Notes from a conversation with Louis Farrakhan
MWMM talks to Millions More Movement about the working class
Published Aug 30, 2005 10:11 PM
During Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s keynote
address on behalf of the Millions More Movement at the Teamsters National Black
Caucus 30th annual banquet and educational conference in Chicago on Aug. 20, he
publicly extended an invitation to the TNBC national chair, Chris Silvera, to
have a meeting in order to include MWMM issues with the MMM platform. The
NOI’s chief of protocol, Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad, made
arrangements with the assistance of Harlem’s NOI Minister Kevin Muhammad,
to set up the meeting in New York Aug. 27.
Chris Silvera, Clarence Thomas,
Louis Farrakhan, Brenda Stokely,
Larry Holmes. Bashiri Silvera in front
holding MWM T-shirt. Aug. 27.
Silvera, an East Coast convener
of the Oct. 17, 2004, Million Worker March, indicated to Kevin Muhammad that he
wanted to have two other MWM East Coast conveners, Brenda Stokely, former
president of District Council 1707, and Larry Holmes, co-director of the International Action Center, along with myself, at that meeting, which did occur on
the evening of Aug. 27.
Farrakhan had traveled to New York to meet with
various sectors of the community and movement regarding the upcoming Oct. 14-16
Millions More Movement events in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 10th
anniversary of the Million Man March.
and Louis Farrakhan
at Teamsters Nat'l.
banquet Aug. 20.
He greeted the four of us
individually with an embrace and a handshake. Despite his hectic schedule, which
included a flurry of interviews and other meetings, we were able to have a
45-minute meeting at his hotel.
Many trade union rank and filers have a
misconception of who Minister Farrakhan is and his importance. While he is
certainly an important historical figure in the struggle for Black liberation,
we found him to be attentive, humble, full of great wisdom and gracious.
presented the minister with MWM statements on “Rank and file unity and the
AFL-CIO split” and “Racism and sexism: Major pillars of the crisis
inside the U.S. trade union movement,” and with an outline of how the MWMM
would be doing broad outreach to workers, organized and unorganized, anti-war
activists and others for the MMM. I also gave him a copy of the “War at
Home—Economic Class War in America” book by Jack Rasmus.
to the Aug. 27 meeting, a MWMM T-shirt, pin and Oct. 17 rally DVD had been
presented to Minister Ishmael Muhammad, a Farrakhan assistant, during the July
23 AFL-CIO pre-convention activity at Mosque Maryam in Chicago. Chris presented
the minister with a TNBC embroidered leather shoulder bag, T-shirt and history
of the TNBC DVD.
In response to a request made by Chris, a verbal
agreement was made that the MWM will be one of the national co-conveners of the
MMM representing labor, and that this agreement will be conveyed to Minister
Willie Williams, the national executive director of MMM. Farrakhan told us that
each of the local MMM organizing committees should have labor representation.
These committees will be made aware of this recommendation along with the MMM
executive body that meets regularly to discuss issues. Farrakhan told us that no
one can speak for workers like workers themselves and therefore asked us to
select a MWMM representative to speak on the issues of labor at the MMM Oct. 15
There was a mutual agreement on the plight of working
people—organized and unorganized. Farrakhan mentioned that even though
many of us in the trade union movement are facing this onslaught from not only
the corporations but the government, still the plight of those who don’t
have jobs cannot be lost in all of this.
This includes those who
don’t have pensions, don’t have livable wages and medical benefits,
those who want a job and can’t have one, and how those of us who do have
jobs serve as buffers, superficial divisions, between the unemployed on the one
hand and the corporations and the ruling class on the other.
made the point that there is a disconnection in many instances between those of
us who are working and those who are not, as well as between those who have jobs
that are unionized and jobs that are not unionized.
Brenda mentioned how
the MWMM embraces those who don’t have jobs because we call for
universal health care, a national livable wage, affordable housing and education
and that a worker—unemployed or a displaced—is still a worker.
Farrakhan reminded us of the forces that we were going up against and about the
fear that the government has of retribution from the Black community based on
the racism and white supremacy that we still face.
Farrakhan said that the
only way that we are going to be able to realize livable wages and jobs for the
unemployed is to make fundamental changes in the government, including the
He stated that the government has committed
wrongdoing to the victims of “American foreign policy,” and that
government fear created an attitude of locking up Black folks before there is
some kind of action taken by the Black community to the oppression that
we’ve been under.
I underscored the fact that Farrakhan is the
continuer of the legacy of the Honor able Elijah Muhammad and the ongoing
struggle for economic and social justice. With all due respect to Jesse Jackson
and Al Sharpton, Farrakhan has the moral authority to be able to make Black
trade unionists respond and mobilize around the issues raised at the MWMM. Farrakhan’s speech on Aug. 20 with regard to issues of the Black working class
was in fact helping to carry forth the work of Dr. Martin Luther King with
respect to the Black community, the working class or labor, the inter-faith
community around issues of the right to a job, decent education and health
When we mentioned to him the issues of bringing the troops home,
repealing anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, upholding workers’
critical weapons like having the right to strike without replacement workers,
ending all discrimination in the work place—be it based on race or
gender—Farrakhan told us that he was not interested in just being able to
rattle off statistics, but he wants to develop a perspective of what the working
class is facing in order to feel their pain. He wants us to provide him with an
additional perspective on issues put forward by the MWMM.
impressively recited the preamble of the Declaration of Inde pen dence verbatim
in order to re-emphasize the point that when the government is not serving the
needs of the people, the people have the right to change the
To quote from the Million Worker March Movement’s Letter
for a Millions More Move ment Resolution: “Oct. 16th 2005 marks the 10th
Anniversary of the historic Million Man March (MMM). This event was not only the
largest gathering of African American people; it was also the site of the
greatest mobilization of workers in a single demonstration in American History.
However, there was no specific labor organization that participated in the MMM
responsible for organizing a conscious Black worker presence with clear national
working class demands.
“The Million Worker March Movement is issuing
the call to Black workers (organized and unorganized) and the entire labor
movement to endorse and mobilize for the 10th anniversary of the MMM, called the
Millions More Movement on Oct 14th-16th in Washington, D.C.
present attacks on all workers have made the stakes for Black workers in
particular and the working class in general much higher than they were when
nearly 2 million workers elected to attend the MMM and did not go to work on
Monday, Oct. 16, 1995.
“The MWMM clearly recognizes that the labor
movement cannot be absent from this next mobilization. We will be mobilizing
workers to participate on Oct. 14th-16th around the demands put forward by the
Million Worker March on Oct. 17, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington
Our Aug. 27 meeting was a reconfirmation of what Minister
Louis Farrakhan stated at the kick-off MMM news conference this past May in
Washington, D.C.: “Millions More means that we are reaching for the
millions who carry the rich on their backs.”
Thomas is a member
of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 executive board in
San Francisco, a past secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 10, a current member of
the executive committee of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, and a
member of the Northern Calif ornia chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade
Unionists. Silvera is also secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808 in Long
Island City, New York. Stokely and Holmes are members of the Troops Out Now
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