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Passing the Torch – Season Three of ‘Black Work Talk’

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Black Work Talk
Black Work Talk
Passing the Torch - Season Three of 'Black Work Talk'

Black Work Talk’s third season goes to the source of the energy for this current wave of labor activism, looks at how this surge impacts Black workers, and offers a fresh vision for what’s next. Listeners will hear conversations with rank-and-file workers from unions including the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters, and the Writers Guild of America. New hosts Bianca Cunningham and Jamala Rogers offer educational tools and compelling strategies for the 90% of American workers who have yet to organize—and have an opportunity to seize the moment.

For this launch episode, Bianca and Jamala are joined by author, international trade union activist and longtime friend of the show Bill Fletcher Jr., who interviews them to learn more about who they are as well as what they bring to the Black worker movement.

[00:00:00] Bianca Cunningham: To me, it’s like the framing is wrong. It’s like you’re not necessarily being replaced, but like to your point, Bill, there is an intention with capital and with the employers to create that racial hierarchy and make people resent one another and just trust one another. And so I would say don’t look to your left or your right.

[00:00:19] Let’s look up. And see who’s actually, like, you know, harming us.

[00:00:29] [00:00:30] Welcome to Black Work Talk, the podcast voice of Black workers, leaders, activists, and intellectuals exploring connections between race, capitalism, labor, and culture, and the struggle for democratic, progressive governing power. I’m your host, Bianca Cunningham. 

[00:00:45] Jamala Rogers: And I’m your co host, Jamilah Rogers. Joining us shortly will be activist, labor leader, writer, long time friend of this podcast and my long time friend, Bill Fletcher Jr.[00:01:00] 

[00:01:02] Bianca Cunningham: So if you’re tuning into this podcast, you might be a little bit confused as to why you’re not hearing our beloved host, Stephen Pitts. He has made the decision to retire and has passed the torch to myself and Jamala Rogers. I’m Bianca Cunningham. I am a queer, Black worker who is obsessed with building working class power and I’m a community [00:01:30] organizer that organizes around the intersection of police accountability, housing, climate and just wanting to really pour into young organizers who are starting their own organizations, organizing in their own workplaces, um, and starting good shit wherever they are.

[00:01:49] Jamala Rogers: And I am honored and thrilled to be joining, uh, Bianca as her co host. And, uh, I hail from St. Louis, Missouri, uh, that’s where I’ve done most of my organizing work. [00:02:00] And, um, most of the organizations that I’ve helped found have centered, uh, Black working class struggles. And, uh, so obviously I think they are important, uh, not just to the labor movement, but to the overall Black liberation movement.

[00:02:14] Um, I’m a writer. And so I write about my organizing and other people’s organizer. And, um, and I’m delighted to be here and in the shadows of Steven Pitts, who I admire greatly.[00:02:30] 

[00:02:35] Other than this show’s creator and original host. Steven Pitts, no one has spent more time behind the mic of Black Work Talk than our inaugural guest for this season. We are joined today by longtime activist and author on issues of racial justice and labor, none other than Bill Fletcher, Jr. He also happened to be the last guest that Stephen had interviewed before signing off, so we [00:03:00] thought it would be great to complete that circle by bringing Bill back to interview and introduce Bianca and myself on a new episode of Black Work Talk.

[00:03:11] Welcome, Bill. 

[00:03:13] Bill Fletcher Jr.: Jamala, it’s good to be here. And Bianca, this is a kind of emotional moment in that I worked with Steve in the development of the original idea. for the podcast. And as you said, I was a [00:03:30] guest a few times and now doing this with the two of you as with this transition, uh, it’s, it’s really exciting.

[00:03:38] I’m really happy for both of you. And I’m in this sort of strange role of not being the guest and not exactly being the host. So it’s sort of twilight zone. So we need a little bit of Rod Serling in the background. I actually am not going to introduce the two of you. I’m going to ask the two of you to introduce yourselves.

[00:03:59] [00:04:00] And then I actually want to get into some questions. The first really being what is your vision, uh, for this podcast and whatever your vision is should not be interpreted as a criticism of what Steve was doing, but it’s a charting a different course. But I think that for the listeners, It would be really useful if the two of you could say a little bit about how you ended up on this [00:04:30] journey.

[00:04:32] Jamala Rogers: This is Jamala Rogers. Um, and just a little bit of an intro to me. Uh, I’m a self identified black feminist and, uh, I am a longtime organizer. Uh, one of the founders of the Organization for Black Struggle, which centered the black working class as as part of this mission. And I’ve had a long involvement in, uh, black workers organizing from the Missouri Black Labor Council to the Concerned Auto Workers to, uh, [00:05:00] currently being on Missouri Jobs with Justice Workers Right Board.

[00:05:03] So, uh, you know, not just being, having come from the working, black working class, but off, That’s where my work is centered, whether it be working with women or, or, or young people, families, uh, you know, that to me is really where the, the power and energy of our movement is. And so I think that is one of the things that drew me to this [00:05:30] podcast, uh, not to mention that.

[00:05:32] I got a nudge from Bill. So, uh, but it seemed to make sense because I’m, I’m all about how are we uplifting worker struggles and how are we highlighting how they need to be connected so that we understand the power, uh, of this movement. So I’m, I’m hoping that that is what people are gonna get from it, that they’re gonna hear some insight.

[00:05:57] Not necessarily gossip, but inside layers [00:06:00] of how people are organizing all around this country and perhaps even the world. 

[00:06:04] Bianca Cunningham: And I’m Bianca Cunningham. I am a union organizer and a community organizer. I, uh, organize at the intersection of racial capitalism and Wall Street accountability in my day job. And in my community, I organize around a number of issues, um, police accountability, housing, climate, et cetera.

[00:06:25] The thing that brought me to this podcast, Convergence Reached Out, is You know, I love the [00:06:30] show, and I love what Steven was doing, and I was really flattered that they, you know, thought of me to be a host, but I also was really clear that I wanted this to be a platform for Black workers themselves um, to speak about their issues.

[00:06:45] I also wanted this to be some sort of like a hotspot where people could go to hear about different active campaigns, you know, as they’re going on, um, how to support, how to share resources, you know, how to be in solidarity with one another in [00:07:00] real time. And so that’s what I’m hoping, um, that we’re able to do with this reboot is really just centering the, the voices of black workers themselves and, you know, creating somewhat of a resource.

[00:07:10] if you will, um, for people to come to. I also was really like interested in the idea of like, uh, union education, particularly for people, I think my age and even more, you know, younger than me, you know, we see this explosion of like, um, curiosity of unions and, and how they work and, um, wanting, you know, we see that, you know, [00:07:30] there’s more public support for labor unions right now, um, than there has been.

[00:07:34] been in recent times. And so I also wanted this to be somewhat of like a one on one resource for people who are thinking about organizing in their own workplaces, um, wondering where to start, um, and in a place that you don’t have to already be well versed in left or, you know, labor, uh, jargon and culture, but that you can come fresh and green and still find a space and some use for, you know, the podcasts.

[00:07:59] And so [00:08:00] that, that’s what my vision was, um, for in joining the team here. 

[00:08:04] Jamala Rogers: And Bill, if I could just add a, yeah. Little something. The other thing that drew me to the podcast was to be able to work with Bianca. Not that I necessarily knew about her background. I found out about that later, but I didn’t want it to be this solo thing.

[00:08:18] I wanted to have a more of a intergenerational approach, but also two viewpoints that would be looking at a, uh, the same issue. And so, uh, that was exciting to me. 

[00:08:28] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So I don’t [00:08:30] listen to many podcasts, to be honest. I actually don’t have the time. And, um, and, but the world is flooded with podcasts. So what’s going to be unique about yours?

[00:08:40] What’s going to grab people? 

[00:08:43] Jamala Rogers: So the podcasts that I do have a chance to listen to, and I’m like you Bill, I don’t have a lot of time to listen, but the ones that I listen to, it seems like it is the podcaster spewing out their views. and [00:09:00] uh, not a whole lot of interaction with anybody else. So you have a person that’s talking about their view of the world, whatever that issue might be.

[00:09:07] And to me, the difference in this is we’re going to be bringing those actual voices of people on the ground that are part of campaigns, that are part of organizing. And I don’t, I don’t know that that’s anything that I’ve heard before. I mean, there’s Some that do that, but not a whole lot. A lot of this is a very, in my opinion, very self centered.

[00:09:27] So you get a podcast and it’s all about [00:09:30] you and what you think. And, and, and in fact, I see Bianca and myself basically being facilitators of conversations with people who are actually doing the on the ground work. Bianca, did 

[00:09:40] Bill Fletcher Jr.: you 

[00:09:40] Bianca Cunningham: want to add anything to that? I also don’t listen to podcasts. I didn’t listen to any other ones besides Stephen’s Black Work Talk.

[00:09:47] Um, and so I can’t really speak to, you know, what they do or don’t do. I, myself, am curious as to whether we have something that people who want to listen to, just being quite honest, but I trust the direction and, you know, at the [00:10:00] very least, like I said, if we can turn it into a place where people can come for basic 101 organizing information, where to start whenever they want to have a in their workplace.

[00:10:10] Um, if we could develop some sort of like, you know, new audience, um, that, that finds that useful. That’s good enough for me. 

[00:10:17] Jamala Rogers: And, and Bianca, to that point, I think if folks see us as authentic voices that has something, uh, legitimate and credible, uh, that we will become trusted messengers. So that’s, that’s [00:10:30] the other thing, like there’s a lot of noise out there, uh, but hopefully people will see us.

[00:10:34] people as voices that are bringing the authentic voices on in a place where there’s going to be real information given and real ways for people to be engaged. 

[00:10:44] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So The Black Worker, about a year ago, I was at a somewhere conference or something and someone said to me, Is the black worker relevant anymore [00:11:00] in the trade union movement?

[00:11:02] And they said, look, once upon a time, you know, black workers were central in some major industries, particularly mass production industries, and were strategically situated than black workers in Chicanos. And capitalism has shifted and with it employment practices. And hiring. Is the black worker still strategic?

[00:11:26] Jamala Rogers: Well, I think the black worker definitely is. And I [00:11:30] say that not just because I’m black and I have this sort of partiality to my own ethnic group and racial group. But when I look at the industries that what I would call essential. Black workers are definitely centered there. And, and, you know, it’s like the house, uh, hospital workers.

[00:11:48] And even when I think about places like Amazon, you know, I don’t think it’s an accident that, you know, Christian Smalls is, became a leader in that because it’s, it’s a lot of black folks there. [00:12:00] Um, so obviously there’s still a role for us. And I don’t think we need to see ourselves in competition with the growing number of Mexicano workers that are coming in or, you know, immigrant workers from other places.

[00:12:13] Because I think, you know, when you talk about, uh, where we are going to be placed, we are probably going to be at the bottom of some, somebody’s ladder. And so that to me is more impetus for us to be organizing and looking at ways to organize and being more creative about how [00:12:30] we organize black workers.

[00:12:31] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, I agree, Jamala. I think black workers are still essential. They’re so important, especially when we talk about, well, one of the issues that I, that I work around was expanding public services. I mean, I think black workers are like really the core of a lot of those sectors. I also think about like how much Uh, we love the labor movement, but also know that it needs to, like, shift dramatically culture wise.

[00:12:56] And I think that black workers and other workers of color, [00:13:00] um, will be the key to that. Every union that I meet with, um, today in 2023 talks about one of their main issues being hiring, um, and retaining black workers. And so I think that that just speaks to the importance and the role that elected leadership sees, um, in Making a space for black workers and ensuring that, um, I think yesterday I was in California and they talked about not only organizing, they’re trying to increase the African American [00:13:30] population in San Francisco.

[00:13:31] They know that it’s gone down. And so whatever proposals they’re bringing are is is to bring folks back into those jobs and seeing the importance of that. And I also think it’s important that we, you know, build our own independent. in internal power amongst ourselves. And, you know, a lot of times we’re trying to clamor for a seat at the table.

[00:13:49] And I think that’s super important and we’ve got to work with everyone. But I also think that we’ve got to get ourselves in order in a sense as well and create our own table, um, and become [00:14:00] powerful and, uh, cohesive enough that we can affect the larger. You 

[00:14:06] Bill Fletcher Jr.: know, after 1965 with the change in immigration, uh, there were more immigrants of color coming from other parts of the world than had preceded that, um, including from some countries where there had been immigrants early, like in the 19th century, and there had been this cutoff.

[00:14:25] Since 1965, one of the things, [00:14:30] uh, issues that has been raised in different social movements uh, is whether black workers are being displaced by others. And, uh, it is a feeling that I have of a neo apartheid situation being set up in the United States with is a racial ranking. And this is creating various kinds of responses, including, uh, within Black folks, some [00:15:00] right wing responses, like the ADOS, the American Descendants of Slavery, that, uh, are fighting for reparations, but only for those who can prove that they are actually the descendants of people who before 1865 were slaves.

[00:15:19] Um, what does this all mean for Black workers? And and particularly From a progressive standpoint, what do we do when black workers are feeling [00:15:30] or articulate that they feel like they’re being displaced? What is what kind of response do 

[00:15:35] Bianca Cunningham: we offer capitalism? That’s the way it works. And it’s intentional.

[00:15:41] It’s like actually what they feel to me. It’s like the framing is wrong. It’s like you’re not necessarily being replaced, but like to your point, Bill, there is an intention with capital and with the Lawyers to create that racial hierarchy and make people resent one another and distrust one [00:16:00] another. And so I would say, don’t look to your left or your right.

[00:16:03] Let’s look up and see who’s actually like, you know, harming us and like, making us feel like that because none of us are getting what we 

[00:16:11] Jamala Rogers: deserve. You know, I, I do agree with Bianca that for the most part, labor reunions don’t consider themselves to be anti-capitalist. And I think, you know, when you are trying to frame these big questions that are affecting the labor movement, that are affecting the intersectionality [00:16:30] and the solidarity between different racial groups, you really do have to talk about capitalism and the role that it’s playing.

[00:16:38] Uh, and I would say that even in terms of the political education programs that I think there needs to be more of in labor unions, but I don’t. I think you can address the issue unless you frame it correctly. And you have to talk about where we are. We’re in America. We are in a place that, you know, is known for its [00:17:00] super exploitation, known for its racial divisions between workers.

[00:17:05] And so when we talk about historically, what that looks like, we have to share that with. The current workforce, because there’s always some very inspiring campaigns that unions undertook that brought workers together of, of different, you know, racial. ethnicities. And so, uh, so I don’t think we can allow [00:17:30] capitalists, you know, people to to help frame that because we know that we’re going to be behind the eight ball if that happens.

[00:17:37] But I think as long as we’re clear and that, you know, we are helping workers to understand that, I think we stand a better chance of having solidarity and not the tensions that are being exacerbated between racial groups, and even between, you know, gender groups.[00:18:00] 

[00:18:01] Hi, this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Convergence on Patreon. We’re a small, independent operation and rely heavily on our readers and listeners like you to support our work.

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[00:18:46] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So a lot of the discussion that happens about black workers is in the context of the workplace and trade union movement, and I don’t wanna stop that discussion here, but I’m actually interested in the relationship of the [00:19:00] black worker. to the rest of the Black Freedom Movement. Because, uh, the Black Freedom Movement has generally been on the shoulders of the Black worker, and specifically Black women.

[00:19:15] Yet, the movement’s objectives are rarely determined by the black worker. So, what do we do about that? What does that mean? 

[00:19:28] Jamala Rogers: I think that’s a very [00:19:30] interesting question because every time I, I, I hear about the way that labor unions actually, and sometimes intentionally, alienate or isolate black workers from community issues, it’s, it’s very concerning to me.

[00:19:51] And I remember a specific example of a union who was trying to [00:20:00] recruit, you know, black, young black workers to their. Uh, program. And, uh, this was during the aftermath of the Ferguson uprising, and so they apparently had gotten some money, uh, and it was, you know, it would have been a good thing. These, these young people were going to be paid like 20 an hour just to, to be an apprentice, and then they could expect, obviously, more than that when they were, uh, became part of a union.

[00:20:24] And, uh, one of the things I was asking this person, uh, this junior [00:20:30] rep who was talking about only this program. And I’m, you know, I’m telling him like, Lee, we’re in the middle of a rebellion that affects the very young men and women that you are trying to recruit. And so, what’s your relationship to that movement?

[00:20:47] So, while you’re talking about recruiting folks who’s going to be coming to classes every day, what about what happens to them when they get stopped by the police and they’re late to your program? What about what happens when they’re arrested and get [00:21:00] thrown in jail? Do you see the connection between that?

[00:21:04] And he didn’t. He didn’t. He’s just like, I need, I need y’all to help me fill up these slots. I’m like, okay, here we, we got a problem here. So that, you know, that’s the thing that I think happens a lot of times when, when folks are doing their union organizing, unless their organizing directly benefits them and they see that benefit, then they don’t see the broader struggle [00:21:30] being something that they should be concerned with.

[00:21:33] And that’s a problem. 

[00:21:35] Bianca Cunningham: I agree with Jamala. So just I guess my initial thing was like, aren’t we all black workers, regardless of whether we’re organized or not? I mean, black people working are black workers, but I, uh, do take your point Jamala and Bill, um, and I think that’s one of the reasons, um, why I, I’m a proponent for the bargaining for the common good model, because in it is centering racial justice, um, in your demands and in [00:22:00] your organizing, and we’ve seen, uh, many examples.

[00:22:03] Um, of unions using that framework to, um, address the needs of their black workforce or their black members rather, um, whether it be tracking discipline by race and gender, um, from some unions or, you know, in other cases, you know, uh, instituting some really strong, uh, contract language, um, around, uh, hiring and retention.

[00:22:25] And, you know, even in some cases, you know, having, you know, I’m thinking of Connecticut [00:22:30] now, you know, one of the things that the group home workers won in their contract was the ability to sit down with the local police department because many of their home care workers were getting pulled over at high rates, um, as they were entering these more affluent neighborhoods where they cared for the elderly.

[00:22:47] Um, and so I, I just feel like we have seen models of, of ways that we can address it. So, so that’s exciting. That’s what I’m excited about. 

[00:22:56] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So you’re, you’re both addressing part of what I was raising, but when I [00:23:00] look at the Black Freedom Movement, the leaders are generally religious figures. Or there’s someone with three letters after their name or two letters before their name.

[00:23:15] And the demands of many of the movements frequently don’t speak directly to the black worker. And it’s, it’s really interesting. You’ll get, um, you’ll even get black workers will [00:23:30] say, Yeah, we need more black businesses. That should be the central demand. And so I guess I’m asking both of you. So what do we do about that?

[00:23:39] And not just what’s the role of the trade union movement. What do people like the two of you, the three of us. What do we do about that? 

[00:23:47] Jamala Rogers: This just got raised a couple of weeks ago with one of the organizations that I’ve been working with around organizational development. And I said, have you all looked at the composition of your leadership team?[00:24:00] 

[00:24:00] And for the most part, they were. middle class academics. And I said, if you organizing folks that are in the working class, your leadership really does need to reflect that. So I think, you know, it’s an issue I think we’ve been grappling with for at least a generation that I can recall that we will say that black workers are key or the black working class is key.

[00:24:28] But then we, uh, [00:24:30] organizing at the, at the grass tops level and not the grassroots level. And I know people will say, well, the folks who got the, the, the privilege of having time and energies to do this thing are folks who got jobs that allow them to do that. So if you want to bring in some, for example, a a home care worker who has to get up at 4 a.

[00:24:52] m. uh, to be at the, at, at their workplace, then how do you engage that person in a way that [00:25:00] is building a, a true leader that ultimately will, will take their place in a leadership role? And I think we haven’t figured that out, quite frankly. 

[00:25:09] Bill Fletcher Jr.: Mm hmm. Bianca, 

[00:25:11] Bianca Cunningham: did you have some thoughts? I’ve only had experience with grassroots movements that are led by young people, and I think maybe we just choose to ignore the other ones, but I could say on the ground in New York City, one of the things that, you know, myself and other organizers say, you know, whether we be out in the streets for campaign or action, is we encourage [00:25:30] young people start your own organization if you don’t see yourself here.

[00:25:33] If you, you know, have a different view, it’s fine, just join an organization. And so I think there’s just like less, uh, focus on the, the, the letters and the, and the who’s of the who’s and the, and more like just find, find an organizing home or create an organizing home. And I think that’s where I’m at. 

[00:25:51] Jamala Rogers: So Bianca, are you saying that the, the people that you are seeing are basically from the working class that are doing the work?

[00:25:59] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah. [00:26:00] Interesting. That’s my, that’s my experience. So, but I’m new, so I’m only like 11 years in. So. 

[00:26:06] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So I’m going to take the hat off as a host and just a comment. I think class struggle plays itself out in very interesting ways within black America. And sometimes it takes the form of denying that it exists in order for it to emerge.

[00:26:28] And at different points, [00:26:30] Like when Jamala and I were younger, and Jamala is much younger than I am, but when we were younger, the aspiring middle strat, uh, would often use the terminology of the masses. But their objectives were different. And what I see now in a number of movements are, uh, the people that Jamal is talking about, middle strata people who [00:27:00] are not necessarily trying to, in the words of Emile Kackerbrauch, commit class suicide, but are more trying to advance certain objectives.

[00:27:11] And I just think we just have to be careful and watch, because this stuff plays itself out. Uh, as someone once said to me, people often rise to the level of their class background and their class ambitions. And so it’s something to think about because it plagues organization, which actually [00:27:30] leads to my next question about the relationship of the Black worker and Black radicalism.

[00:27:35] So, uh, Jamala and I had the honor and opportunity, frankly, for most of the time, it was a delight, to work together around the building of the Black Radical Congress. This is really a night in front of Black Radicals from 1998 to 2008. And then we have a new kind of radicalism that really takes [00:28:00] off after 2014.

[00:28:02] And I’m curious, from both of your standpoints, where you’ve seen the Black workers presence or absence in both of these. Whether it was Jamal or the Black Radical Congress. So if you want to talk about something earlier. Or, uh, both of you, because I know both of you have been active since 2014 and the, the, the Black Lives Matter [00:28:30] movement.

[00:28:30] How do you see the black worker engaged in this or not? 

[00:28:37] Jamala Rogers: I think, well, I’m going to use the example of the Ferguson Uprising because one of the first groups to converge on, uh, West Florida. Uh, Boulevard, which was where, you know, the epicenter was, uh, was Fight for 15. And they were basically young, uh, working class, [00:29:00] you know, youth.

[00:29:00] And so they understood, you know, uh, very organically that they needed to be there. But as that movement started to build over the, the ensuing weeks, you had a lot of folks, you know, parachuting in. Uh, for their own self interest and in many ways use that movement to propel themselves to national prominence.

[00:29:24] Now, the working class young leaders that were [00:29:30] organizing before the Ferguson organizing continued to do that, obviously. But they, it was a bitter taste left in their mouth that the folks who had the education, the articulation, Connections ended up speaking. On their behalf. And so it’s a situation that emerges, you know, uh, frequently enough that I’m thinking about this [00:30:00] question that you asked, Bill, like, how do you do that?

[00:30:04] And we saw it with the civil rights movement. I mean, it was basically a mass based movement, and the folks who, who benefited most were the folks who then became the black middle class. So it’s, it’s an intergenerational struggle that we’ve been dealing with, and I don’t think we’ve cracked the answer, to be quite frankly.

[00:30:24] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, I could see that. The person with the, with the most resources, um, and the most [00:30:30] charisma. which is not always like, you know, us work, the workers, um, is the person who comes away as the spokesperson or the defunct, like the default leader. I would say though, like, like again, in my experience, you know, I, I got started in the labor movement.

[00:30:45] I start off with, you know, a really militant labor campaign, a union campaign, a strike. And so to me, I feel like maybe it’s just where I’ve positioned myself. I feel like black workers have always been centered. [00:31:00] Um, intentionally in the struggles that I’ve been a part of. But I certainly do see, you know, where things get co opted down the line.

[00:31:08] And so I see what you all are saying. Where did you get started? Um, I started in a Verizon wireless store. I was a retail worker and I wanted a union and organizing my coworkers to make that happen. We ended up having to go on strike for 49 days for our first contract. The community was really involved in that strike.

[00:31:26] And also the larger CWA, uh, [00:31:30] Verizon footprint was a part of that strike. So the, the landline workers, so it was intergenerational, um, strike and yeah, and yeah, the community, uh, completely, uh, centered us, as well as the union, and really understood the importance of young Black workers asserting their rights in a workplace.

[00:31:47] And I feel like that’s where I’ve found my home. So maybe, maybe I don’t have as much experience, um, on the other side, luckily, but 

[00:31:57] Bill Fletcher Jr.: Well, there’s, there’s a lot more that we could [00:32:00] discuss in terms of, of that question. And perhaps at some point we can, but I want to pick up on this thing you were just saying, Bianca.

[00:32:09] How do the two of you think that black workers can better get their issues addressed? Within the halls of organized labor, you know, all too often, and this is nothing new, black workers, workers of color, generally the black workers definitely are told [00:32:30] that their issues are special, that they are maybe exceptional, that they may be divisive, that they should be handled outside of the collective bargaining context.

[00:32:46] Frequently, it is difficult to rise in leadership. Whether elected leadership or on staff, yet we continue and we keep pushing. But when you’re thinking about lessons learned, what are some of the lessons, [00:33:00] positive and negative, in terms of advancing the issues of the Black worker within organized 

[00:33:07] Jamala Rogers: labor?

[00:33:09] Bianca, were you going to take a crack at that? 

[00:33:11] Bianca Cunningham: I was gonna, but I wasn’t, I didn’t have a complete thought. But I was just, uh, remembering an interview I did when I was on staff at Labor Notes with an ATU activist who is now, no longer with us. What were you talking about? With ATU. Oh, a magmated transit union, um, activists in Minneapolis who I interviewed about their campaign to not [00:33:30] transport, um, the Minnesota police department down to the protests in George Floyd and how they refused to, you know, transport the cops.

[00:33:39] And I just remember him talking a lot about the importance of black caucus. And like what kind of role that’s played and I know oftentimes like people might be dismissive of caucuses or say, you know, these affinity groups are not that important or don’t, but I actually think they’re super important. I think that they’re a space for people to see themselves in labor and also come together [00:34:00] and um, Create some sort of cohesive plan to push forward whether that be running for leadership or taking proposals to the convention floor so that they can get past or resolutions so they can get past.

[00:34:12] And I’ve seen, um, you know, a degree of success with that when people can organize together to do either one of those things. Um, and so I just think that black caucuses, like I said, are just like really key to finding ways to break through. 

[00:34:27] Jamala Rogers: I was just going to say, I definitely agree with that. Uh, to a [00:34:30] point because I remember, uh, when we were organizing, uh, auto workers here in St.

[00:34:35] Louis and, uh, uh, UAW meant, uh, you ain’t white. And so we did organize a caucus, a black caucus, because they’re an auto workers. And, um, you know, it, it, it was effective, but sometimes I’ve seen those. Caucuses get, uh, marginalized, depending on who the, the leadership is. And because what I’m thinking of, as you were talking, Bianca, [00:35:00] have I ever seen a time when those caucuses made some actual breakthrough?

[00:35:05] either, uh, you know, impacting, uh, the platform or issues that the union was going to deal with, or whether or not they ended up becoming part of the general, uh, labor, uh, union leadership. And I really couldn’t think of anything that might, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, that just means my memory’s a little bit rusty right about now.

[00:35:28] But obviously, [00:35:30] the caucuses are forced. to self organize because those issues are not being met by the broader, uh, labor union. And so that in and of itself is problematic. But, you know, I think they, they definitely have a role. Um, and sometimes, um, again, they, they seem to have. almost like a second class relationship to the big union, like, okay, there, that’s them and this is us kind of thing.

[00:35:58] Uh, and, and, [00:36:00] you know, maybe Bill can speak to that as being somebody who has a longer history with the actual unions themselves. But, you know, if, if, if they were successful, uh, to the degree that I think they should be, I would have. Thought that there would be more, uh, transformative change, uh, in unions overall.

[00:36:22] Bill Fletcher Jr.: Well, see, you’re gonna have to invite me back and ask me that 

[00:36:25] Jamala Rogers: question. Yeah. 

[00:36:27] Bill Fletcher Jr.: So this was a trick. [00:36:30] So I want to, uh, thank you all. I’m usually in the position of thanking guests, right? And so here I am thanking you for inviting me. 

[00:36:42] Jamala Rogers: It’s okay. It’s okay. But, uh, 

[00:36:45] Bill Fletcher Jr.: I appreciate this opportunity. I love both of you.

[00:36:49] And, you know, I, it was interesting when, when Steve decided to, uh, step down or retire, whatever you want to call it, [00:37:00] from, uh, from the podcast, I had these very mixed feelings about him doing that. But I’m really happy that the two of you are successors and I know you’re going to be introducing a very different flavor to this, uh, podcast.

[00:37:18] So despite the fact that I don’t listen to podcasts much, I will be listening to the two of you. So I want to thank you. Honored. 

[00:37:28] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah. That means a lot, 

[00:37:29] Jamala Rogers: Bill. [00:37:30] Yeah. And thank you for even coming on to be a part of this inaugural launch, you know, because I think that’s going to pique people’s interest about what’s going to be coming down the pipe.

[00:37:47] I have to know you a lot better by some of those questions. 

[00:37:51] Bianca Cunningham: Well, um, yeah, and Bill is one of the smartest people I know, so I should have expected for them to be like heavy, heavy [00:38:00] hitter, kind of intellectual questions. I learned something every single time that I speak with him. I mean, He’s just, like, can’t even say enough about how valuable, um, he’s been.

[00:38:11] And so I’m really happy that he made the time to come, um, and talk to us. And just thinking about the conversation about, like, class struggle in the Black community. I mean, I feel like I’ve had the ups and downs of, like, those emotions of feeling like, are we getting somewhere? Or, you know, seeing an organization exist.

[00:38:29] and getting really [00:38:30] excited only to find out that it’s like almost stripped completely of any political agenda or, you know, identity. And so I totally get that. And, you know, I just always think about this stuff as like survival, like, you know, like I, like I remember, I mean, just recently, even in Tennessee, like around the, um, expulsion of the, the two.

[00:38:50] you know, legislatures around the gun control issue. It’s like, you know, one of the things in the back rooms were like, where are all the black organizers? Like what, like that was like, [00:39:00] it was, you know, like gun control is an issue, like in our community as well, you know, gun violence, et cetera. But it’s just like, you know, what, what we kept hearing is like, we don’t have the same luxury to put it out on the line and do the same things that you all do.

[00:39:14] And so I always think that it’s like this invisible barrier for black folks where they feel like they have more at risk if they put themselves out there. And I think like, you know, one of the things, you know, that the tasks that we have as organizers is how do we break through and kind of like prove that [00:39:30] barrier to be like a myth?

[00:39:31] I mean, it is true, you know, black organizers do experience like harsher punishment, you know, it, it, they do have more to risk, but it’s also like, You know, this goes to, like, my original Black work talk, what’s Black freedom? And I said, you know, my grandfather said, we’re never going to get freedom unless, you know, niggas ain’t scared to die.

[00:39:48] But, you know, also understanding that wanting to live is human, like wanting to survive, that’s like human, you know, emotion. And so there’s nothing wrong with that too. So I just feel like I’m always like between those [00:40:00] two things and trying to figure out how we break through. 

[00:40:03] Jamala Rogers: But one of the things I thought was, uh, refreshing about this conversation, and I think it’s one that I definitely miss in movement circles, is really talking more about the strategic and ideological Aspects of organizing and organizing black people, black workers, because too often we are so engaged in the campaign itself or whatever [00:40:30] organizing around the issue that you don’t get to have those deeper conversations.

[00:40:35] And sometimes it’s because people don’t have enough accumulated experience to have those kind of deeper conversations. But in the places where we are, I just don’t think we’re doing enough of it. Um, You know, how, how are we going to organize in, in this particular period in a, in a post Trump period and, or a post COVID period?

[00:40:58] Like, I don’t, I don’t [00:41:00] hear those kinds of conversations because it is a different time. It is a different organizing space. Uh, but people are, you know, pursuing and, and, and, and marching forward as if, you know, it’s the same as it was 10 years ago or, or, or 15 years ago. And, and I’m hearing more and more young people saying, what should we be doing differently now?

[00:41:18] And that’s the conversation that they’re asking, uh, veteran organizers. And I don’t think we have the answer, nor do we have. even how to frame the discussion. So I [00:41:30] think that’s the thing that I really hope we get a chance to do is to move to a higher level of discussion around some of these issues that actually require a higher level of thinking and organizing.

[00:41:43] Bianca Cunningham: That’s right. Cause like the blueprint, I mean, I could already tell like my comrades, the blueprint of like marching, like they’re already like, we’re not marching anymore. Like marching just for the sake of marching. We’re not doing that anymore. Right. It doesn’t work. And also like, you could see like the efforts.

[00:41:56] I mean, I think like the news yesterday about the RICO charges for the stop cops [00:42:00] city, um, in Atlanta is just like, uh, you know, another example of how they’re trying to make it impossible for people to even show any kind of dissent, um, in the streets. Um, in any kind of impactful way. And so it’s like, yeah, what do we need to be, what do we need to hold on to and what do we need to be changing, right?

[00:42:17] To meet this current climate of like fascism. 

[00:42:21] Jamala Rogers: Absolutely. Yeah. A lot to think about. So that means we got a lot to talk about in the upcoming shows. [00:42:30] Cause I’m hoping some of these other people have been thinking about these issues in their quiet moments, you know, and, and, and, and we are giving them an opportunity to talk with some other people who’ve been thinking about these issues in their quiet moments.

[00:42:48] Bianca Cunningham: Our thanks again to Bill Fletcher Jr. for joining us today. Black Work Talk is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. If you haven’t already subscribed, be sure to do so to catch future episodes when they drop. [00:43:00] You can support this show by becoming a monthly patron for as low as 5 per month at patreon.

[00:43:05] com slash Black Work Talk. Executive producer for Black Work Talk is Xiomara Corpeno, and Josh Elstro is our producer. I’m 

[00:43:14] Jamala Rogers: Bianca Cunningham. And I’m Jamala Rogers. Thanks for listening.

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