Black trade unionists gear up for convention

When hundreds of Black trade unionists converge on Phoenix for the 34th International Convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists May 25-30, the many-sided attacks on the Black community and on labor will be the overriding concern. The theme says it all: “CBTU: Forging a New Vision for Tough Challenges Ahead.”

“There is an extreme right-wing agenda that’s targeting working-class people and the working-class family,” said Missouri state Rep. John L. Bowman, a CBTU member, in a recent telephone interview. “And with these assaults comes the need for us to become more strategic in how we align ourselves and how we deliver our message.” Bowman, a Democrat and 28-year member of the United Auto Workers, represents a section of St. Louis County.

Bowman pointed to the recent Washington University student strike and sit-in, which successfully fought for higher pay for campus contract workers, as an example of labor’s contemporary relevance. The victory was achieved in no small part thanks to the solidarity of the AFL-CIO, he said. Bowman himself participated in the campus actions.

“I see a groundswell of people who are saying the labor movement has my best interests at hand,” Bowman said. Organized labor was key to winning and preserving public education and care for the elderly, and “the labor movement was also one of the strong forces behind the Civil Rights Act,” he said.

Bowman said the Bush administration’s assault on Social Security, if successful, “will be extremely detrimental to our community.” He said any benefit cuts would hit the African American people very hard because so many depend on it as their main source of income.

At the 34th CBTU convention Black workers “will be preparing to fight off this kind of right-wing push,” Bowman said. “We have got to get back to focusing on the people who have made this country — the elderly, working people, and everyday citizens, instead of this focus on the rich and corporate greed.”

Founded in 1972, the CBTU has been an independent voice for Black workers within the trade union movement, championing their cause and challenging organized labor to be more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the poorest workers and all Black workers.

The CBTU has 50 chapters nationwide and one in Ontario, Canada.