“Wal-Mart is buying Negro
leaders.” – Rev. Al Sharpton
“We will not be passive bystanders to our own demise.”
– CBTU President William Lucy
“Economic justice is a part of freedom. We must
fight for a people’s economy.” – Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Black labor is carefully writing a new page in the
book of African American struggle. Despite the loss of 400,000 Black
union jobs during the first four years of the Bush administration,
and in the face of the U.S. labor movement’s splitting in two, last
year – or, more likely, because of these cataclysms – Black
labor has emerged more militant and with its internal solidarity
“There has been a split in labor,” said Robin Williams,
Associate Director for Civil Rights and Community Action for the
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, “but there has
not been a split in the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists [CBTU].”
Williams' own union was among those that withdrew from the AFL-CIO
less than a year ago to form the rival Change To Win federation.
But the 1,700 delegates to the CBTU’s annual convention in Orlando,
Florida, May 24-30, were united around fundamental issues – Black
folk’s issues, if you will.
When African Americans are once again forced to be
the primary upholders of worker solidarity and labor principles,
when it is African Americans that bear the brunt of corporate de-industrialization,
and when Black labor must fight a multi-front war for racial, social,
and economic justice, and world peace, then it is logical and righteous
that Blacks appropriate these issues as uniquely their own. As always
in America, the most despised and pilloried must ultimately lead
those whose vision is damaged by relative racial privilege and delusions
of Manifest Destiny.
“We have a responsibility to offer an alternative
economic vision to working families and to those who are economically
dispossessed,” said CBTU co-founder and President William Lucy,
in his opening convention address. “We must explore new concepts
to build partnerships among the progressive religious community,
the trade union movement and the investment community.
“The future of Black workers – and, therefore, the
future of the families, communities, churches, businesses and organizations
that they support – will be unanchored if we don’t stop the loss
of good-paying union jobs to low wage countries, to automation and
By necessity, Black labor finds itself unable to save
African Americans unless it strives to rescue the nation and humanity
at-large from the depredations of hyper-capital. The banners flanking
the speakers at the Disney Contemporary Hotel’s convention center
expressed the breadth of the project: “CBTU at 35: Continuing the
Fight for a New Economic Order.”
The struggle for a “new economic order” has always
been at the core of African American politics. The abolition of
slavery required a new economic order. Jim Crow was an economic
– as well as social, political and legal – order; we needed a new
one. Those who have always tried to order us around and kick us
down are constantly building their own self-serving “orders” – the
current regime being a global capitalism managed by home-grown racists
armed to the teeth, who harbor a quasi-religious belief that they
embody the essence of civilization.
Many of our fellow Americans – including members of
the House of Labor – view the rich perpetrators of world disorder
as mistaken human beings who can be convinced to act more responsibly.
History has taught Black people a different lesson: a man whose
actions consistently result in killing you, intends to kill you.
Continuity of Black Struggle
William Lucy first voiced the call for a “new economic
order” at last
year’s CBTU convention, in Phoenix. The venue for the focus
on economic matters would be Gary, Indiana, site of the 1972 National
Black Political Convention that ushered in – for better or worse
– an almost exclusive concentration on electing Blacks to political
office, entrepreneurialism, and individual Black penetration of
Shortly thereafter, the roof began to cave in for
many of those African Americans not included in the upward mobility
formula. Students of Hip Hop believe that this urban youth culture
was born of neglect and disdain on the part of the newly mobile
Black classes – a political, economic and spacial separation that
now represents possibly the greatest obstacle to the exercise of
collective Black power.
Organized Black labor occupied a kind of middle position
in the post-Gary 1972 social configuration. An integral element
of the urbanized Black masses, yet more secure than others in employment,
Black unionists were also privy to the machinations of both white
workers and corporate America. It was – and is – a unique prism,
of critical value in an era when two distinct currents of Black
reality were coming into being. American apartheid was hardening
in its impact on the urban masses, through a madness of incarceration,
deliberate defunding of public education and cities in general and,
with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the rise to national power
of the Hard Right. At the same time, a minority of African Americans
were nibbling – and a very few gorging – on the fruits of no-boundaries
capitalism. Larger numbers moved to precarious suburban – but overwhelmingly
Black suburban – lifestyles.
When the bubble burst as Bill Clinton exited the White
House, everybody’s roof caved in. The Bushite’s – practitioners
of disaster capitalism – unleashed on the nation and world the disasters
of their corrupt dreams. The New Order was clear: there would be
no order at all, but the rule of force and money. Between 2000 and
2004, Black union membership shrank from 2.5 to 2.1 million.
By 2005, it was high time to go back…somewhere. CBTU
chief Lucy chose Gary, Indiana as the actual and metaphorical destination.
“Fifteen-hundred people came through” the high school
that hosted the March 2006 National Black
Peoples Unity Convention in Gary, “the most important single
economic discussion in the Black community this year,” said Ron
Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland,
College Park, and one of the organizers of both the 1972 and 2006
events. “I think [Gary 2006] was the first time we focused on the
economic status of our community…the tremendous and urgent crisis
that we face,” Walters told the CBTU convention’s Town Hall meeting
in Orlando, two months later.
is evident, however, that at this late date in predatory capitalist
development, when the institutions of government have been thoroughly
corrupted by a racist and amoral class – abetted by their Black
and Brown camp-followers – the resistance requires tools that were
not developed during the 34 years since Gary I.
“We can’t depend on the federal government, they don’t
give a damn,” said Dr. Walters. “We need to create centers of public
policy” to confront the array of rightwing think tanks that operate
against us. "We have the Joint
Center for Political and Economic Studies. Well, that’s not
“We need liberation-oriented economics to pull all
this together… We need a science of how to win under capitalism.”
Only people power beats money power – an even iffier
proposition when money power also controls state power and military
power. The possibilities that seemed so promising at the 1972 Gary
convention now recede under the onslaught of capital gone crazy.
“There has been a weakening of the labor compact,”
said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, noted economist and political commentator.
“People with good jobs and benefits are an endangered species.”
She was specifically referring to Black people. That’s not just
a shame, it also means that political bases and resistance resources
have been lost – a tsunami of destruction during George Bush’s first
term in office, alone.
What is to be done? Dr. Malveaux, Ron Walter’s co-panelist,
appeared to ponder his “win under capitalism” thesis. The stark
realities of official, slash and burn economics call into question
the possibilities of finding a niche in the capitalistic organism
big enough to fit enough Black folks to justify the effort. “Economic
development and economic justice are not necessarily the same thing.
There is an aspect of capitalism that has absolutely nothing to
do with justice,” said Malveaux.
Justice has always been the well-spring of the Black
political imperative. How does one mobilize Black people power against
corporate money power and state power, without invoking justice?
How, without a rage against mass Black incarceration – the scourge
that destroys the Black community and all its institutions with
And in the end, how does one mobilize masses of Black
people when the flow of capital – and white people – back to the
cities shrinks our majorities beyond the tipping point, a process
that is well under way?
“Whites are moving into formerly Black neighborhoods,
and they’re not even scared,” said Malveaux, to the knowing laughter
of the audience. “Urban America was always a political base for
us. We need to look at gentrification from an economic and political
The time for looking is limited. Capital transforms
landscapes, especially demographic ones. Beginning around sixty
years ago, the great capital investment in a previously nonexistent
suburbia sculpted the political and racial contours of the United
States. Most people now alive were shaped by that mighty wave of
capital, as were the events that are celebrated every February as
constituting the modern civil rights movement. Now, we have reached
the end of that cycle. (See all five
parts of the BC series, “Wanted: A Plan for the Cities to Save
We must go back even further than Gary 1972, to a
fundamental reassessment of Black people’s resources: primarily,
our solidarity, the single legacy of slavery and Jim Crow – the
“oneness” that was once enforced, but is now taken for granted –
that is worth nurturing and preserving. Only people power beats
money power. As Bill Lucy explained to the Orlando convention, we
are rapidly running out of everything but ourselves.
Excerpts from William Lucy’s Speech
“In no city can anyone ever suggest that a leader
of the CBTU ever sold out their community or their organization
– we do not sell out. It’s as simple as that.
“For the past six years we have had the most devastating
government for working people. Six years of government, of the rich,
by the rich and for the rich. Six years of government cloaked in
deceit and deception, supported by lies and alibis.”
“The failed policies of this administration are visible
in every segment of our lives. Jobs, education, healthcare, economic
development, pensions and retirement security, Social Security,
prescription drugs, trade or immigration.
“Unemployment is up and wages have been stagnant since
2001, forcing desperate working parents to get a second, and sometimes
a third job or max out their credit cards just to make ends meet.
The average household now carries eight thousand dollars in credit
“Worker benefits continue to disappear. Only 46 percent
of America’s workers now have a pension, with the numbers dropping
each year as corporations line the pockets of corporate management
at the expense of workers. Adelphi, Delta, United Airlines symbolize
the greed and arrogance that permeates corporate America.”
“The future of children and grandchildren is being
strangled by Bush’s war in Iraq and his tax cuts for the rich elite,
which have driven our national debt to $8.3 trillion. That’s $28,000
for every man, woman and child in this nation.”
“This administration and their corrupt allies in Congress
have looted the federal treasury, treating it like their personal
ATM machine and ripping off the taxpayers.
“From refueling aircraft at the Pentagon to body armor,
from war material to hot dogs in the cafeteria, they have found
a way to steal from the American taxpayer. Their level of corruption
is only exceeded by their level of incompetence and dishonesty.”
“And no place was Bush’s incompetence, racism and
hypocrisy more visible than with the federal government’s response
to the hurricane disaster in Mississippi and New Orleans.
“The whole world, and especially the people from the
gulf region, will never forget the incredible incompetence, indifference
and cronyism shown by this administration in the aftermath of one
of the greatest natural disasters of our time.
“We must end this madness.”
Black Condition, Not Black Problem
“Today, one out of every two American children who
happen to be Black lives in poverty, compared to one out of every
seven white children.
“Today, more than 800,000 young men who happen to
be Black are locked into a criminal justice system that punishes
white offenders less frequently and less severely.
“Today, the average Black family earns 60 percent
that of the average white family.”
Going back to Gary means rethinking the whole deal,
since 1972 – maybe since Emancipation. However, the Black union
leaders gathered in Orlando in May, most of them middle aged repositories
of wisdom for their families and neighbors as well as their fellow
unionists, were hungry for more mundane and immediate advice: How
do we survive the Great Theft and Disorder?
“What’s the difference between income and wealth,”
asked Chaka A.K. Uzondu, facilitator of a workshop titled, “Closing
the Racial Wealth Gap.” About 40 unionists filled the meeting room.
“People tend to focus only on income but the disparity in resources
is much more dramatic in wealth than in income.”
In fact, although Black income is less than two-thirds
that of whites, white household wealth is eight times that of Black
families. “Inequality is growing enormously,” said Uzondu.
Wealth gets a family through hard times, or pays for
a college education. Income can be cut off in a moment. Thus, the
precariousness of Black life, even among higher income African Americans.
Kenny Diggs and Petie Tally, young union activists,
handled the nitty-gritty “All Politics is Local” workshop. The question
before the room was simple: “What actions can we take to create
Five groups organized themselves to answer the question
as it related to different issues areas: affordable, quality health
care, jobs, immigration, retirement security, education. A cluster
comes back with its assessment on how local and national policies
interact in education:
“Georgia has a big problem with discrimination.
The schools are broken down. There’s no transportation system
to get to a better school.
“Collective bargaining could help, so Congress could
do a lot to get collective bargaining for teachers. Teachers are
paid very poorly in Georgia.
“Illinois has the same problems as New York and
Georgia – and more.”
At another workshop, facilitators Foster Stringer
and Ann Mitchell explained the gory details of the legislative atrocity
TABOR, the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” TABOR is the ultimate
poison pill – the Hard Right’s stealth weapon to “starve the beast”
of taxation and, thereby, what’s left of the social safety net.
Pushed by the troglodyte National
Conference of State Legislatures and a host of rightwing think
tanks, the state constitutional amendment “restricts revenue or
expenditure growth to the sum of inflation plus population change;
and it requires voter approval to override the revenue or spending
limits,” according to the Center on Budget and
Mr. Stringer, of the American Federation of Teachers,
shows a map of where TABOR is moving across the nation.
“If TABOR had existed when Bill Clinton was president,
that surplus by law could not exist,” he said. “If TABOR
becomes part of the state constitution, you’re locked in.”
An informed organizer’s obligation is to “educate
our union members as to what that is all about. How are we going
to fix Louisiana and Mississippi and Florida if we can’t raise the
money. It will have to be taken from other areas.”
“The general public honestly believe that TABOR will
not affect basic services: health care, education, transportation,
the environment. You as union members have the credibility to make
Toxic Katrina Politics
The term “environmental racism” was unknown to the
delegates in Gary, 1972. However, in the full flower of “disaster
capitalism” – as Clark-Atlanta Prof. Robert Bullard, of the Environmental
Justice Resource Center, dubs it – Black unionists have jumped
in with all four feet. The CBTU affiliate CARAT (Community Action
and Response Against Toxics teams) is active in the dumping grounds
that we call Black communities all across the nation.
When Katrina hit, the Black CARATs were there. Beverly
Wright, a New Orleans home owner and community activist, told a
packed room of unionists how CARAT saved her house and block – at
least for the time being.
As Ms. Wright explained it, 179 volunteers helped
rehabilitate her block. They included unionized steel workers, Hampton
University students, and ten young prisoners from New Orleans in
bright orange jumpsuits. Bush’s boys were either absent or actively
sabotaging the rescue.
“FEMA was supposed to pick up the dirt. They did so
for two days and never returned. We were left with big mounds of
dirt,” said Wright.
Then a hostile state agency jumped in. The Louisiana
Department of Environmental Quality disputed residents’ claims that
flood sediment was contaminated. A bureaucrat “went on TV,” said
Ms. Wright, to show he would eat the dirt. “We said, if he eats
dirt for ten years, then we’ll believe him.”
Nobody in government lent an effective hand. “The
mayor had no plan for us. The government had no plan to repopulate
our neighborhoods. They were trying to destroy our project by leaving
dirt in the streets.”
“They are trying to turn New Orleans East into green
space. But our whole block is returning except for one 80 year old
Wright reports that 27 houses on the block were rehabilitated
by volunteers in 12 intensive work days. “Twenty-five other neighborhoods
want to do the same thing. Twenty-eight neighborhood associations
all meet once a week. All of them want to come back.” In New Orleans,
we witness the classic, lawless war of capital against people. In
words and actions writ large and infinitely racist, capital cannot
help but telegraph its intentions. “Developers are looking at this
property and salivating. I have a lakefront property,” said Ms.
Wright, who hopes to remain in her city through CARAT’s “Safe Way
Back Home” initiative.
The next day, at another CARAT workshop (the organization
holds an overlapping annual conference with CBTU), Black unionists
grouped by state for an exercise in “Community Risk Mapping.” The
task was to create a hypothetical list of hazards and short- and
long-term risks to communities, and a plan of action.
Laverne Mayfield, director of community outreach for
Chemical Workers Union, related to BC a real-world hazard CARAT
confronted in Cincinnati:
“We found that styrene was being stored in a railroad
tank car at a plant near a poor and working class neighborhood.
The inhibitor agent [that stabilizes styrene] had run out. If there
had been a fire, the fire department would not be able to put water
on it, because water causes styrene to explode. Meanwhile, people
are getting sick. The chemical plant should pay for cleanup of this
Black Women Are Everywhere
When the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists was born
in 1972, 35 to 40 percent of the delegates were women – the most
striking characteristic that sets Black organizations apart from
white ones. Approximately the same ratio – maybe more – obtains
today. The CBTU’s National Women’s Conference is extraordinarily
popular – and basic to the bone. These sisters take care to deal
with the fundamentals.
“We’ve got to adjust to change if we are going to
retire comfortably…and not wind up going to work at age 70 or 80
to survive,” said Anita Patterson, chair of the Women’s Conference.
The women of CBTU have gotten the message: hard times
are upon us, and we must change our habits and practices. “Our money
doesn’t stay in our community very long, does it?” said author T’Angela
Loan officer Ladonna Smith declared, “Our credit is
our character” and, “Bad money management is putting some of us,
not all of us, in bondage.”
Certified financial planner Kimberly Stewart dissected
the Bush partial privatization Social Security scheme, which is
based on the Chilean model imposed by former military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
“The actual results from Chile show that more than 80 percent of
those who [invested their retirement money in the private sector]
have less to retire on than those who left it in the government
People must ask, “Is the investment going to get me
through this week, or get me through this life.”
Financial planner Augustus “Gus” Olalere, provided
“Companies are continuing to divest from pension funds,
and putting the money elsewhere. The laws have no teeth, no substance.
We must hold our elected officials accountable.”
Olalere urged consumers to insist on “defined benefit”
retirement plans that detail the actual benefits retirees will get,
rather than “defined contribution” plans that say only what the
corporation will contribute. “A recent study showed that more than
80 percent of people with some form of retirement plan actually
don’t have enough money for retirement.”
The lesson: Black women are getting into survival
mode. That’s an ominous sign, but we’re glad somebody senses the
The Men of Words
We have left the “men of words” for near last, because
they are widely visible, whereas the people who organize on the
ground often do so in relative obscurity.
Operation Push chief Rev. Jesse Jackson was fresh
from what he believed to be a great Black victory in New Orleans,
where Mayor Ray Nagin won reelection. Nagin had marched
with Jackson and thousands of others in April in New Orleans. Therefore,
the former Republican and consistently rightwing politician’s victory
should be seen “in terms of redemption, revival,” said Jackson.
The reality is much more complicated.
In times of crisis, the last thing we need is simplistic
formulations. (See Sanyika,
“Nagin’s Re-Election As Mayor of New Orleans,” in this issue.) The
perception and reality of Nagin’s victory are quite different things.
But the Reverend’s take on immigration was keyed to
Black unionist’s clear knowledge of the world. “Today our economy
needs guest workers to undermine organized workers,” said the Baptist
“Immigrants took our jobs? Saying that is like the
dentist pulling the wrong tooth.”
“Did immigrants take your jobs in Detroit?” [“No!”]
“Did immigrants make tennis shoes in Indonesia?”
“Did immigrants take your steel jobs out of Pittsburgh?”
“How can people who can’t vote and have to hide
by day take your jobs? It is easier to fight a desperate worker
than to fight the Power.”
Jackson called for a $100 billion budget to reinvest
in our cities. Knowing that would not occur as an initiative of
congressional Democratic leadership, no matter what happens in November,
Rev. Jackson turned inward, to the Black body politic. “We need
to change the direction, not just the leaders. Why can’t we take
a portion of our pension funds…to use the workers’ money to reinvest
in our cities.”
Why not, indeed? The answer is: it would require a
monumental education campaign among Black unionists to understand
and reconcile their fiduciary and political obligations and then
put both in service of their people.
Let the process begin. “Our” cities are running out
New People to Organize
We are also past time to begin figuring out what the
African American political relationship will be with immigrants,
most of them Latinos – part of the new demographics of cities that
are no longer our own political bases. Only a bar stool fool doesn’t
know when the “last call” lights are flashing. Blacks must work
overtime to understand the political and social motivations of the
new population – whether the immigrants reciprocate, or not.
So swiftly has the immigrant population swelled, large
sectors of Black America have failed to adjust to the new paradigm,
which is no longer Black-White. Who are these people? “A lot of
immigrants came because they were fearing political execution,”
said Patricia Campos, of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
(LCLAA) and an activist in the Unite-HERE union. Campos is the daughter
of undocumented workers from El Salvador, where the United States
caused at least 70,000 people to be slaughtered in a brutal civil
“Who are the criminals? The immigrants – or are the
criminal corporations like Wal-Mart?” The massed CBTU members nodded
“We should not let people like (CNN’s) Lou Dobbs tell
us that the worker next to you is your enemy. He’s not your enemy.
The enemy is the government that has ignored this issue.
“We live in dangerous times. After September 11 our
government led us to believe that the reason it happened was because
of insecure borders.
“We were attacked by criminals, not by immigrants!”
[applause] “If we go around attacking nations whose governments
we don’t like, we will continue to have people coming to the United
No less than military aggression, U.S. imposition
of corporate schemes such as NAFTA devastate
rural economies, pushing populations to the urban centers (Mexico
City is one of the world’s largest, with a population approaching
20 million) and north to the border. ”Hunger is greater than fear,”
African Americans have studied the familiar enemy
– white racists – for generations. We must perform the same due
diligence in the presence of a new population, mostly poor people
of color who know full well the workings of racism in their own
countries. We are obligated to school them in the peculiar racial
realities of the U.S. – and then move on to joint action.
No one leaves home if there is a viable choice. African
Americans in the cities that have become home to the new population
have no choice but to grapple with their immigrant neighbors and
co-workers – as we do with ourselves – to find common ground. “If
we don’t organize immigrants, this [labor] movement will continue
to dwindle,” said Campos. “As labor leaders, it is our responsibility
to…make undocumented workers a part of the system, with all the
rights of other workers. If we don’t defend their rights, who will
defend our rights when we are attacked?”
The young labor organizer invoked the words of Dr.
Martin Luther King, which are part of her Latina American lexicon:
“We will either live together as brothers or perish together as
A Sharp Tongue
“There’s an epidemic of ‘Negro Amnesia’ in every region
of the country,” a trimmed-down Rev. Al Sharpton told the Saturday
morning crowd of Black laborites. “People can’t remember where they
came from, how they got here.” [“That’s right”]
The malady has obvious symptoms, marking three successive
stages of affliction, said Sharpton. Victims of Negro Amnesia uncontrollably
utter inanities such as:
“The civil rights days are over. (That’s a mild
“I’m gonna go for myself. (That’s a moderate case.)
“I got here by my own merit. (That’s a terminal
“If there were not a social movement, your merit
and ability would not even be under consideration.” [Sharpton
brings down the house]
“We are talking about a group that wants to have
celebrity with no struggle.
“Things are better but things are not over. And
they are only better because people did not leave them as they
Both Sharpton and Rev. Jackson
were speakers at the March National Black Peoples Unity Convention,
in Gary. Where some might see same-old-same-old,
others see continuity of the Black conversation – a conversation
that is being incessantly interrupted by forces from outside the
African American community.
“Wal-Mart is buying Negro leaders,” said Sharpton,
pausing to measure the effect of his words. There are all kinds
of arrangements: “Long-term leases…short-term leases…campaign season
The National Action Network leader and former presidential
candidate railed against “all the talk about ‘new Negro conservatives’
and their ‘new strategies.’ There ain’t nothing new about Negroes
being scared. They have a laboratory where they’re making Negroes
now. They all act like the race issue is settled.”
The corporate signature is plain on the growing list
of bought-off African Americans, and Black labor recognizes the
handwriting. Sharpton knew his crowd.
“We cannot fight this unless labor is strong and
on the ground. We need labor to be the muscle of the human rights
movement. “No football team lets the other side’s coach choose
its quarterback and fullback.
“Sometime back in the Nineties, somebody decided
that the leader of Black America would be Bill Clinton. Now I
guess Mrs. Clinton will become Mrs. Black. [the crowd explodes
The New York-based preacher challenged Black America
“Martin Luther King didn’t have no cell phone. A.
Phillip Randolph had no FAX machine. You are sitting up here,
on-line, e-mail, all this technology, and can’t get ten Negroes
Black labor had succeed in bringing 1,700 activists
and organizers together, at Disney World. But Sharpton is right.
African Americans possess infinitely more skillsand material resources
than in 1972. And we have the benefit of having made massive mistakes
in the two generations since MLK and A. Phillip Randolph, from which
we must learn – and quickly.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Just a year ago, during the Phoenix CBTU convention,
the AFL-CIO was preparing to split. Insurgents led by the Service
Employees International Union (SEIU) and Teamsters demanded an overhaul
of the federation that would have resulted in the purging of most
Blacks from the executive council. (See BC, “No
Real Labor Reform Without Blacks,” March 3, 2005.) The effect
would have been to roll back Black and minority gains achieved in
1995, when the AFL-CIO expanded its council
to better reflect the diversity of the membership. To many Black
unionists, it appeared that 2005 labor reform and white backlash
Black labor was reeling:
“…black union workers took a walloping hit last
year: 55 percent (or 168,000) of the union jobs lost in 2004 were
held by black workers, even though they represented only 13 percent
of total union membership.
“More stunningly, African American women accounted
for 70 percent of the union jobs lost by women in 2004. Yes, 100,000
black union women – many the sole or primary breadwinner in their
households – lost their paychecks, their job security, medical
insurance for their families and their retirement nest eggs in
just one year. Gone!” (See Dwight
Kirk, BC “Can Labor Go Beyond Diversity Lite?” February 24,
The CBTU and other minority constituents of the AFL-CIO
had not yet recovered from their near-total shutout from labor’s
and the Democratic Party’s electoral
activities in 2004. The handwriting seemed to be on the wall
– independent Black organizations not wanted.
But the CBTU, by far the largest of labor’s minority
constituent organizations, fought back. They organized Town Hall
meetings across the country, and made it clear that ”white” labor
– because that is how they were behaving – would find that shunning
Black workers would be an even more horrendous mistake than splitting
In 2004-2005, Black labor successfully faced the federation
down and – rather than being purged – won an even greater role on
the executive body. CBTU Executive Vice-President Willie Baker,
recently retired as International VP of the United Food and Commercial
Workers union (now part of the breakaway Change To Win federation),
noted that “minorities and women on the AFL-CIO executive council
will increase by 50 percent.”
“There ain’t no labor movement without us,” Baker
told the opening session of the CBTU convention. “We were considered
expendable when the debate over the future of labor started a few
The labor federation did split, with the Change To
Win faction spinning off in its own orbit. But Black labor did not.
At Disney’s Contemporary Hotel convention center last
week, all one saw were Black folks in struggle – together, bound
by their own history. The CBTU’s leadership and membership
spans the divide between the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, almost as
if it isn’t there. In truth, the labor dispute is white folks’
problems, which will be solved largely by Black folks’ intervention,
just as America’s structural flaws have always been identified and
confronted chiefly by African Americans.
When Blacks hold high the banner of solidarity, they
affirm the principle to everyone else.
Among the many resolutions passed by the CBTU’s 35th
annual convention in Orlando, at least one has the force of history
behind it. By unanimous vote, delegates urged – demanded! – that
labor “Make the House Whole,” meaning the House of Labor. The AFL-CIO
and Change To Win were told to identify the critical issues that
divided them and to take action to reconstitute the American labor
Only Black solidarity could marshal the moral authority
to make such a demand. And only solidarity will bring us through
the crisis of Capitalist Disorder.
Glen Ford and Peter Gamble are writing a book
to be title, “Barack Obama and the Crisis in Black Leadership.”