Black workers are one of the primary social forces in the Black Liberation Movement in the US. Historically and today, they experience racism on the job, in labor unions, and the most negative effects of ‘neoliberal globalization.’ At several points throughout their history, Black workers have analyzed their own conditions and concluded self-organization was key to gaining power over their own lives. In the tradition of autonomous Black worker organizing, the 2nd annual Black Workers Center (BWC) National Convening met on November 12-14 in Oakland, CA to strategize for Black Workers Power. The theme of the convening was “Black Freedom Dreams.”
The history and current conditions of Black people demonstrate the necessity of spaces like BWCs where Black workers can conduct popular education, organize campaigns, and create Black worker-owned cooperatives. The exploitation of Black workers and the ideological justification to maintain control of their labor is foundational to the US settler colonial project. In a workshop titled “Black Worker Centers Meet Organized Labor” respected labor organizer Bill Fletcher discussed how Black radicals and anti-racist Whites were excluded from the newly formed AFL-CIO in 1955 due to segregation in the labor movement and McCarthyism. Around the same time in 1951, Black workers created the National Negro Labor Council to fight job discrimination, racism in labor unions, and build what we today call Black Workers Power.
BWCs are slowly proving themselves to be spaces where Black workers can organize for power to overcome structural inequalities such as having twice the white unemployment rate, receiving 60% the white income, and Black median wealth 20 times less than that of whites. For example, the inaugural BWC in Los Angeles, in coalition with community groups, organized to win a project labor agreement (PLA) that requires 40% of workers hired onto Metro Construction projects come from ‘disadvantaged areas.’ The convening allowed all of us to compare notes and learn from each other so that we can infuse the concerns of Black workers into the emergent Movement for Black Lives.
Click here to view photos from the Convening.
A few months ago a report and hashtag called #BlackWorkersMatter was created in order to highlight the numerous challenges confronting Black labor in the context of #BlackLivesMatter. At the National Convening, a presentation called “A Glimpse at the Moment” by Bill Fletcher discussed ‘neoliberal globalization’ as one of the fundamental issues impacting Black workers. He described it as “a transformation in the regime of capitalism placing more emphasis on deregulation, privatization, subcontracting, casualization, and anti-unionism. It emphasizes the elimination of trade barriers and the unrestricted flow of capital.” This process comes in the form of relocation of industry away from large concentrations of Black folk or privatization of the public sector. Manufacturing and the public sector were two sectors where Black people traditionally could attain upward mobility.
Furthermore, over 50 years ago, radical Black worker James Boggs identified automation as a major threat to Black working people. This is why Kali Akuno, in an article called “Until We Win,” asserted that in US society the value of Black life is connected to how much profit we produce for the capitalists. In short, in the era of ‘neoliberal globalization,’ Black Lives don’t matter because unlike in the period of chattel slavery or segregation, Black labor produces less profits. The importance of self-organization and advancing our own initiatives could never be greater.
Steven Pitts, the founder of the National BWC project, presented a new National campaign that will be promoted by BWCs across the country called Working While Black. The title is a play on the common refrains ‘driving while Black’ or ‘walking while Black.' Central to the initiative is building coalitions or united fronts on local and national campaigns. The current approach of most US labor unions is business unionism or a narrow focus on gaining better wages or benefits. The initiative rejects this restrictive approach in favor of social justice unionism wherein workers organize around wider human rights issues such as mass incarceration, reproductive justice, and more. Black workers, like all workers, problems extend outside of the workplace and into their communities and day-to-day lives. BWCs have the potential to begin the process of building Black Workers Power in the work place and wider community so that we can confidently say that BlackLivesMatter AND BlackWorkersMatter.
In Shapeshifters, Aimee Meredith Cox explores how young Black women in a Detroit homeless shelter contest stereotypes, critique their status as partial citizens, and negotiate poverty, racism, and gender violence to create and imagine lives for themselves. Based on eight years of fieldwork at the Fresh Start shelter, Cox shows how the shelter's residents—who range in age from fifteen to twenty-two—employ strategic methods she characterizes as choreography to disrupt the social hierarchies and prescriptive narratives that work to marginalize them. With Shapeshifters Cox gives a voice to young Black women who find creative and non-normative solutions to the problems that come with being young, Black, and female in America.
Join ONE DC at the Potter's House on Saturday, November 21 from 2:00 - 4:00 PM for a book event & author talk.
Aimee Meredith Cox is Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University.
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October 26, 2015
Press Contact: Marybeth Onyeukwu, ONE DC Organizer - firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Monday, October 26th, Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association, People’s Platform, Justice First and Black Lives Matter DMV held a vigil in support of the Mount Vernon Plaza tenants fighting exorbitant rent increases. The vigil featured tenants, representatives from the Black Lives Matter movement and other community members sharing stories of displacement and making their demands to the Bowser administration. This vigil culminated a week of action demanding the Mayor to shift priorities from policing to reinvestment in Black communities.
After living in their homes for almost twenty years and facing a $600+ per month rent increase, fifteen Mount Vernon Plaza tenants held a sit-in last year at Bowser's office. At the time, Bowser was the Councilmember for Ward 4, running for mayor. As a result, the tenants won a seven-year housing affordability agreement. Since becoming Mayor, however, Bowser has refused to step in on behalf of the tenants. The landlord of the building, Bush Construction Companies, has engaged in numerous intimidation tactics including sending tenants to eviction court and disqualifying tenants from the new affordable housing program. Many tenants have been forced to move.
On the one year anniversary of the demonstration in Bowser’s office, tenants are, once again, demanding the Bowser administration to intervene to ensure more tenants are not displaced from their homes.
“I think it’s ridiculous the Mayor continues to express a commitment to affordable housing while doing nothing to protect the tenants at Mount Vernon Plaza,” said Eugene Puryear, organizer of Stop Police Terror Project DC and Justice First. “How is it that the Bowser administration can find the funding for more policing, but will claim their hands are tied when it comes to Mount Vernon Plaza? Truly affordable housing is simply not a priority for this administration.”
Mount Vernon Plaza is one battle in the fight for truly affordable housing in the District. Mount Vernon Plaza showcases the racial violence that underlies the city’s growing economic inequities.
What: Vigil in Support of Mount Vernon Plaza Tenants
Who: Mount Vernon Plaza Tenant Association, People’s Platform, Justice First, Black Lives Matter DMV
When: Monday, October 26th at 7:30pm
Where: Mount Vernon Plaza Apartments - 10th & M ST NW
Visuals: Signs, banners, candle light
ABOUT ONE DC: ONE DC (formerly Manna CDC) was founded in 1997 in the midst of neighborhood change. From early on, ONE DC's approach to community development addressed structural causes of poverty and injustice, an orientation that stemmed from deep analysis of race, power, and the economic, political, and social forces at work in Shaw and the District. As a result, ONE DC’s organizing work centers on popular education, community organizing, and alternative economic development projects.
ONE DC is proud to announce we will be the fiscal and organizational home for Cooperation DC. Cooperation DC is a distinct project within ONE DC that is focused on providing technical assistance to worker cooperatives, with a focus on low-income communities of color. Cooperation DC will work closely with the ONE DC Black Workers Center, which will be conducting outreach, popular education, and organizing with workers who may be interested in starting worker coops.
Some of the key goals of Cooperation DC for 2015 include:
1. Providing technical assistance, including governance, business planning, conflict management, and legal and financial advice, to a minimum of 10 worker cooperatives. We have currently begun working with four cooperatives.
2. Organize a DC Worker Cooperation Coalition to demand the DC government support the worker cooperative ecosystem.
3. Train five new lawyers who demonstrate a commitment to supporting worker cooperatives.
4. Form a partnership with the Working World, an organization that facilitates finance for worker cooperatives nationwide.
From November 5-7, Cooperation DC will host a series of events and trainings related to worker cooperatives. There will be a session for training potential and current worker owners, one to expand our stock of worker cooperative lawyers, a community event where we'll put worker coops in context of a more equitable economy, and stakeholder convening with funders and government officials to share our vision and goals. Please contact Allison Basile at DCWorkerCoops@gmail.com or call 443-562-5856 for more information or to get involved with the work of Cooperation DC.
A Reflection on Working with ONE DC.
This summer, I experienced some type of divine intervention, I found ONE DC. I am originally a Bay Area native, and have longed and often romanticized for an organization that I often didn’t believe could exist. I was highly interested in Urban Planning, and for my research paper, I decided to write about gentrification in Oakland. I searched the web for days looking for writers, political thinkers, anyone who could speak about the real root causes of gentrification. Naturally, I couldn’t find anything, until I found a paper written by Dominic about White Supremacy and Gentrification. After I read the paper, I found it a perfect opportunity to contact ONE DC for an internship opportunity for the summer.
I didn’t quite know what to expect because there wasn’t so much information available about ONE DC. It was when I first stepped in the office and felt the warmth and love, I knew this was going to be an amazing summer. I met Rosemary, a dedicated organizer that showed me that ground organizing was not only still possible, but is beyond necessary. I also met Marybeth, a passionate organizer that created a space where intellectualism and love were welcomed. I also met Jennifer, whose eloquence in speech was beyond inspiring. And Claire, the tech behind the scenes that helps keep the organization up and running. And Dominic, who was relentless in perpetuating the shared leadership model. I also got to meet all the wonderful people from the Shared Leadership Team, who brought unique and creative solutions to create the best possible organizing strategies; and people who attended the People's Platform meetings that shared the same beliefs. All of these people a part of the ONE DC movement were all so radical, because they showed me what real organizing looks like.
This summer, I learned how to use Nation Builder, a vital tool for modern day organizing and attended numerous conferences, meetings, planning sessions, and staff meetings. I was able to understand the techniques behind organizing and how much time and effort it takes to do effective outreach. From doing outreach in the rain on Saturday mornings, to attending a Freedom School about resisting state violence, to seeing what a shared leadership staff meeting looks like, to hundreds of phone calls and email blasts, I got to experience every angle of what organizing looks like. Most importantly, I learned that organizing is not about momentum, it is about persistence and base building.
While the organization itself created a wonderful environment for me to further develop my analysis on gentrification, capitalism, and antiblackness, it wasn’t always easy to stomach the amount of systematic violence that has been endured by the Black residents in Washington, DC. When you participate in authentic grassroots organizing, you firsthand feel the atrocities in any community. It was through those moments of sadness that I was able to realize that ONE DC was doing exactly what it set out to do.
While every part of ONE DC was an amazing experience, it was working in Brookland Manor that really left an impression on me. Through ONE DC, I did phone banking trying to help organize a new tenant association board for the property which is planned to be demolished, in turn displacing hundreds of low-income Black families. ONE DC created the environment where I was able to listen and use organizing strategies that were revolved around leadership, equity, and resident-led projects. This was refreshing beyond belief because I have only been used to seeing hierarchal and patriarchal forms of organizing. I felt for the first time I was able to be doing the right work for the right reasons with the right people. This organization created an environment for self-reflection, positive feedback, and a way to expand my worldview in ways that I could not have imagined.
While I was only expecting to make phone calls, do technical jobs, ONE DC was all about everyone participating in organizing. To be able to firsthand see an organization that was devoted to Black organizing and a unique leadership design, was an eye-opening experience. In essence, I experienced growing pains. I was pushed beyond natural paradigms to imagine a world that everyone also calls cliche or impossible. ONE DC pushed me to envision a world without state violence, capitalism, anti-blackness, and patriarchy. I absolutely loved interning at ONE DC this summer. I don’t consider it an organization; I consider it a family. I hope to find my way back to ONE DC, and continue to work with the forgotten people of DC.