New Poor People's Campaign Gets Union Backing and Brings Demands to Congress

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Culminating 40 days of marches and peaceful civil disobedience in Washington and state capitols, thousands of members and allies of the New Poor People’s Campaign last week delivered to Congress demands for ending systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy.

If lawmakers don’t listen, speakers said, the campaign’s next moves are massive voter education, registration and voting out politicians, of both parties, who don’t or won’t act. The Republicans, one speaker said, “won’t build a soul or interrupt violence,” while “elected Democrats won’t build a social safety net.”

Gesturing to the U.S. Capitol behind her, Rev. Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ led the crowd in a chant of “Whose house? Our house!” before adding, “Unless the folk who are occupying that house want to get in with us, then the folk who is occupying that house is going to move out.”

Several unions, including the Service Employees, the Teachers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, AFSCME and the United Steelworkers, back the NPPC. Four busloads of UFCW members from New York and New Jersey made the trek from the Hudson Valley to the Nation’s Capital for the June 23 rally.

The NPPC laid out a six-point agenda and its co-chair, the Rev. William Barber, emphasized the issues are interrelated. People cannot stick to silos, he declared.

The NPPC wants the nation to commit to ending systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism. Barber, and the campaign’s website, also denounce “the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

The NPPC builds on what Barber calls “the unfinished agenda” of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights crusade of the 1960s. As Barber reminded crowds in past sermons, the 1963 March on Washington was a “March for Jobs and Justice.” And before his murder, King organized the first Poor People’s encampment – which politicians then largely dismissed or ignore.

But the NPPC has gone beyond King’s themes in its weekly rallies, peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience – resulting in thousands of arrests – teach-ins and education sessions. Each week since Mother’s Day, campaigners have emphasized a different theme, including, in the week of June 16-22, workers’ rights. Barber and his co-chair, Rev. Liz Theoharis, have consistently tied all the themes together.

Whether lawmakers and other elected officials will change is another matter. The Republican-run House just passed legislation imposing work requirements on food stamp recipients. Meanwhile, GOP President Donald Trump rails against migrants to the U.S. – legal or not – GOP-run states enact voter-repression and anti-worker laws.

The organizer of the New York-New Jersey UFCW buses, a stocky white worker who lives near Paterson, talked informally about the ills that brought them to D.C.

The problems of the communities of northern New Jersey, he said, include drugs, notably the opioid epidemic, and shootings, though few are related to gang violence. Downtown Paterson, he said, is hazardous after dark.

The campaign will continue, Barber and Theoharis declared.

Theoharis made the crowd promise to continue, too. “We must commit to going back to our states, back to our communities, back to our sovereign lands and organize, organize, organize!” she said. That means “massive power-building and voter registration” among “poor and low-income people.” The nation’s ruling class exploits or ignores them, speakers said.

“We’ll do this again and again and again until policies change,” Barber said.



Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Human Service Workers at Persad Center Vote to Join the USW

From the USW

Workers at Persad Center, a human service organization that serves the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities of the Pittsburgh area, voted last week to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The unit of 24 workers, ranging from therapists and program coordinators to case managers and administrative staff, announced their union campaign as the Persad Staff Union last month and filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We care about our work and the communities we serve,” said Johanna Smith, Persad’s Development, Communications, and Events Associate. “We strongly believe this work and our connections to our clients will only improve now that we will be represented by a union.”

The Persad workers join the growing number of white-collar professionals organizing with the USW, especially in the Pittsburgh region. Their membership is also in line with the recent work the Steelworkers have been doing to engage LGBTQ+ members and improve contract language regarding issues that affect their lives.

“Workplaces are changing and evolving, and the labor movement is changing and evolving along with that,” said USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who oversees the union’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee as well as the USW Health Care Workers Council. “This campaign gives us an opportunity to diversify our great union while uplifting and empowering a group of workers who give their all for others.”


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