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‘Trayvon Martins are in every community’

Published Apr 12, 2012 10:11 PM

Black Workers for Justice held its 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Banquet on April 7 at the North Carolina Association of Educators building in Raleigh, N.C. BWFJ has a rich history of anti-racist, pro-worker fightback in the U.S. South and especially in North Carolina, which remains the least unionized state in the country. North Carolina’s public sector workers continue to fight for the right to collective bargaining.

Larry Hamm, Monica Moorehead &
Saladin Muhammad, April 7.
WW photo: Dante Strobino

BWFJ grew out of a struggle led by Black women workers at a Kmart store in Rocky Mount, N.C., in 1981, against racist and sexist discrimination by the bosses. These courageous women organized a boycott against Kmart that culminated with BWFJ becoming a statewide organization in 1982.

BWFJ’s political program includes fighting for democratic unions of rank-and-file workers; the equality of nationalities and sexes; health and safety on the job; and the liberation of Black people and other oppressed nationalities. BWFJ stands against wars and military spending; unemployment, plant closings and runaway shops; and the exploitation of all workers.

The keynote speaker at this year’s banquet was Larry Hamm, chairperson of People’s Organization for Progress, based in Newark, N.J. POP has been in the forefront of organizing African Americans for several decades to fight for social justice on many fronts. Evoking the legacy of Dr. King throughout his electrifying speech, Hamm announced his organization’s 381-day campaign to mark the anniversary of the historic Montgomery bus boycott. The campaign encourages POP’s allies to organize one demonstration each day in Newark.

Dr. King came to national prominence during the the Black community’s mass boycott, which began in 1955, against the local Montgomery bus company’s racist policy of forcing Black people to sit in the back of the bus. The segregationist law was scrapped 381 days after the boycott began.

Hamm told the audience that 175 organizations have endorsed POP’s year-long call, which includes demands such as a federally funded national jobs program; an increase in wages, including the minimum wage; an end to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; a moratorium on foreclosures; an end to the privatization of public education; preserving workers’ rights and collective bargaining; an end to spying on Muslim communities; and more.

Hamm explained the successful struggle to stop the eviction of an elderly Black woman, Susie Johnson, from her home in Newark, when POP members blocked the police from putting her belongings out on the street.

Hamm also spoke eloquently on the racist violence that is intensifying as the economic crisis worsens. “Trayvon Martins are in every community across the country,” Hamm stated in reference to the 17-year-old, African-American, unarmed youth fatally shot on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested or charged for the murder. Black and Latino/a youth face racial profiling from the police and vigilantes like Zimmerman on a daily basis.

Hamm stated that militant tactics are called for to help realize Dr. King’s call for “a radical redistribution of wealth and power” from the 1% to the 99%. Hamm brought everyone to their feet in a standing ovation when he declared that no matter who gets elected to the White House on Nov. 6, the people must be back in the streets on Nov. 7.

Hamm was introduced by Saladin Muhammad, a long-time leader of BWFJ.