On Tuesday and Wednesday, convention delegates considered resolutions on fighting racism and standing up for the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people and immigrants. These resolutions drew some of the most passionate comments of the whole convention.
Speaking on the resolution “End Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” Scott Slawson, Local 506, pointed out that UE has one of the only constitutions in the American labor movement that has never had to be changed to comply with anti-discrimination laws, because UE has always been against discrimination of any type.
“If you listen to the last three resolutions,” he said (referring also to the resolutions “Fight Racism” and “The Battle for Equal Women’s Rights”), “they all say the same thing. ... They [the bosses] want to keep us divided, they want to keep us separate, they want to keep us fighting amongst each other. And that is not what we are about. We need to fight together.”
Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466, pointed out that anti-LGBTQ hate serves the purposes of the bosses and corporations. “They want us to think that queer people are our enemy, but we know that it’s the corporations, the bosses, and the ruling class that keep us distracted and keep us down.”
Fighting Racism “Fundamental to Building the Labor Movement”
UE members also had a lot to say about fighting racism. Over a dozen members expressed strong support for what Angaza Laughinghouse from Local 150 called a “very powerful resolution.”
Laughinghouse praised the UE Leadership and Staff Development Program, noting that its establishment in 2021 demonstrated the union’s responsiveness to the Black African-American caucus. He said that “All of us have a role to play outside of our workplace,” and related how initiatives by UE members in North Carolina to support community fights against racism have also brought people into the labor movement.
Ricky Steele, Local 506, said, “When we see racism on our shop floor, regardless of how small of an act it is, we have to stand up and speak up against it.” Steele quoted President Lyndon Johnson’s famous observation that “If you convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets out to you,” and pointed out that “This is the playbook of the Republican Party right now” — “a playbook against the working class people.”
Fighting racism is “fundamental to building the labor movement,” said Eastern Region President George Waksmunski. “We can’t reach the promised land if we’re all divided.”
Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, declared, “We are all God’s children and if you can’t stand up for a person of color, you can’t stand up for yourself.” Fred Hatef, Local 1008, pointed out that “Fighting racism means fighting it internationally as well,” noting the racist nature of anti-Chinese rhetoric and of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Anna Word, Local 197, recounted participating in the Saladin Muhammad Organizing Blitz last summer and praised Local 150’s “strength and their commitment to anti-racist organizing.” “Color don’t matter to me,” said Donald Quick, Local 150. “We’re all in this struggle together.”
Delegates also discussed the pros and cons of striving to be “colorblind.” Mike Giles, Local 506, declared that “I stand in full support of this resolution,” and added that “personally, I believe one of the key ways we can end racism” is by avoiding describing people by the color of their skin.” Dhananja Dassanaike, Local 1004, agreed that “we are working for a world where everyone is accepted” but observed that “we are nowhere near that” and “in my opinion, to have color blindness is to have color erasure.” Not “seeing color,” he suggested, can also make people blind to the ways in which racism operates.
Adrian Ray-Avalani, Local 1122, brought up the difference between simply treating people equally and “equity,” which “is where people are given resources ... based on their differences.” They observed that “If you give two people the same resources but one of them has been cut down their entire life, that’s not a solution, that’s people making themselves feel good.” They suggested that people should “not be colorblind” but rather “be aware of our differences but celebrate them”
Lexi Kenis, Local 1466, offered an amendment to specifically condemn hate crimes against Jews and Asian Americans, which was accepted as friendly. Jacob Payne, Local 896, James Dunaway, Local 150, Nichel Dunlap-Thompson, Local 150, and Brian Desanto, Local 642, also spoke on the resolution.
“We need to demand gender equality”
During discussion of the women’s rights resolution, Courtney Minnis, Local 506, rose to declare that “We need to demand gender equality.” Sekia Royall, Local 150, added that “the attack on women, the attack on black and brown women, has gone on for far too long.”
Many delegates, both women and men, spoke about the injustice of employers giving workers attendance points for leaving work to care for their children. Ricky Steele, Local 506, said, “We have to stand against these companies for women who leave work to see about their children,” and Minnis pointed out that studies have shown that women are disproportionately called by schools — even when the father is listed as the primary parent to call.
Ramona Malczynski, Local 1466, noted that when women are paid less than men, “that creates a division” among workers. “If you don’t support equality for women then we’re not going to be able to unite as workers.”
Ashley Clemons, Local 1004, described her struggles as “a fairly new mother” to find care for her children. “Child care is very difficult to get and it’s very difficult to find safe child care,” she said.
Dawn Meyer, Local 808, spoke about her and her husband’s struggles to pay for child care, and said, “The sad thing is that when I was a single mother I was better off.” Jessica Van Eman, Local 1466, spoke about her mother’s struggle as a single mom and said, “We just need to stand and fight together for women.”
Christine Brown, Local 208, rose to encourage the union to do a better job of publicizing the women’s caucus, and Cedric Whelchel, Local 1177, observed that “The women’s struggle has been going on far too long.”
Tim Van Boening, Local 808, Delores Phillips, Local 1118, and Donald Quick, Local 150, also spoke on the resolution.
Standing Up for the Rights of Immigrant Workers
As the convention considered the resolution “Stand Up for the Rights of Immigrant Workers,” Tobias Pace of Local 808 told his fellow delegates, “The immigration system is far more broken than you think it is.” Pace and his co-workers process visa applications for the federal government, and he decried the “boxes full of paperwork” and “all the bureaucratic hoops” that immigrants have to go through to enter and remain in the country “legally.”
Hannah Melick, Local 1498, said that at New Mexico State University, “A lot of our students cross the border daily.” She also said that in her local, which represents graduate workers, “So many of our most mistreated workers are international graduate students ... If they don’t comply with the advisors they can easily just be dismissed” and forced to return to their home country.
Sekia Royall, Local 150, deplored how “companies are taking advantage” of seasonal and migrant workers working on farms in Eastern North Carolina, forcing them to live in poor conditions. She noted that “it’s hard for them to find their voice when they’re afraid of deportation.”