George Pullman built his financial empire not only on the manufacture of railroad cars but also on the luxury service provided to passengers by the 10,000-man work force who staffed the famous Pullman sleeping and dining cars. But management treated these African-American workers with both contempt and miserable wages. They encouraged the degrading practise of ignoring the men’s given names and encouraging passengers to address every one of them as “George.”
10,000 Black Men Named George lovingly and respectfully portrays the story of the organizing of the Pullman porters. While focusing on the role played by A. Philip Randolph, it does not neglect the courage and initiative played by the rank and file. The message to today’s workers is clear: unity and determination of workers can defeat even the most powerful and evil corporation.
The movie, starring Andre Braugher as Randolph, premieres Feb. 24 on Showtime as part of a tribute to African-American history month.
The production of this feature was co-sponsored by AT&T Broadband. A screening in Chicago last week was attended by a group of AT&T Broadband workers from a facility just a stone’s throw from the site of the old Pullman Car Works. The handbills the workers distributed made clear that to the public AT&T may be saluting A. Phillip Randolph, but the face they’re showing to their predominantly African-American workforce in Pullman looks a lot like George Pullman.
According to Jerry Rankins, a 13-year cable TV veteran, now business representative with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 21, nearly two years have passed since these workers voted to unionize. But AT&T Broadband management, led by $56-million-a-year CEO Michael Armstrong, has “played every trick in the book to deny these workers the dignity and respect and compensation of a union contract.”
Rankins stated that the union’s goal is to bring AT&T Broadband workers, who do the same highly skilled work and provide the same high-tech services as telephone workers, up to the standards of the unionized telecommunication industry.
AT&T Broadband, on the other hand, while charging consumers top dollar, is fighting to keep its workforce non-union and to continue paying them as little as 50 percent of the industry standard wages.