A Saturday march in Raleigh, NC, that consisted of participants from dozens of left-wing groups – many bused in from more than 30 states – marked a new level of effort by national organized labor to assert itself in the South.
The recognized leader of the demonstration is the president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Rev. William Barber (in photo, on right), who recently received national media attention for his remark that black conservatives – such as South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott – are “ventriloquists’ dummies” for the Tea Party. Barber last year conducted a series of “Moral Mondays” protests in the state capital against changes in state law that lowered taxes and limited the growth of government.
But unions have provided extra forces in opposition to the newly Republican-controlled state legislature and governorship. North Carolina, the most ardent right-to-work state in the nation, has become a top target for Big Labor, which has a stated goal to “Organize the South or Die.”
“The anti-worker culture of the South has an impact far beyond the Mason-Dixon line,” wrote MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina state AFL-CIO, for its national Web site. “Southern Tea Party conservatives block progressive policies in Congress.
“What we see in the South today is a growing movement for economic justice. Just look at the Moral Monday protests in my home state of North Carolina….If unions grow this movement by investing in southern states, we can change the South and by doing so, we can change the nation.”
Last year, at its annual convention in Los Angeles, the national AFL-CIO passed a resolution to make a long-term commitment to a Southern organizing strategy a top priority. The decree identified various minority groups as part of the “working class and oppressed peoples,” including illegal immigrants, and recognized the need to join forces with local activists in order to sustain momentum for the Left.
“A successful Southern organizing strategy,” the AFL-CIO resolution read, “must include Southern people familiar with local culture and customs.”
Thus the union-folk came in droves to enlarge Barber’s “moral” march on Saturday, which he claimed grew to over 80,000 people – a lie repeated across both the Internet and the mainstream media – which not even a local liberal supporter would back up. Back in 2013, Moral Monday leaders rebutted suggestions that their modest demonstrations were aided by activists from outside North Carolina to make their numbers look bigger (a term called “Astroturfing”).
With the weekend’s protest in the state capital, all the liberals’ concerns that they appear Tar Heel-centric were cast aside. Organizers claimed that participants came from as many as 30 states. Planned Parenthood said they brought activists in from Georgia, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. NAACP organizers themselves said buses were coming from Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
And the organized labor contingent was strong. Among them was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said she “would follow Reverend Barber anywhere.” Funding for education, the elimination of teacher tenure, and a voucher program for underprivileged children to attend private schools have been points of contention in North Carolina, where public employees have no collective bargaining rights.
Other groups included the state AFL-CIO; the Southern Workers Assembly; Atlanta Jobs with Justice; the North Carolina Association of Educators; fast food workers from Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia; the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, United Electrical Workers Local 150; the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; and many others, according to Workers World, a Socialist Web site.
Also returning to back Rev. Barber was his friend George Gresham, president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199, United Healthcare Workers East, which claims 400,000 members along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Florida. As NLPC reported in June, professional agitator Gresham – who sharpens his trade in The Bronx and was arrested during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations – was willing to head south to aide Barber.
“We need this fight in the whole country, and if we’re going to begin in North Carolina, so be it,” Gresham said last year.
The protest was a show of force, of which Big Labor was a significant percentage, but there are more lasting indicators of a long-term commitment to organize the South. This month Student Action with Farmworkers, a nonprofit group based at Duke University that works with agricultural laborers, college students and labor activists to “create a more just agricultural system,” is to host an event titled “Organizing the South: How a Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation.” SAF also helped organize for the Saturday “Moral March,” and continually recruits students from NC universities to get involved in the organizing of agricultural laborers.
And also the National Farm Worker’s Ministry, a “faith-based organization that supports farm workers as they organize for justice and empowerment,” has moved its headquarters from St. Louis to Raleigh.
Clearly unions such as the AFL-CIO, which is dying in the northern rust belt, want to impose their will on an economically growing South. All the pro-farm union firepower will take aim at the recently empowered North Carolina Republicans who hold complete lawmaking power for the first time in over a century, in a state with the strongest right-to-work laws in the country. Labor activists believe the survival of their movement is at stake.
“The fact of the matter is that without a deliberate, concerted effort to organize in the states of the old Confederacy, there will not be a labor movement worth speaking of within the next ten years…,” wrote two Southern organizers for The South Lawn blog. “…The hour is late for labor….The only alternative to a monumental effort like the one we are outlining is a too-timid outing that will only delay and not reverse (or even arrest) the labor movement’s accelerating decline into extinction.”
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.