North Carolina People’s Assembly generates plan of action

By Dante Strobino

On Aug. 9 over 75 African-American workers and community activists converged in Raleigh, N.C., for a People’s Assembly. Initiated by the Black Workers for Justice, these assemblies are part of the Historic Thousands on Jones St. (HKonJ) movement that brought over 5,000 people to the streets in Feb. 2007 and 2008 around a powerful 14-point People’s Agenda.

People’s Assembly, Raleigh, N.C.
People’s Assembly, Raleigh, N.C.
Photo: Ajamu Dillahunt

The People’s Assemblies are an effort by coalition partners to bring this agenda to life in local areas throughout the state and throughout the year and to broaden the participation.

The 14-point People’s Agenda includes a broad range of issues affecting the African-American community and workers, including police brutality, education, health care, the war, the economy, reform of the electoral system and collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers.

One highlight of the Aug. 9 People’s Assembly was the large delegation of striking Moncure Plywood workers from International Association of Machinists Local W369 in Chatham County. The strike began on July 20 after bosses gave a take-it-or-leave-it last contract offer that would mandate 60-hour work weeks, weaken the seniority clause in a way that could lend itself to favoritism, increase health insurance premiums by over 300 percent, give fewer holidays off and without regard to safety violations. Workers also raised concerns about unfair labor practices.

IAM Local W369 President Lewis Cameron expressed concern to Workers World that community members may think they were striking just to get more money. Although they deserve higher pay, he reiterated, “We are just trying to secure our rights to a decent job and to work with dignity.”

The workers were received with warm support from other People’s Assembly delegates, who voted to participate in the picket line on Aug. 27, the day before Barack Obama is giving his acceptance speech, to mark the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and to continue the legacy of Dr. King, who stood with striking workers in Memphis, Tenn., in the days before his assassination.

Delegates broke out into committees based on areas of interest. The anti-war committee, led by Khalilah Sabra of Muslim America Society Freedom Foundation, discussed the escalation of war on Iran and the need to divert the Pentagon budget to address the peoples’ needs. When their committee was giving a report to the entire assembly, a long discussion about the role of Israel broke out. Many spoke out in support of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Members of the workers’ rights committee discussed supporting the Raleigh City Workers chapter of UE Local 150, which is struggling to get policies written by city management encouraging all city councilors and the city manager, Russell Allen, to meet and confer with elected union officers.

The committee also agreed to support the mental health care workers in UE Local 150 struggling for a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights; the campaign to assure a safe and just merger between two state psychiatric hospitals—Dorothea Dix and John Umstead; and for workers to be reimbursed, since the new BEACON payroll system that was rolled out in December has shorted hundreds of workers hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

The local elections committee is working to assure that all have access to the ballots and that voter suppression, like that which took place in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, does not happen to people of color in North Carolina.

The anti-racist committee brought forth many issues of police brutality and the criminal “justice” system in the African-American community. This includes the brutal murders by police of Antwan Tomlin in Wilson, N.C., on Feb. 1, 2007, along with the unjust incarcerations of James Johnson and Amanda Council.

When this committee was also asked to organize around justice for immigrant workers, a long, fiery discussion followed. One participant raised the myth that “they are stealing our jobs” and was answered by many others who denounced NAFTA and other “free trade” policies, the militarization of the border, racist media hysteria and the raids at workplaces and in working-class communities.

Rukiya Dillahunt, member of Black Workers for Justice and one of the assembly’s organizers, added another interesting twist to the whole debate. Commenting on the deterioration of the economy and joblessness, she said, “You hear they are coming here to take our jobs … what jobs?”

Assembly attendees discussed the checkpoints being set up in their communities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have a goal of arresting 3,000 undocumented residents by the end of August, and roadblocks will take place throughout the month in North Carolina, particularly focusing on Alamance and Henderson counties.

Sabra commented on the economic downturn and the need for more jobs that has created divisions between Black and Latin@ workers: “Meanwhile, the U.S. government is spending billions of dollars every day to finance Israel, the war on Iraq and now on Iran and building bombs. … We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves for the crumbs off their table.”

In a renewed spirit of unity, led by the Fruit of Labor cultural artists, assembly participants closed the convention by singing: “We will not stand for exploitation. We will not stand for racism. We will not stand for injustice.”

The writer is a union organizer with UE Local 150 and with the youth group FIST, organizing high school students to fight against the war and military recruitment.


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