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Keith Ludlum: Community support is key

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Community involvement the only thing that works

"We are one of the few success here in the South in recent history, and everybody is a part of that," says Keith Ludlum with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208, representing workers at Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel, NC and one of seven panelists Feb. 17 at Duke who talked about how a southern workers movement can change the nation.

"We wouldn't have had victory in Smithfield, at all, had the community not gotten behind it - had we not brought the sunshine down to Tar Heel and shone a little light on what happens in the South."

Dangerous - even fatal - working conditions inside the plant got Keith to join the organizing effort in 1993, but the company fired him. It took 12 years to get his job back, and three more before the union finally won.

Not content with having a union themselves, they are actively organizing nearby plants. "We've got 5,000 workers in Tar Heel, and those 5,000 workers are not gonna sit still," says Keith.

"No longer in the South are we laying down. No more," declares Keith. "It's a war on workers. Smithfield was just the start."

"Why? Because those workers deserve it! Our children deserve it. Our state deserves it. As MaryBe said, our country deserves it. Our economy deserves it."

"Unionization of the workplace is the only way, as it was 100 years ago, for us to get this country on the move, economically," says Keith. Community support is key to making that happen.

It's the same lesson from Volkswagen as in Smithfield. "The only way we can [win] is if people believe in what we are doing. Let us show you what we do now."

Full remarks by Keith Ludlum at the Organize the South panel at Duke University are available on YouTube.