|Union advocates rally on Labor Day|
|Southern workers push for wider role|
|Published Monday, September 3, 2012 7:17 pm|
The word union is often viewed negatively in the South, but a standing-room-only church sanctuary on Monday proved not everyone thinks so.
|PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III|
|Saladin Muhammad makes a point during a pro-labor rally Monday at Wedgewood Baptist Church.|
Southern workers in unions and other labor organizations met on Labor Day at Wedgewood Baptist Church to raise awareness on unjust conditions and to change the perception of unions.
Nathanette Mayo of the Municipal Council for UE 150, N.C. Public Service Workers Union, said the day was about gathering southern workers together to highlight different issues of employment for public and private workers.
“This is an opportunity for workers to take a break from what we do, look at what we do and how what we do benefits society, and to look at the needs that we have as workers,” she said.
Union is not a dirty word, Mayo insists, but some business, government and religious leaders have done a good job in making union advocates seem like troublemakers.
A union is “just workers taking control or having some control of the wealth they create,” she said. “We don’t get taught about unions in school and everything we hear is negative. There is no required class on the importance of why we have 40-hour workweeks, why there are health and safety laws on the books and why we have vacation and sick leave. The history isn’t there. And when people don’t know the history or have an understanding, they don’t recognize the power they can have when they come together.”
The rally consisted of panel discussions and breakout sessions with some cultural expressions in between.
Eleanor G. Bailey of the American Postal Workers Union said the U.S. Postal Service is proposing to close 3,700 post offices, eliminate 100,000 jobs and restrict mail delivery to five days per week.
“You know we don’t have to put up with that crap,” she said. “It’s a service, born in the Constitution of the United States.”
“What role do you have?” she asked the crowd. “You run the U.S. Postal Service. Not folks looking out for corporations. Don’t allow it to happen, brothers and sisters.”
She urged the audience to be mindful of who they vote into Congress.
“Those people you put in Congress, that’s who you need to check out. They are messing with you and we have got to do something about it.”
Mayo shared a success story in Durham, where city workers can now use up to 40 hours a year to volunteer in schools, nursing homes and learning centers. “We fought for that,” she said.
One fight that is continuing is that of Charlotte sanitation workers, who have been going to the Government Center every Monday to protest working conditions. Many of them could not make the rally, Mayo said, because they are working 12-14 hour mandatory shifts and getting written reports for injuries on the job.
The role of solidarity is vital to public works across the south, said Tom Anderson, president of Union Campus Workers at a Tennessee university. “Solidarity gives us 1,300 members across Tennessee,” he said.
Anderson said he is always asked how do people join unions. His response: “It’s all about standing up for your own rights because no one else is going to do it.”
During question and answer session, someone asked about the establishment of a Labor Party. The panel was split. While Bailey felt unions alone could do the job, Mayo said America needs more than a two-party system.
Chants often erupted after remarks. One such occurrence happened when an audience member said there was no real “democracy” in either of the major political parties.
“The workers – united – will never be defeated!” the crowd chanted in unison.
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