Struggle, solidarity, strategy
Southern conference organizes for justice
Published Dec 22, 2008 7:14 PM
The 7th biannual Southern Human Rights Organizing Conference (SHROC VII) was
held in Durham, N.C., from Dec. 12 to 14. The first SHROC was held in 1996.
“Framing a Southern Human Rights Agenda—Strategies for Moving
Forward” was the overall theme of this year’s conference.
North Carolina is a right-to-work state and the right to collective bargaining is denied to low-wage workers in the public sector.
WW photos: Monica Moorehead
The more than 300 conference delegates came mainly from the South, but also
traveled from other U.S. regions, representing local, state and regional labor,
community, and youth and student struggles and campaigns. The social
composition of the conference was Black, [email protected] and white of all ages and
Two important labor victories helped set the political tone throughout the
two-and-a-half day conference as well as energized the participants: Workers at
the Smithfield hog-processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C.—the largest of its
kind in the world—voted in the Food and Commercial Workers union after a
15-year struggle, and the factory takeover by workers at the Republic Windows
and Doors plant in Chicago was successful.
Plenary talks, strategy sessions and solidarity messages provided opportunities
to connect current struggles in the U.S. South with these two victories. The
gathering also acknowledged the historic Nov. 4 election of Barack Obama as the
first African-American U.S. president and the impact that this development will
surely have on the ongoing struggles for fundamental social change.
A simultaneous youth summit was held during SHROC to give youth and students
the space they wanted to share their varying political views and strategies on
issues affecting them.
In a welcoming message, SHROC organizer Jaribu Hill, an African-American lawyer
with the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, paid homage to
martyrs of the struggle—including the Greensboro Five; Imperial Food
Products poultry workers of Hamlet, N.C.; civil rights activist Rev. James
Orange; and Coca-Cola Bottling Plant union organizers from Colombia.
In explaining the goals of SHROC, Hill stated: “Human rights defenders
come to SHROC to retool, think, plan and build. In these critical times of
unjust wars and economic decline, it is urgent that we forge a unity based on
common struggles and experiences. It is this unity that will sustain the fight
and ensure ultimate victory.”
‘Stroke capital’ of North Carolina
On the first day of SHROC, delegates took a 90-minute bus ride to Duplin
County, known as the state’s “stroke capital.” Tour guides
from the North Carolina-based Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help
explained to the delegates that this county is home to two out of the 10
million hogs located throughout the eastern part of the state. Only Iowa has
more hog farms than North Carolina.
Duplin also has one million turkeys. Smithfield Foods, which has a virtual
monopoly on the hog and pork processing industry worldwide, also owns
Butterball turkey production.
There are almost 40 hogs to every person in Duplin, which has a human
population of 52,000. There are at least 500 large and small hog farms, which
are either out in the open or hidden in forests. Each of the barns on the
largest farms is occupied by between 3,000 and 5,000 hogs.
Next to these barns are lagoons which look like regular ponds, but in reality
they are deadly cesspools filled to the brim with hog feces. Most of the
lagoons are located near the homes of Black and [email protected] people, who compose 28
percent and 15 percent, respectively, of the county’s population. The
mainly white Smithfield owners live in luxury homes at least 30 miles away from
the hog farms.
The waste of two million hogs creates a horrific stench 24 hours a day. And
worse than that, these lagoons have created an environmental health hazard.
This includes polluting the air, water and earth for so many years that it will
take generations to clean up.
Naeema Muhammad, a leader of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network,
led a discussion between SHROC delegates and two Duplin County residents. Elsie
Herring and Violet Branch shared shocking stories about how their land had been
contaminated with hog waste in an effort by hog owners to force them to
As a result of this racist environmental injustice, residents are suffering
from high incidences of stroke, diabetes, cancer and depression, as well as
asthma among children. That’s how Duplin got its name.
Farm workers, Moncure strikers demand justice
Baldemar Velasquez, leader of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee based in
Toledo, Ohio, gave a moving speech at the conference on a very important
campaign to organize tobacco workers, mainly immigrants from Central and South
America. FLOC represents thousands of migrant workers harvesting 26 different
crops throughout North Carolina.
The main target of this campaign is the powerful RJ Reynolds tobacco farms.
According to a March 30, 2007, shareholders’ report released by Susan M.
Ivey, president and CEO, RJ Reynolds’ 2006 combined sales amounted to
over $8 billion. Ivey herself received $9.5 million in corporate compensation,
including a 42 percent raise in 2007. (www.floc.com)
In sharp contrast, tobacco workers make on average less than $9 per hour for
the back-breaking work of picking tobacco for hours in the hot sun.
Lewis Cameron, president of Machinists Local W369, spoke on an important strike
that started this past summer against Moncure Plywood, owned by Atlas Holdings.
These machinists were forced to go out on strike when the owners refused to
bargain in good faith.
The owners have violated labor laws, including those under the International
Labor Organization Convention, when they hired permanent scab labor to replace
the strikers. To add insult on top of this injury, a hangman’s noose was
found by strikers on Sept. 12. This current—and historic—threat is
used by racists who want to keep Black workers “in their place” by
not fighting for their political and economic rights.
Cameron made it crystal clear to the entire conference that the machinists will
not bow down to the racist intimidation and will keep this very difficult
strike going until they win. Out of solidarity with the strike, $1,000 was
raised at SHROC for the Moncure workers’ strike fund.
‘Hey, hey, ho, ho! 287G has got to go!’
SHROC delegates held an emergency direct-action protest Dec. 13 outside the
Wake County jail against immigrant-bashing edict 287G. This edict legalizes
complicity between Immigration Customs and Enforcement, an arm of Homeland
Security, and local police to target immigrants they label
Under 287G, 70,000 immigrants in North Carolina have been scheduled for
deportation. Of 287G detainees, 63 percent are in city and county jails
throughout the state, including in Raleigh.
When SHROC delegates held a picket line in front of the jail and began
anti-287G chants, detainees waved to the demonstrators to show their
appreciation for the much-needed solidarity. Organizations such as the Southern
Coalition for Social Justice and the ACLU of North Carolina are organizing
political and legal campaigns against this repressive law.
Go to www.shroc.org for more information. E-mail:
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