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Activists in South support public workers

Published Mar 3, 2011 8:36 PM

Raleigh, N.C., Feb. 21.
WW photo: Dante Strobino

The Labor, Faith and Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector rallied in Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 21. Workers and community members showed support for Wisconsin workers, who are fighting to maintain collective rights, and demanded these rights in North Carolina, where they were banned in 1959.

The momentum built in Wisconsin is strengthening the movement to repeal North Carolina’s ban.

Protesters marched to the General Assembly, led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of N.C. NAACP; Angaza Laughinghouse, president of UE Local 150; Monserrat Alvarez, of Raleigh Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; N.C. AFL-CIO President James Andrews; and the Rev. Nelson Johnson, director of Beloved Community Center in Greensboro.

They delivered copies of the coalition’s statement of principles and the U.N. International Labor Organization’s ruling — which called on the state to resume collective — to Thom Tillis, speaker of the House, and Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the Senate. Both Tea Party members, they aim to slash thousands of state jobs and further erode vital services in their 2011-12 budget proposals.

UE Electrical Workers Local 150, the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, the N.C. NAACP State Conference and the International Worker Justice Campaign initiated this coalition. They want the ban lifted and call for the state to set up a framework to grant public sector workers collective rights. This is crucial to a broad program to defend public sector jobs and services, now under attack by federal, state and local governments.

Their founding statement says: “The public sector is the basic safety net for providing working-class and poor people the basic essential human needs. It must be protected. ... In order to wage a powerful struggle in defense of public services, which is being exemplified by the protests in Wisconsin, there must be a struggle to defend the workers that provide these services. The right to collective , for workers to have input in shaping the decisions about working conditions, must be a basic right and major demand of broad coalitions that must be formed in defense of the public sector.”

These issues are also crucial in Virginia and other Southern states, where public sector workers are denied collective rights.

The document cites the ILO ruling, which found that the federal government and North Carolina violated international laws by denying collective rights to public sector workers. The decision responded to a N.C. Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150 complaint.

Coalition members joined the Feb. 12, statewide, Historic Thousands on Jones Street demonstration to defend public sector workers and services. HKonJ has organized since 2007 to bring thousands of African-American community members, workers and allies to a People’s Assembly march to the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh to demand a 14-point people’s program.

The new coalition plans a “People’s Budget” campaign of people’s assemblies to be held in N.C. cities, giving workers and communities a genuine voice in bringing forward their demands for government budgets to meet workers’ and oppressed peoples’ needs.

That corporations have been able to leave Northern and Western unionized areas to set up “run-away shops” in the low-wage South reflects a historical weakness of the labor movement in not organizing there. This, as well as the legacy of Jim Crow racism, has contributed to the creation of reactionary organizations, such as the Tea Party, which aim to destroy public and private sector unions in states where unions have been stronger.

Workers throughout the country must unite with community and workers’ organizations and other sectors to unleash their collective power. During the capitalist crisis, this unity is key to organizing peoples’ power.