September 5 marks the 75th anniversary of a National Labor Relations Board election that took place at the China American Tobacco Company in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was the first NLRB victory in eastern North Carolina for the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA-CIO), part of a campaign that would bring nearly 10,000 tobacco “leaf house” workers, most of them African-American women, into unions.
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Rafael Fuentes, 16, fled his native Honduras with his family to escape a local gang that was trying to recruit him. Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 37.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020. Fuentes and his family are among the thousands of refugees who have arrived at the U.S. border this spring. Most of them are from Central America, and are fleeing poverty and violence that is a legacy of U.S. foreign and military policy.
Decades before the modern LGBTQ+ movement, a small but militant union of maritime workers on the West Coast with openly gay members and leaders coined a slogan linking discrimination against gay men, racial discrimination, and red-baiting. For the better part of two decades, the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union fought discrimination on the ships where its members worked and in society, until it was crushed by the same corporate and government forces that tried to destroy UE during the Cold War.
“Imagine we have this Easter egg hunt for kids,” economist Fadhel Kaboub told participants in a recent webinar co-sponsored by UE. “Imagine we have 100 kids at the park where we’re organizing this party but we only have 90 eggs. We’re setting up those kids to fail.” Then he made it clear why he proposed such an absurd scenario:
“That’s what we do in the labor market.”
In their attacks on President Biden’s much-needed proposals to invest in physical and human infrastructure, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, many Republican politicians have derided applying the term “infrastructure” to programs that support working families. They dismiss child care, elder care and paid family leave as “liberal social programs” as opposed to the “real infrastructure” of buildings, roads, and bridges.
The experience of UE members during World War II, when millions of women took jobs in manufacturing, tells a different story.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the “Wisconsin Uprising,” when public-sector workers and their allies peacefully occupied the state capitol building in Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker’s intent to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. The peaceful protests captured the imagination of working people across the state and country. Every UE local in Wisconsin sent members to Madison during the occupation of the state capitol, and UE locals around the country participated in solidarity actions.
The federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that our nation is celebrating today honors the struggle for civil rights led by Dr. King during his lifetime. Less well-known is that its existence as a federal holiday, and as a holiday in many UE union contracts, was itself a product of struggle, one that began shortly after Dr. King was assassinated while supporting striking municipal workers in Memphis.
When UE members elect their local officers, there is a pretty simple system: each local member gets one vote, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. Most nations that elect a single chief executive such as a president use a similar system, albeit on a much larger scale. “One person, one vote” and majority rule are basic to the practice of democracy.
UE Local 150 members across the UNC system have been fighting to protect the health, safety, and jobs of campus workers since the campus reopening was announced in May — collecting and delivering petitions, holding rallies and marches, building coalitions with faculty and students, speaking to the press, and joining a class-action lawsuit.
As racial justice protests swept the country following the murder of George Floyd in late May, UE’s officers issued a statement calling on working people to “stand in solidarity with our Black brothers, sisters and siblings, and to redouble our efforts to fight for racial justice.” UE locals across the country responded to the moment in a variety of ways, from joining demonstrations, taking actions at the workplace, opening their union office to protesters, and perhaps most importantly, initiating discussions among union members about why it is important to fight racism in order to build and maintain working-class unity.
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