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December 2, 2005 | Page 8

The military is a profession
Tookie should be a priority

No rights for N.C. workers

"THE EYES of the world are watching you, North Carolina!" Those words stood out as around 200 workers, lawyers and activists from across the state met in Raleigh, N.C., November 3 to testify about unjust and inhuman working conditions in North Carolina.

Lawyers from the International Commission for Labor Rights had spent the two previous days collecting evidence from workers, activists, lawyers and other government officials on the situation facing public employees to determine whether North Carolina labor legislation is violating workers' rights under international law. Attorneys from South Africa, India, Sweden, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico and more spent three hours listening to harrowing presentations from workers across the state.

North Carolina labor legislation is the worst in the industrialized world. North Carolina is one of two states in the U.S. that not only has no legislation to protect collective bargaining rights for public workers, but actually has a law against it. On top of that, it is an "employment-at-will" and a "right-to-work" state, which enables employers to fire workers for almost any reason at all.

Although the U.S. has signed on to the eight labor standards the International Labor Board put forward as basic workers' rights, it has ignored this legislation in its own territory since it was added to the books in 1959.

Most workers who gave testimony are members of United Electrical (UE) Local 150, a grassroots social justice union for public sector workers across North Carolina. Workers from the Teamsters and other unions also testified.

Dale Jackson, a worker who does asphalt paving for Rocky Mount, related how new union members who were mostly Black were threatened with a dummy hanging on a noose in their parking lot, with a white man underneath asking if they wanted "to be like this." Management allowed the dummy to stay up for three days, demonstrating their outright complicity in the matter.

When Jackson's coworker was asked if there were any policies to protect them from the unfair and racist hiring and firing practices of management, he plainly stated, "We have policies, but policies are made to be broken--by them and not by us!"

Many workers talked of being forced to work long overtime hours each week, often against their will. Dana Sandra McKeithan, a psychiatric ward caregiver from the Department of Health and Human Services, testified that workers were often told to work a second shift in a row--up to 48 hours in a 72-hour period. There was documentation of workers who had performed up to 170 hours of work in a two-week period.

Cedric Williams, a worker in the Charlotte Sanitation Department, explained that the starting wage is $5.50 an hour. Management often intimidates anyone who complained of long days that began at 6 a.m. and finished when "the job was done." "The pay is atrocious, the work is slavery," said Williams. "We might as well get paid 70 cents a day like prisoners do. We need to get an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."

Penny Meredith from Charlotte Special Services spoke of sexual harassment and intimidation of women workers that has been unabated at her workplace. When applying for a supervisor position, she was passed over in favor of a man who had five years' less experience, less education and a criminal record. By way of an explanation, management told her, "This is a male-dominated environment."

"Charlotte is the fastest growing city in the state," said Meredith. "They brag about coming into the 21st century, but it's with a 1950's attitude."

Lawyers on the panel concluded that there was significant evidence of human and labor rights violations, and their next step would be to file a claim against the state of North Carolina. Yemisi Ilesanmi, one of the panelists and the senior official of the Nigerian Labor Congress, spoke of her shock at hearing of such inequality in the U.S. "When the rich get together to talk about the poor, they call it charity," she said. "When the poor get together to talk about the rich, they call it anarchy!"

The fight for these rights is just at the beginning stages, but building a social-justice union like UE Local 150 across the state will be one of the most important stepping-stones in the fight. As Stellan Garde, the Swedish commissioner on the panel, warned, "It is not enough with lawyers; you have to have a strong trade union as well."
Nikki Marterre, Greensboro, N.C.

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The military is a profession

PLEASE EXPLAIN the position that Todd Chretien has created, proposed and pushed forward in regards to military recruiters in San Francisco ("A message to the military," November 18). Please explain, because there is confusion among many in regards to the opinion of "profession" versus "politics"--and denying our youth, our future, in the volunteer military as a profession, versus the old draft military we had in the 1970s.
Capt. Brian Peterson, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, From the Internet

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Tookie should be a priority

I WAS disappointed to find in a recent issue of Socialist Worker only a very small article about Stan Tookie Williams, who is scheduled to be executed by the state of California on December 13 ("Stop the execution of Stan Tookie Williams," November 11).

What the International Socialist Organization, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and many others do in the next few weeks will be crucial to saving this innocent man's life, and every week SW ought to be making a priority to talk about his case, the racism of the "justice" system in this country, and, most importantly, what we can do about.

Instead of reading about Harold Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, in a large feature article of SW, I would much rather have read about Tookie, a Nobel Prize nominee whose life hangs in the balance.
Pham Binh, New York City

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