Saturday, 17 April 2010

Civil Rights Showdown Revisited

"America`s pretensions to greatness will remain just pretentions until the benefits of freedom, democracy and opportunity are enjoyed by all of our citizens" - W E B Du Bois

My  article headed `Civil Rights Showdown` (this blog, 13 March 2010)  looked at a call for a "new Civil Rights movement", centred on the fight for jobs, by leaders of America`s United Steelworkers trade union.

It looks as if they`ve got their wish as a new coalition, Jobs for America Now, brings together trade union related bodies such as the AFL-CIO (a trade union federation), Change to Win and the Blue-Green Alliance (see my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009) with traditional civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the  Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

This is not new ground, but is not without it`s hazards. Both W E B Du Bois and Martin Luther King felt the need to break away from `traditional` civil rights and engage with wider issues. Both had trouble taking their adherents with them on that journey and are often characterised as `leaders without followers` during the periods in question. My own feeling is that times have changed, though I`d have to concede I`ve never so much as visited America, so my opinion may not be worth much !

Be that as it may, J4AN is only one of a number of like-minded groups springing up in the US at this time, and in my judgement they deserve our attention.

Recently, the  Cleveland branch of Jobs With Justice, a coalition of trade unions, religious groups, community organisations and student bodies, took up the cause of former employees of a firm named InkStop Inc, who had been `locked out` when the company`s owners decided to declare bankruptcy. Apparently, the company failed to pay three weeks wages or health insurance (leaving their former staff ineligible for certain types of benefits) and failed to give notice. In a surprise move, District Judge Solomon Oliver ordered the 15 board members to pay the 660,000 US dollars to the 629 former employees from their own pockets.*

Such disputes are not so uncommon in the US - there was a celebrated campaign by steelworker  Frank `Saint of Chicago` Lumpkin and his colleagues in the Save Our Jobs Committee in a similar situation. Mr Lumpkin`s battle took 17 years ! Fortunately, the InkStop workers didn`t have to wait that long. What is unusual is the decision that the  Board should  pay the workers from their own personal funds.  Lawyers for the staff are convinced a highly visible campaign by Cleveland JWJ played it`s part in that.*

For the moment, JWJ and J4AN seem to be striking a chord with many Americans. How they will fare in the future is perhaps a `watch this space` situation. Time will tell.


* It`s worth noting that a statement from the worker`s lawyer praising Cleveland JWJ`s efforts has been removed from their web site and replaced with a statement from the group praising the Board of InkStop for "stepping up to do the right thing" by agreeing to the settlement.



For facts relating to JWJ, J4AN and Frank Lumpkin, I drew on articles in the People`s World by Paul Hill, Joe Sims and John Bachtell, plus a bit of background from the websites of the two organisations..

 Martin Luther King

1) Jon Power - Martin Luther King : A Reassessment - Peace Pledge Union, London, Revised Edition  1983

2) Martin Luther King / Unknown Editor/Compiler (Jon Power ?) - Quotations On Peace and Justice, Racialism and Nonviolence by and about Martin Luther King - Peace Pledge Union, London, 1982

These two were reprinted many times during the `80s.

W E B Du Bois

I`ve read many books by and about W E B Du Bois - try for further evidence of my ongoing obssession !

No comments:

Post a Comment