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North Carolina Well Represented at National AFL-CIO Convention

Jeremy Sprinkle
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Last month, union members and our allies went to St. Louis for the quadrennial national AFL-CIO convention amid a rising tide of energy and growing demand for real answers to the serious challenges working people face. The crisis before us is significant, but we identified opportunities to rewrite the economic rules, form and build unions, and make our voices heard.

North Carolina was well represented at the 2017 AFL-CIO convention in speeches, floor debates, and panel presentations by state federation president MaryBe McMillan, AFGE national president and state fed vice president J. David Cox Sr., Triangle Labor Council treasurer and North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) executive director Melvin Montford, and IATSE Local 322 stagehand and labor-endorsed Charlotte City Council candidate Braxton Winston II.

See photos from the 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO.

Braxton spoke during a discussion about the importance of recruiting, training, and electing people who work in unions to office in all levels of government. He began his remarks by quoting from the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. Holding up his personal copy, Braxton said, "Brothers and sisters, our nation is a UNION - and here, our constitution, is our first collectively bargained agreement."

"We know that the fist is mightier than the single finger." -- Braxton Winston

State Federation President MaryBe McMillan and AFGE National President J. David Cox both spoke in support of Resolution 4 and Resolution 15, which call for the national federation to develop a movement-wide plan to make the promise of collective negotiating real for every American worker and to put assisting worker organizing at the heart of all the federation's work.

"A vision without a plan is nothing but a worthless daydream," said President Cox, who called on convention attendees to not only talk about organizing but actually do it -- especially in the South. "It's not lack of want; it's lack of commitment that limits our voice."

"There's not a problem in this country that can't be solved with more union members. If you're fed up with these low wages, get more union members! If you wanna whoop this sorry [Trump] administration's ass, get more union members! If you want human and civil rights, get more union members!" -- J. David Cox

Rising to speak in support of both resolutions, President McMillan underscored that organizing is essential to changing the nation and added, "we must organize where the population is growing, where jobs are expanding, and where political influence is rising. Sisters and brothers, we must organize the South!"

"The South is home to over a third of our nation's population, a third of our Electoral College votes, and, unfortunately, home to countless right-wing politicians. So it's no surprise then that things in this country are going south -- our wages, our jobs, our laws, our politics. [...] We can stop this race to the bottom, but we must stop it where it started. The road to justice must run through the South, and we must organize those who need it most." -- MaryBe McMillan

President McMillan, who served three terms as the first woman elected secretary-treasurer before being elected the first female president of North Carolina's now 60-year-old labor federation in September 2017, also spoke in support of Resolution 19, which recommit the federation to diversity and inclusion at all levels and in every part of the labor movement. McMillan recalled the remarks of the man who nominated her, during which he said that when he told his young daughter what he was going to do, she asked her father, "Why did it take so long?"

"In unions all across this country, there are women, people of color, and LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are wondering, 'Why is it taking so long for the leadership of the labor movement to look like me?' [...] Let's stop talking about diversity and make it a reality." -- MaryBe McMillan

The convention also adopted Resolution 14, which commits the federation to the fight for voting rights to move a winning agenda for working people. Speaking from the stage, President McMillan talked about how North Carolina became ground zero in the struggle -- including the victory of the North Carolina APRI, the North Carolina NAACP, and other organizations which successfully sued to have much of this state's "monster voting law" and the legislature's racial gerrymandering invalidated in federal court.

During floor discussion of Resolution 14, Melvin Montford recalled how, during a Moral Monday in 2013, Duane Adkinson, a UAW retiree and activist who has since died of cancer, told Montford he would fight for justice until his last breath. When a reporter later asked Montford, "What are you gonna do about these lawsuits?" he replied that he'd never stop fighting to win.

"I said, 'I'm gonna fight until my last breath, and then when my breath is over, my children are gonna fight until their last breath. When their breath is over, my grandkids are gonna fight, and then you've got my great-grandkids to worry about.'" -- Melvin Montford

Watch Braxton Winston's speech (starts at 3h 42m 40s):

Watch J. David Cox Sr.'s floor remarks (starts at 2h 32m 30s):

Watch MaryBe McMillan's floor remarks about organizing (starts at 2h 36m 45s):

Watch MaryBe McMillan's floor remarks about diversity (starts at 2h 28m 44s):

Watch MaryBe McMillan's speech about voting rights (starts at 2h 50m 43s):

Watch Melvin Montford's floor remarks (starts at 2h 58m 57s):