, where white workers are often told (unofficially)
that they would maintain their privileges if they refused to join
campaign for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA),
while very important in helping to reduce employer tricks and intimidation
aimed at defeating union elections, does not address the issue of
repealing right-to-work laws that weaken unions once they are formed;
especially those that are not democratically controlled by the rank-and-file.
failure of trade unions to make repeal of “right-to-work” laws as
a major demand, makes no sense, especially since the loss of union
members in manufacturing over the past 40 years, has been largely
the result of corporate relocation of plants to the South.
laws have also allowed states to deny public sector workers the
right to collective bargaining. North Carolina and Virginia have
the worst laws denying this right; but all Southern states deny
public workers this right in varying degrees and methods.
North Carolina, this means that more than 630,000 public workers
have no rights to have effective input in shaping decisions that
impact their working conditions, wages and rights on the job.
public sector workers are the providers of the public services received
by working class communities in particular and other sections of
society; the lack of collective bargaining rights is directly connected
to the quality and availability of public services.
North Carolina, workers in the public sector led by the NC Public
Service Workers Union-UE Local 150, a union with a majority Black
membership and leadership, have come forward as the most consistent
and militant fighters for collective bargaining rights, not only
at the state legislature and local governments, but also on their
jobs and in their communities.
UE150 members seeing how the denial of collective bargaining rights
help to continue the conditions of race and gender discrimination
in their workplaces, led them to refer to the law that bans collective
bargaining rights - NC General Statute 95-98, as a “Jim Crow” law.
awhile other trade unions involved in coalition efforts to repeal
NC GS 95-98 were reluctant to label it a “Jim Crow” law; fearing
that whites would not unite with this struggle. However, this is
changing, as demonstrated by the powerful comments made at this
gathering by the President of the NC State AFL-CIO.
“right-to-work” laws in the South as a holdover from the Jim Crow
Period is very important in shaping an understanding of institutionalized
racism; how it maintains the super-exploitation of Black and women
workers; and how it divides and weakens the US working class.
struggle for collective bargaining rights for public sector workers
in the South can begin to build a movement that organizes, empowers
and radicalizes thousands of workers and their communities as part
of a social movement for Peoples democratic power. It can build
the mass working class base and political consciousness, to fight
for repeal of “right-to-work” laws as the opening phase of a national
movement to repeal Taft Hartley.
organizing in the South thus requires a struggle for the anti-racist
unity of the working class at the workplace as well as throughout
society. It means that labor unions must be part of and accountable
to a broad social movement and agenda that redefines and builds
peoples democracy, including challenging certain capitalist institutional,
ideological, cultural and political norms and policies that place
profits over human needs.
we are seeing today with the bailout of the banks and big corporations
– is the core principles of capitalism; the placing of the interests
of corporate profits over human needs. Hundreds of billions from
the government (the public funds) can be so quickly and easily transferred
to banks and corporations that make huge profits off the labor,
housing, food, education, prisons, disasters and anything one could
think of in society. Yet, no funds can be found to address the vital
needs of the masses of working class people.
working class and oppressed communities however, are told to tighten
our belts by sacrificing our homes, jobs, safety at the workplace,
the environment of our communities, our children’s education, and
to be patriotic by sending our daughters and sons to wars in the
name of democracy – spelled corporate profits.
of the greatest fears of workers in US is the loss of jobs or income.
When the threat of job loss is made to workers, they envision their
whole world crumbling around them. Without power to challenge this
threat, the boss holds the upper hand, not only over the worker’s
life on the job, but over their social and political consciousness
and choices throughout society. It is the major cause of stress
for working class families.
many working class single women with children, whose social independence
is partly linked to them having a job; the economic crisis is forcing
them to go back into abusive relationships to support themselves
oppressed nationality workers whose communities continue to be criminalized
by the mainstream media and the crime bills introduced and enacted
by the US Congress, there is a constant fear of being left out of,
and or further marginalized in what is being promoted as a US economic
recovery plan. Even worse, many fear a climate of increased violence
by the state, and from racist groups and mobs now forming with the
open financial support of big corporations.
election of Barack Obama as US president was an indication that
white workers can be moved to break with racism. Although not supported
by a majority of the white working class; unions were an important
part of winning the minority that helped to elect Obama. However,
the trade union struggle against racism must not be limited to the
electoral arena and the courts.
Obama election points out at least 3 important lessons – 1) that
the election of Black and candidates of color promoting progressive
change can be an advance for forging democratic social relations
among the masses; 2) that politics and democracy, if only expressed
in the electoral arena, has real limits and distortions, especially
when the elections don’t represent a change the in the power relations
between the working class and oppressed masses, and those that own
and control capital, the mainstream media, and dominate the government;
and 3) if the struggle against racism is only kept at the level
of the political superstructure, around electing candidates and
cabinet appointments, and not carried out at the base of society
in the workplaces, communities and social institutions; that the
anti-racist struggle has not gone deep enough among the working
class to challenge the reemergence of a populist racist movement
as we are seeing occur around the issue of national healthcare.
struggle for labor rights must be elevated to the level of human
rights. The working class, which constitutes the majority of the
US and world’s people, need labor unions to help wage the struggles
against racism and all forms of discrimination; for democracy, working
class power, women’s emancipation and social transformation grounded
in principles of human rights.
human rights struggle must be internationalized, using venues that
call for US accountability to international standards. It must build
and promote international solidarity with labor actions that challenge
corporate attacks on labor rights, as was the case with the response
by workers across the world to the plant occupation by the UE workers
at the Republic Windows and Doors Co. in Chicago, in December 2008.
a proud trade unionist, I also understand and hope you do the need
to address problems in the trade union movement that weaken their
ability to effectively serve the broad interests of the working
class and that align them with the policies that strengthen corporate
such a high percentage of the working class being unorganized in
all industries and sectors; instead of focusing on organizing the
millions of unorganized workers, many unions spend their time and
millions of dollars raiding and trying to take workers from other
are seeing splits in labor federations and national unions led by
high paid labor bureaucrats, claiming that it is in the best interests
of effective organizing and worker empowerment. In most cases, the
rank-and-file have no say in the decisions and actions of the union
leadership. This has resulted in the weakening of collective bargaining
within the various industries and sectors.
union heads are interring into “neutrality agreements” with employers,
amounting to silencing the rank-and-file in the communities during
union election campaigns; and others have to do with the union bargaining
a weak first contract in exchange for employer recognition or non
opposition to union elections.
least one national union which has done no real organizing in North
Carolina has used millions to court a state employee association
and to try and buy off politicians. They claim to have union organizing
jurisdiction wherever they put money to support political candidates,
even though they have not made contact with the workers.
refer to these and several other practices as “business unionism.”
They are top down, undemocratic and controlled by a small layer
of union officials. These are some of the practices that must be
challenged and opposed within the trade unions if they are to be
capable of organizing real workers power. The workers and their
communities while strongly supporting unionization as an essential
feature of democracy; must strongly oppose business unionism.
labor in the South must be based on principles of rank-and-file
democratic unionism. It means rank-and-file democratic control;
developing their capacity to run and lead their own unions; and
shaping working class internationalist consciousness. The main role
of union staff is to assist in this development, to help build labor
solidarity and broad support for the working class struggles, and
to organize new workplaces.
union staff alone cannot build the scope of the labor movement that’s
needed to organize the workers in the South and in this period of
economic crisis. The left and progressive forces must play a role
in helping to initiate and expand the labor movement.
especially in the South, cannot afford to wait until national unions
decide to organize before they begin forming organizations to take
up struggles against injustices on the job. Forming rank-and-file
organizations to take up these struggles represents a beginning
for most workers in forging collective labor consciousness.
the Black Workers For Justice not built rank-and-file committees
in the public sector workplaces, we doubt that there would be a
NC Public Service Workers Union-UE150, or the current interests
now shown by other unions in organizing public sector workers in
North Carolina. It took a fight back movement organized among workers
around issues at the workplace; and that also identified itself
as part of a wider struggle for democracy anchored in the African
American Communities, to help create a climate and worker confidence
to build a rank-and-file union movement
Centers can play an important role in helping to build and connect
the workplace rank-and-file organizing infrastructures. They are
seen as local institutions committed long term to the workers struggles;
and whose presence and support is not contingent on whether workers
can win recognition from their employers.
measurements to determine if the economy is in a recession or depression,
never starts with the impacts on the Black working class, which
is partly the reason why many workers don’t understand why there
needs to be special demands against racial and national oppression.
of the weaknesses today is the lack of working class consciousness
among young people. Racist national oppression discourages this
consciousness among Black youth. When young people see their parents
come home from working long overtime hours with barely enough to
pay bills and support their families; and when they are treated
with disrespect in various ways; they vow not to follow in their
people refer to the working class, especially in the unions as being
part of the “middle-class.” The government and the employers make
this reference because they want to give the impression that a decent
standard of living means that one is no longer part of the working
class; that capitalism is the system that elevates workers out of
when labor leaders make the same reference, it sends a message that
one should not be proud of being part of the working class. Getting
to the middle class often means doing whatever one has to do, in
the image of the corporations – mistreat workers, steal pensions,
subject workers to dangerous conditions, lie, and whatever it takes
to make money.
must build a real movement for people’s democracy, based mainly
on demands and issues addressing the needs of the working class
and oppressed. It must not be controlled by the corporate dominated
political parties; and its political actions must not be limited
to the electoral arena.
democracy must seek to build workers democratic power in the workplace,
communities and the institutions that impact the daily lives of
working people. People’s Assemblies need to be organized to help
build and bring together the various areas of people’s power into
a collective political force, and that operates on the basis of
a program for human rights radical social change.
organized power at the base of society, those areas where profits
are generated by workers as producers and consumers; the power of
the electoral officials, no matter how progressive will remain limited.
believe that the campaign to repeal NC GS 95-98 and to win collective
bargaining rights for public sector workers, can be an important
factor in launching a wider campaign to organize labor in North
Carolina and throughout the South, and to develop the momentum,
working class leadership and program for building People’s Assemblies
that build and unite mass based people’s power as a foundation for
commitment, courage and vision of the CWP 5, lives on. In the words
of Fred Hampton, the slain Black Panther Party leader from Chicago:
The system can kill a revolutionary; but it can’t kill the revolution!
Repeal the Jim Crow Law! Organize the South! Organize the South!
Organize the South!
Guest Commentator Saladin Muhammad is a member of Black
Workers for Justice and United Electrical Workers Union Local
150 (from North Carolina). Click here
to contact Mr. Muhammad.