Black unionists vow to push for racial justice and democracy
CBTU President Terry Melvin, keynoting CBTU’s 2023 Convention last week, called out the danger of a 'racist, anti-democratic America' that wants to see Black and Brown people 'eradicated from stories about America’s less than perfect self.' | via Machinists Union

NEW ORLEANS—Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) President Terry Melvin, keynoting CBTU’s 2023 Convention last week, its 52nd, called out the danger of a “racist, anti-democratic America” that wants to see Black and Brown people “eradicated from stories about America’s less than perfect self.”

“Bring it on!” Melvin declared, speaking of the need to prevent the election of racist ultra-right potential Republican candidates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump.

Targeting Ron “DeSatan” DeSantis in this primary election period, Melvin said: “A paranoid minority wants us silenced everywhere except on a stage or on a basketball court.” CBTU members responded by making it clear they will not be silenced.

“DeSantis might have declared war on wokeness,” Melvin continued. DeSantis and the radical right are “weaponizing ignorance and repeating lies” as a central strategy at “the core of the radical right assault on democracy and our Black presence on this soil which is saturated with the blood of our ancestors.”

DeSantis is also stoking fear of Brown people whom he is cruelly sending from Texas and Florida to other states in an anti-migrant onslaught. In so doing he uses human beings as political pawns and tries to overwhelm and damage the economies of poorly resourced northern cities that don’t receive the federal funds for immigrants that go to places like Texas and Florida. He signed Florida Senate Bill 1718 to combat what the right wing characterizes as “dangerous effects of illegal immigration caused by the federal government’s reckless border policies.”

The legislation makes using E-Verify mandatory for any employer with 25 or more employees, imposes penalties for those employing undocumented immigrants, prohibits local governments from issuing identification cards to illegal aliens, invalidates ID cards issued to illegal aliens in other states, and requires hospitals to collect and submit data on the costs of providing health care to undocumented immigrants.

Teachers President Randi Weingarten tells CBTU convention delegates: ‘In Florida, Gov. DeSantis has banned classroom libraries, and if educators get it wrong they face felony charges. All diversity, equity, and inclusion. programs in Florida colleges are gone. This isn’t freedom.’  She joined CBTU President Melvin in condemning DeSantis.| CBTU Twitter

Calling out racist murders, an upsurge in “dangerous radical actions being taken by Republican governors and state legislators across the country,”and a radical right agenda, Melvin and other speakers called for building the widest possible solidarity to defeat the ultra-right in the primaries and in the coming elections.

The ultra-right is “starting with women’s reproduction control over their bodies, banning books and threatening librarians with fines and jail time if they display banned books or other educational materials,” Melvin said. “They are attacking the trans community and denying their humanity. They are imposing oppressive measures to dilute or suppress Black power in the voting booth. They are fighting sensible gun safety restrictions while normalizing mass shootings.”

Pursuing a relentless attack

DeSantis is pursuing a relentless attack on organized labor. On May 9, he signed a law “designed to undermine most public sector unions across the state, under the guise of “paycheck protection.” That concept, which workers and unions call “paycheck deception,” is a common Republican anti-worker law nationally.

According to Orlando Weekly, this law “imposes new requirements on unions representing thousands of Floridians who work within the public sector, from bus drivers to sanitation workers, public healthcare workers, librarians, 911 dispatchers, social welfare employees, and city and county government workers.”

Paycheck “protection” bans unions from automatically collecting dues via payroll deductions, even when the worker agrees. It undermines the solidarity of union members and the entire workforce and leaves unions with the expense of struggling for workers’ needs even when those workers are not supporting the union financially. Successful battles require reliable finances.

DeSantis focused his advocacy for this bill on undermining Florida’s education unions, whose members regularly vote Democratic. Representing over 150,000 school teachers, school counselors, educational support professionals, higher education faculty, and other school staff, they make up a sizeable chunk of the state’s unionized public sector workforce.

It is noticeable that “unions representing cops, firefighters, correctional, and probation officers—which often endorse Republicans for office, and donate generously to their campaigns—are exempted from most provisions of the legislation.”

CBTU has committed itself to educating, organizing, and building the widest solidarity to struggle against DeSantis, Trump, and the ultra-right. Melvin said the workers “have to be prepared” to do what is needed to defeat the ultra-right, including fighting for the reelection of a Biden/Harris ticket in 2024.

Akela Snow from Maryland said, “We are all in solidarity. I like the fact that they are educating the younger generation. We have to move them forward.” At the local level union members will be doing door-to-door educational and voter registration work, and mobilizing for the 2024 elections.

The need to educate to counter the onslaught of right-wing lies and deliberate distortions of the contributions of Black and brown people to U.S. history also ran as a theme through the convention.

The ultra-right “conspiracy of forgetting and cultural erasure is not new to Black folks but it must be resisted now, sisters and brothers,” Melvin said. “We must stand up and pay attention. We will not back down, we will not back up. We will not let our history go untold in this country.

“We are told Black resistance is a threat to the white privilege or comfort zone. Well so be it. Not my problem. We are not content to witness Black people not breathing, or not being allowed to learn about our ancestors’ bravery or achievements. Or not have a seat at the table where our lives and future are at stake. No, Sisters and Brothers, CBTU don’t roll like that.”

“This convention itself is an act of resistance,” he declared.

“They told us in 1972 that we wouldn’t survive for five years. We weren’t supposed to endorse Barack Obama in 2007. And we were not supposed to be relevant, viable, and still the powerful independent voice of Black workers in 2023. But here we stand, dammit. I’m going to tell all those who are listening… I’m going to stand up for what is just, for what is right.

“We want to be in the room when decisions are made—and we will be part of the (decisive) group from now on. This issue of who should lead the nation isn’t a complicated question.”

For CBTU, defeating the ultra-right is an imperative struggle that demands their full engagement now. There is no time to waste.


Eric Brooks
Eric Brooks

Eric Brooks is Co-convener of the African-American Equality Commission, CPUSA. He is organizing for an anti-racist society that puts the needs of working families over those of the rich.