Angaza Laughinghouse: The Public’s Power in the South

Waking the sleeping giant

“Laws in and of themselves don’t grant power,” says Angaza Laughinghouse with the NC Public Service Workers Union, UE 150, one of seven panelists Feb. 17 at Duke who talked about how a southern workers movement can change the nation. “We can have collective bargaining rights, but if workers aren’t taking workplace action, nothing is going to happen.”

Public employees in North Carolina have been without collective bargaining rights since 1959, when our Jim Crow legislature passed G.S. 95-98 to thwart union organizing of police in Charlotte.

Now thanks to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), collective bargaining bans and right to work for less laws are spreading outside the South to states like Wisconsin.

“They’re hitting us hard,” says Angaza, but the attack on the public sector by organized greed isn’t just an attack on workers.

“Don’t forget – they’re cutting the programs. They’re cutting the services. They’re hurting all working people out there struggling to make a life and provide one for their children.”

Despite the challenges, public workers in the South are and have been getting organized – one shop at a time as “pre-majority” unions, not waiting for majority status to raise workplace issues. And they are finding other creative ways to exert their power.

In 2007, UE 150 won a judgement by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that North Carolina is in violation of international law, which guarantees the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining.

Since 2013, in the wake of attacks on public education by Governor McCrory and the Republican-majority which controls our state legislature, public educators are also waking up to their power by joining Moral Monday and the Forward Together Movement, organizing rallies and “walk-ins” to build community support, and convincing school systems to sue and not accept new merit pay and teacher contracting schemes imposed by the state.

After years of ignoring pleas by southern workers to get serious about organizing here, “now labor has to listen,” says Angaza.

“Now, in the midst of this crisis, they’re hearing us loud and clear. They see that we can do this.”

“We will win this fight,” says Angaza, encouraging folks to keep talking about organizing in the South and keep building community alliances. “We will win it with all of you in this room.”

Full remarks by Angaza Laughinghouse at our Organize the South panel at Duke University are available on YouTube.

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