The SWP decided to establish the organizing committee here in 2000. The move came a few months after the workers at the giant Fieldcrest Cannon textile mill brought their fight to unionize the plantfirst launched 25 years earlierto a victorious conclusion. The successful organizing drive in the anti-union right-to-work state helped to throw a spotlight on the character of the area as an industrial center, and the potential weight in politics of its working class.
In the wake of a deepening crisis, the mills current owner, Pillowtex, is now pushing workers to sign on to a new round of takebacks and simultaneously threatening to sell the plant or enter bankruptcy protection.
In the past three years organizing committee members have been part of a number of social protests and have built solidarity with some important union struggles. These experiences were a key theme of the event. Participants included members and supporters of the communist movement from Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C., along with workers from the Pillowtex plant and a local auto parts factory.
They were welcomed by Connie Allen, who chaired the meeting. Allen was the Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina in 2002 and has been an active member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) at Pillowtex for several years.
The speakers panel included Dennis Richter, a member of the organizing committee and of the SWPs National Committee; Sam Manuel, the Militants Washington bureau chief; and Michael Ellis of the Young Socialists.
Manuel spoke on key trends in the class struggle, including the increasing impact of the economic depression, the intensifying conflicts among Washington and other imperialist powers, the accelerated campaign by liberal and left forces to win working people to lesser evil solutions in preparation for the 2004 elections, and the current uptick in labor resistance around the country.
The socialists had just participated in the international drive to win 1,000 new and repeat subscribers to the Militant and 250 to Perspectiva Mundial, said Michael Ellis. Campaigners had set up regular tables on campuses, and had sold door-to-door in working-class areas and at factory gates. The result was a successful conclusion to the local drive as well as the international effort, he said.
See ourselves as part of the world
To carry out communist politics in the Carolinas, as anywhere, said Richter, you have to start with the world political situation. Working people have to see ourselves as part of the world, and part of a global fight against the conditions that the natural workings of imperialism impose on us.
This international approach, which has been blood-and-bone of the communist movement since its foundation, has been made a little more natural by the increasingly multinational character of the working-class in the region, he saidin part because of the impact of immigration. Like Allen, Richter has been working at Pillowtex. Our co-workers there are Black, white, Latino, Bosnian, Laotian, Hmong, African, and more, he said.
Richter pointed to a display showing some of the struggles that communists had joined over the last several years from their base in the workers district in Kannapolis and as UNITE members.
Members of Local 1501 at Pillowtexs Plant 1 built solidarity with their fellow union members at Hollander Home Fashions in Los Angeles during a strike in 2001, he said. They had joined a squad of the workers from California in a picket line outside the company s factory in Tignall, Georgia. The workers at the Georgia plant refused to cross the line.
UNITE members and other workers also joined solidarity actions with the Charleston Five. They were members of the International Longshoremens Association (ILA), who were framed up after police attacked a picket line in Charleston in January 2000 that was organized to protest the use of non-union labor at the dock. The ILA defense effort drew wide support, including from outside the United States, and ended in victory when the state dropped its frame-up efforts. None of the five served jail time.
In October 2001, said Richter, paperworkers in Brevard County, North Carolina, went on strike in the face of company threats to close the plant unless the workers agreed to concessions that would have gutted the union contract. They stood their ground to the end even though the owner eventually closed the plant in 2002.
Socialist workers also participated in battles for Black rights, which play a weighty role in the area, said Richter. They included the campaign launched by the South Carolina NAACP against the flying of the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state house, to the 5,000-strong demonstration in Greenville, South Carolina, in May of this year to demand that Greenville County make Martin Luther Kings Birthday a paid holiday.
The economic depression, which is affecting working people in the United States and around the world, has had a big impact in the Carolinas. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs as more than 100 textile plants in North Carolina and almost 60 in South Carolina have closed since 1997. This is the context of Pillowtexs threats of closure.
Socialist workers were part of the discussion among unionists and other workers at the giant plant. We put forward the need to fight for a shorter work week with no cut in pay to spread around the available work and for a massive public workers program to fight unemployment, Richter said.
In the midst of the economic crisis and rising unemployment, workers continue to find their way to the unions, Richter noted. In Tar Heel, North Carolina, a 10-year fight for recognition of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union continues at Smithfield. The plant is the largest pork-processing facility in the world, with 6,000 workers.
During the discussion, a worker from a nearby auto parts plant asked what is the difference between socialism and communism. Ive always heard negative things about communism. She had read in the Salisbury Post about Connie Allens write-in campaign for U.S. Senate. She came by the bookstore a couple of months ago and picked up a copy of New International no. 7, with the feature article, The Opening Guns of World War III.
This time, she took full advantage of the bookstores closing sale. All stock was marked down by 50 percent. She bought Teamster Power and Teamster Politics by Farrell Dobbs, Cosmetics, Fashion, and the Exploitation of Women by Evelyn Reed, Joseph Hansen, and Mary-Alice Waters, Socialism on Trial by James P. Cannon, and New International no. 10.
A Pillowtex worker decided on the Spanish-language edition of Capitalisms World Disorder: Working-class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes and Nueva Internacional no. 5, with the article U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War by the same author.
SWP branches in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., will continue to pay close attention to political and union developments in the Carolinas as they did from 1997 to 2000. Prior to that the party had offices in Raleigh and then Greensboro for some 20 years.
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