The Black Activist- Journal of the Black Left Unity Network

A Struggle & Analysis Journal for Black Liberation initiated by the Black Left Unity Network

Social Movement Unionism

16 Social Movement Unionism Fights to Establish Union Rights in the South: Charlotte City Workers Win Payroll Dues Deduction After 50 Year Struggle


by Ashaki Binta (Charlotte)

Social Movement Unionism

The effort to re-unify and rebuild the Black Liberation Movement in this period must anchor itself clearly in the struggles, needs, and interests of the black working class. A key historic task of strategic importance for the BLM is the building of new trade unions in the South that are rank and file based and led and that emanate from a developing consciousness and organizational process within the working class and the revolutionary forces in the form of social movement unionism.

Social Movement Unionism is “a highly mobilized form of unionism which emerges in opposition to authoritarian regimes and repressive workplaces….[and] is embedded in a network of community and political alliances, and demonstrates a commitment both to internal democratic practices as well as to the broader democratic and socialist transformation of authoritarian societies…..[It is clearly and ultimately rooted in] the forging of popular alliances with the highly politicized community organizations and the national liberation movement, as its definitive feature.”[120]

The emergence of the leadership of the Black working class in both the black liberation and the trade union movements can only be developed in the context of their day to day struggles. The revolutionary forces must recognize and support their important campaigns for justice and understand their struggles in the context of social movement unionism as it has emerged in the 21st century in the US South.

An organized and conscious Black working class within the trade union and Black Liberation Movement is a cornerstone of the national liberation struggle of the African American people.

The Charlotte City Workers Union, UE Local 150

On January 14, 2013, the Charlotte City Council voted by a margin of 6 to 5 to enact payroll dues deduction for the five public sector unions operating at various levels within the city. City unions had been fighting for payroll dues deduction since the 1950s. Payroll dues deduction is the process of taking union dues payments from a worker’s regular pay and sending it directly to the union he/she belongs too. The city had always refused to grant this request and maintained this anti-union policy for the ensuing decades. In so doing, the City was consciously attempting to limit the consolidation, development, and strength of the unions by weakening their ability to amass their financial resources. A key issue to be aware of is that the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been promoting the elimination of these basic kinds of union rights nation-wide in Republican controlled states in this period. In fact, Charlotte is the key base for North Carolina’s just elected right-wing governor, Pat McCrory, who served 14 years as Charlotte’s mayor.[121]

UE Local 150 in Charlotte played a key and central roll, along with key allies in the community, with other key Charlotte based public sector trade unions, and the revolutionary left in seizing the opportunity to break the back of this anti-union policy when the National Democratic Party chose Charlotte as the sight for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which convened in September 2012.[122]

The Charlotte Chapter launched a visible and extended campaign to pressure the Obama Administration and the City of Charlotte to end the policy and enact payroll dues deduction, recognizing it’s enactment as a form of recognition of the union itself. The issue of focusing on payroll dues deduction was debated within the chapter’s membership and adopted as a strategy. Meetings were then held with various City Council members to educate them on the issue. Meetings were also held with the other key allies, requesting support and visible solidarity with the push to put pressure on the DNC and the Charlotte City Council. In August 2012, one month before the DNC would convene, the Charlotte City Workers Union launched a weekly picket in front of Charlotte City Hall and invited area unions, community groups, as well as activists from across the country who had converged in Charlotte to protest the DNC to join the weekly pickets and protests. A media strategy involved weekly press conferences and press interviews. Thousands and emails and phone calls were directed toward the Mayor, City Council, and the DNC.[123]

Southern Workers Assembly Gathering on September 3, 2012 at Wedgewood Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

The Southern Workers Assembly

UE Local 150 and the Black Workers for Justice linked the struggle in Charlotte with the broader context of building the labor and trade union movement in the South. On Labor Day, September 3, 2012, the Southern Workers Assembly was convened in Charlotte, bringing unions and activists from across the South and across the country together to look at the conditions for labor in the South.[124] The Assembly outlined the challenges and the potential ways forward for building the labor movement in the South, within the context of the attacks on labor nationally.[125]