Baltimore activists mobilize Workers’ Assembly

Baltimore – A determined group of activists met at the Enoch Pratt Library in the Waverley community on June 11 to strategize and plan actions to mobilize workers, especially those in the more underpaid and oppressed African-American communities, in the struggle for $15 an hour now.

The alliance of different organizations included the People’s Power Assembly, the Ujima People’s Progress Party and the Industrial Workers of the World. Ian Schlakman, a Green Party candidate running for City Council in Baltimore’s District 12, and Allan Rebar, a rank-and-file teacher with the Baltimore Teachers Union, also attended.

Speakers representing the different organizations all focused on how to fight for $15 an hour without a “phase-in stage” which would set back the struggle. Around the country, some city councils, as well as unions, are pushing a phased-in approach to $15 an hour. Yet by the time the increase would be phased in (sometimes over two, three or four years), the raise would be meaningless. “Inflation would eat up any of the gains that low-wage workers [received] if there is an acceptance of this ‘phase-in’ formula,” stated one of the participants at the meeting.

The meeting’s chair, Diamanté Brown, introduced the members of the Assembly, who were each given a fixed time to discuss their position on what the struggle for $15 should look like.

Nnamdi Scott talked about his organization, the UPPP, and why a Black workers’ independent electoral party is needed to change the political landscape of Baltimore. “There is a history of elections in Baltimore being led by a Black misleadership class that works in the interests of capitalism. We want to build a leadership of class struggle even if we are not presently in power, and build a real party, block by block, not only with the idea of $15 an hour now, but the slogan of $15 an hour with a right to a union! The current campaign for $15 does not talk about unions. People, by relying on the Democratic Party, have been trained to accept crumbs. We need to educate folks to change that dynamic.”

Scott is a candidate for City Council in District 7, which includes the communities of Asburton and Forest Park in the west, Penn-North and Druid Park in the center, and Sandstown, where Freddie Gray was murdered by the police, on the east side. The 80,000 African-American people in this large area, not to mention the other electoral districts in Baltimore, are plagued with extreme poverty, dilapidated and boarded-up housing, and unemployment and underemployment.

Mike Thompson, the Baltimore IWW delegate, discussed the goals of the organization and emphasized direct action at the point of production. An example of this, Thompson noted, was when the fast food chain Jimmy Johns had a policy that employees could not accept tips. The food workers proceeded to walk around the store with tip cups. Management soon gave in and allowed them to accept tips from customers. The IWW also won a National Labor Relations Board case on the issue of workers being fired for organizing at Jimmy Johns. The NLRB reinstated the workers with back pay.

Sharon Black explained that the PPA was founded after the murder of Trayvon Martin and how 10,000 people were mobilized to demonstrate and march in downtown Baltimore. The organization, which recognizes the need for the workers and oppressed to take power, focuses on a number of issues. In the area of police terrorism, the PPA challenges the occupation army of cops in the communities and fights for real community control of the police as envisioned by the Black Panther Party. The PPA also works with the Southern Workers Assembly and Black Workers for Justice.

Black spoke about the idea that everyone agreed to: that capitalism was at a dead end. She pointed to how the new world global economy impacts the youth, especially those of color, and that there must be a strategy beyond the traditional approach of business unionism and the U.S. unions’ uncritical ties to the Democratic Party.

Within that context, Black discussed her campaign for City Council president, along with Andre Powell, who is running for mayor. Both are running as socialists. Black pointed out how difficult it is to get independent candidates on the ballot; the Board of Elections requires 4,000 signatures. However, “we also use our petitioning to educate people about real solutions outside of the traditional, nonstruggle approach.” Black stated that the PPA supports Scott’s candidacy for 7th District councilperson, and announced the Workers World Party candidates for U.S. president and vice president, Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly respectively. Many of the participants at the meeting took literature about the candidates.

The Assembly broke into two groups, one on outreach and logistics and the other on outreach to unions and workers. The day concluded with plans for two demonstrations in support of fast food workers.