Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Renee Collymore

“Give ‘Em Hell, CWA”!

Two weeks ago, I made my presence on the picket line in support of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), as they fought for a fair contract against the corporate giant, Verizon.

CWA is one of the bravest unions in our City and I couldn’t let them fight alone. Am I biased? Maybe so, for they were the only labor union that courageously endorsed my candidacy when I ran against for the seat of Democratic State Committeewoman/District Leader in 2010. For days, I decided to join this strike to help defend the great working class people of our City as I also began calling on all of my political colleagues to meet us in solidarity.

As thousands of workers took to the streets, repeating the call-and-response chant “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like”, my mind began to recall the greatest labor struggle of all times, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters against the Pullman Company, which was led by Harlem’s, A. Phillip Randolph.

Randolph, along with friend and colleague, Chandler Owen, created several labor unions, of which the first was called the United Brotherhood of Elevator and Switchboard Operators, then formed the first black socialist political club in the 21st Assembly District in Harlem, NY

What I admired about the porter’s union was that, it wasn’t a large union and at it’s height of power and influence it had only 15,000 members, after which the membership dropped to 2,000. Nonetheless, their victory was not because of numbers, but because of the great leadership and the skillful ability of men, who were otherwise known to be “uneducated blacks”, to successfully implement the strategy of collective bargaining, as well as the capability to promote the idea of labor unionism amongst black workers in 1925.

45,000 CWA workers went on strike because ,although, Verizon has made record profits, according to the union, Verizon had refused to bargain. as well as attempting to slash sick days, to send jobs overseas and cut health benefits.etc. The demands of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters consisted of recognition of the union, a minimum monthly wage of $150, a basic work month of 240 hours, compensation for “deadheading”, and an end to “doubling out”, conductor’s pay for conductor’s work and that porters be treated like men,

Ultimately, the first-ever agreement between a union of black workers and a major corporation was signed and it called for a reduction in the work month from 400 to 240 hours and an annual wage package of $1,250,000. After the longest battle in American labor history, which lasted 12 years, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had been finally recognized. Not only that, but the Brotherhood had become a full-fledged member of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and also made it possible for blacks to win a place in American society, where the Pullman Company of old would never have imagined their victory in a million years.

The Labor movement was the first anti-poverty program and if it wasn’t for Labor, people would be selling apples on the street, for a living, like most folks did in the 20s. Union members represent the working people of our nation and without the working class, corporate giants, would not be where they are, without us.

As I marched over the Brooklyn Bridge with the members of CWA, I saw the victory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters as they struggled for basic and respectful rights, human rights within the workforce. I saw my friends, neighbors and relatives sacrificing their weekly paycheck, in unity, for right to be “treated like men”, and not work horses, but honorable members of a nation. The CWA strike of 2011 was a fight for the future of our country and will be remembered as a triumphant moment in labor, just as the heroic battle between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the corporate giant of that day, the Pullman Company. We must demand respect now, for the sake of our children and our children’s children.

Give’ em hell, ya’ll…Give’ em hell!

Renee Collymore, president and founder of the Parliament Democratic Club in Brooklyn, is a leading rising star in the City of New York. She made her splash into the political arena when she ran for public office against an incumbent for which she’s earned the respect of politicians and power brokers alike. She’s continues to build recognition amongst her peers as she passionately fights for her coomunity. Renee can be reached on Twitter @reneecollymore and on Facebook.


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