Talking union and Moral Monday in North Carolina

The North Carolina NAACP and the state AFL-CIO co-sponsored a Labor Day event aimed at  raising wages and fighting inequality.

The Moral Monday Talking Union Tour began Monday morning in Raleigh, moved to Greensboro at noon, and concluded in the evening in Charlotte where the featured speaker was Rev. William Barber.

Barber, the state NAACP leader, helped create the Moral Mondays movement, which rose to prominence in 2013 when it organized civil disobedience actions to protest a number of laws passed by the North Carolina Legislature and signed by the governor.

Among other things, these laws suppressed voter participation, reduced state support for public education, and prevented workers in low-wage jobs from being eligible for Medicaid.

“If labor and civil rights get together get together the right way, that’s the formula for transforming America,” said Barber at the Charlotte rally. “That’s the formula for transforming the South and the nation.

At the rallies that took place during the tour, workers engaged in various struggles across the state told the crowd about their fights.

A worker a the Mountaire Poultry plant in Lumber Bridge said that workers tired of working for poverty wages and in unsafe working conditions at Mountaire have been trying to organize a union.

After more than 400 workers signed union representation cards, the company launched a campaign of fear and intimidation in hopes of discouraging workers from forming a union, but the workers have continued their organizing drive.

The Mountaire workers have received support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208, which represents workers at the Smithfield Foods in Tarheel.

It took Local 1208 16 years, but it finally won union recognition at Smithfield in 2008.

“Brothers and sisters, we know your down there fighting,” said Barber in a special message for Mountaire workers. “Keep on fighting. What’s going to happen is the same thing that happened at (Smithfield). You will win, but you got to stay together.”

Barber also said that he would soon be in Lumber Bridge to help build support for the union at Mountaire.

The crowd also heard from Devan Durham, who worked at McDonald’s for the minimum wage.

Durham told the crowd that on September 4 he and other low wage workers will be going on strike.

The strike is being organized by  Raise Up, an organization of low-wage workers, who are demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.

Durham pointed out that McDonald’s in Australia pays $15 an hour and still manages to stay in business.

MaryBe McMillan, the state AFL-CIO secretary treasurer said that the growing inequality in the US is not an accident but rather the result of laws and public policy adopted both at the state and federal level.

“Too many people in this country are under paid and under valued,” said McMillan. “What makes this so wrong, what makes this so immoral is (that) it’s no accident that workers are struggling. Policy makers in Raleigh (the state capital) and Washington have passed laws that have driven down wages, weakened workers rights, and gutted out safety net.”

McMillan said that the public discourse that led to the policies that created such great a great gap in wealth has been dominated by corporate interests, but that is about to change.

“We’re going to quit letting corporate America control the narrative,” said McMillan. “Instead of talking about taxes, deficits, and so-called entitlements, we’re going to talk about wages and we’re going to talk about unions.”

McMillan said that dozens of religious leaders expressed their support for unions to their congregations during the state’s first annual Labor Sabbath held on the day before Labor Day.

“If clergy are willing to preach about unions in the most anti-union state in the country, then you know a new day is dawning,” said McMillan.

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