Commentary

LABOR It’s About Power

SOUTHERN WORKERS ASSEMBLY, Southern Workers Assembly, April 29, 2023 

Southern Worker School charts path for building workers movement in the U.S. South.

“We heard from the rail workers. We heard from the truckers. We’ve got the longshoremen in the house, too,” said Leonard Riley, a longshore worker with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1422 and member of the SWA Coordinating Committee, addressing a packed house at the Teamsters Local 71 union hall during the opening program of the 2023 Southern Worker School. 

“The reason I bring that up is because of the power that’s in this room. We’ve got bus drivers over there, teachers over here. There’s power in this room. It’s going to take strategy, planning, coming together, and finding out where the power connectors are to mobilize and exercise it.”

Strategizing, planning, building networks, and engaging in collective discussion on how to build a stronger and broader workers movement – including local workers assemblies – in the U.S. South is exactly what the more than 120 rank and file workers and other activists who participated in the worker school during the weekend of April 21 – 23 in Charlotte, North Carolina, did.

Workers who participated in the gathering came from nine Southern states – South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky – and numerous sectors, including the service industry, logistics, education, the public sector, construction, and more. Notably, several worker organizations and other political formations sent delegations of their membership to participate in the convening, including the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), Railroad Workers United (RWU), the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1422, UE Locals 150 (NC) and 111 (Virginia Beach), Truckers Movement for Justice (TMJ), the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC), the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) & We Dream in Black (WeDiB), and Black Workers for Justice, among others.

Even beyond the programming and discussions that took place throughout the weekend, the gathering was significant and reflected both quantitative and qualitative steps forward in the development of a South-wide network of militant, class conscious, rank and file workers engaged in struggle across various strategic sectors of the economy. The gathering had a strong multi-national character, helped to consolidate the work of existing workers assemblies and drew in workers and other forces who are interested in developing one in their city, and was the largest Southern Worker School held to date.

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