The auditorium of the Durham Main Library was already crackling with activity when the 10 am start time rolled around on July 26th. Over 50 people representing 20 organizations (the Hosea Hudson Club included) had come to hold a war council. United Electrical Local 150, democratic and independent, was preparing to turn up the heat, as the official North Carolina Public Service Workers Union. Participants were there precisely because they smelled a fight against North Carolina's "9095," the state law which prohibits state employees from joining a union (this part failed a judicial challenge), bargaining collectively, or striking. At this gathering, four hours had been set aside to nail down plans of action throughout the state to sign up as union members 500 University of North Carolina service workers-housekeepers, groundskeepers, and maintenance workers-and to aim a bright light on past racist abuses of the mostly African-American service workers in the UNC system.
The effort was springboarded from a six-year campaign by housekeepers at UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University (Greenville) against low wages, poor and unsafe working conditions, increasing workloads, and institutional racism. In that struggle, worker-community-student solidarity forced the administration to the table, where it extended its reluctant recognition of the Housekeepers Association and delivered over $1 million in raises and back pay. UE organizer and chair of Black Workers for Justice, Saladin Muhammed, praised the UNC Housekeepers Association for its tireless efforts against University system bosses, noting that UE decided to commit to this organizing effort largely because the initiative had been taken by the workers themselves.
Barbara Prear of the Housekeepers Association, however, pointed out that the union was needed to continue the fight. "Even with what we won," she said, "not a lot has changed for the individual worker. We need the union now to consolidate our unity and focus our efforts to take the next steps." Ajamu Dillahunt, president of American Postal Workers' Union Local 1078, characterized the UE effort as "potentially the most significant challenge to anti-union legislation in the state, and the most important thing progressives can be part of in the spectrum of struggle."
The initial thrust of the drive is the "Grieving for Justice Campaign" (GFJC). "Grievance Brigades" were organized at the meeting; one for each of 10 targeted universities and are fanning out across the state to collect 300 grievances and 150 union memberships before August 19th, as the first step to gaining 500 new UE 150 members before December. The slogan of the campaign is, "File a grievance. Join the union." The GFJC is a means of using workers' First Amendment rights to organize and to petition the UNC Board of Governors and North Carolina government bodies for "across-the-board remedies and union recognition."
Mr. Dillahunt emphasized that union struggles in the South are critical for workers throughout the nation. "This campaign is designed to raise worker consciousness above individual interest. As long as there is an unorganized, anti-union South, the union movement throughout the country is in danger." "It is important to be bold," Mr. Muhammed told the gathering, "in opposing the repression of workers, of women, of oppressed nationalities. We are representing people who are being attacked, and we will not run away from this attack."
|It's not too late to get involved in this crucial fight. Call UE Local 150 at 919-977-2818 (Rocky Mount), 919-286-1129 (Durham), or 919-932-1844 to find out how.|
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