July 29, 2010
Education is power for workers
More than 50 students from local unions representing public and private sector workers across North Carolina attended Carolina Labor School July 11-16 on the campus of UNC Wilmington. The class this year seemed more engaged than ever, and they left Wilmington armed to the hilt with the knowledge necessary to be better union members, to be more informed advocates for the rights of all workers, and to win victories for working families in the November elections.
Students took a week-long course in state labor law from our General Counsel, Mike Okun, learned about effective strategies for dispute resolution at work and how to think critically about the current media and political narratives about unions and health reform from visiting professors Marc Cryer and Judi King, respectively, of the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR), and got a crash course in workers’ compensation from attorney Valerie Johnson. MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the NC State AFL-CIO, also led students in a workshop on our Labor 2010 political program.
This year we screened an Emmy-award winning documentary to challenge Labor School students on this point: we are the union, and our primary concern is solidarity among workers – documented or otherwise.
Watch a trailer for Made in L.A.
Made in L.A. follows three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops. They work twelve hour days for less than minimum wage – if they get paid at all – and are easily exploited by a system of contractors and subcontractors designed to allow retailers to profit off sweatshop labor. These workers find the courage and solidarity to organize a 3-year boycott against trendy clothier Forever 21. In the end, they win more than basic labor protections. Their victory in court establishes a precedent that companies cannot avoid responsibility for the mistreatment of workers who make the products they sell.
Labor School is an opportunity for union members to leave their shops, their hometowns, and share the successes and struggles where they come from with other union members. Students seemed to gain a new perspective about their place in a larger movement, one concerned with improving the lives and protecting the health, safety, and dignity of all workers.
Thanks to you, our members, for your continued support of the educational programs of the NC State AFL-CIO. Without the commitment you and your membership have to North Carolina’s union movement, the Carolina Labor School would not be possible.
For more pictures from our 2010 Labor School, check out our Flickr photostream.