July 15, 2012

Black New Jersey:
381 Days of Struggle, another milestone for the People's Coalition for Jobs & Justice…

Over the course of the past year, this blog has reported repeatedly on the daily picket lines in Newark initiated by the People's Organization for Progress. On April 11, in "Success on Many Fronts: POP's People's Campaign for Jobs & Justice shows how to carry out multiple struggles," we considered and applauded the organizational maturity POP had developed over the course of the campaign. That blog entry celebrated the ability carry out multiple campaigns simultaneously, and referenced "Playing the Piano: People's Organization for Progress ups the ante of Struggle in NJ," an early report in this ongoing campaign of over a year. Last week, FotM's original blogger, Jimmy Higgins, posted "The Most Important Demonstration in NYC This Summer," sharing why he deemed it essential to participate.
The Black is Back Coalition and New Caucus of Newark Education Workers marched Wednesday as coalition member organizations
On July 11 this past week, POP and the coalition we built of 179 supporting organizations achieving the milestone 381st day of continuous daily action. It is time to move on to the next phase of the struggle. Internally, the People's Organization for Progress debated continuing the campaign at least through election day in November. While the continuing world economic crisis, linked with the apparent collapse of the Occupy! movement in this country, make continuing the campaign extremely important, the amount of work required would make it impossible to maintain the schedule of daily demonstrations.

The women leaders and organizers of People's Organization for Progress (particularly POP Corresponding Secretary sister Ingrid Hill, who oversaw every aspect of the campaign since its inception) had genuinely overextended themselves during the past year and more. Their heroic efforts were essential to everything we've done. The decisive factor in this evaluation is that the campaign never achieved "critical mass." Many, many community, labor and religious-based organizations signed on, but relatively few brought out their membership. With 179 supporting coalition member organizations, we should have easily had 2,000 marchers on Wednesday. 

For example, the contribution of teachers and other education-based groups has been impressive over the year, but even though they participated Wednesday, it was a foregone conclusion that teachers weren't building this among their students and concerned parents in July. Continuing the struggle will need to take new forms as POP and activist members of the coalition searches for other ways to build the fight-back such as door-to-door organizing in the community; church, mosque, and synagogue visits, etc., etc. This shift is currently under debate at weekly POP meetings. Join us on Thursday evenings, 6:30 PM at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 224 West Kinney St. in Newark to help formulate the future of this campaign…
Newark Teachers Association president, Annette Alston, addresses the rally prior to Wednesday's march as Larry Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, looks on.

Readers may wonder why I project a mixed assessment of the genuine victory that our rally last Wednesday represents. As Amilcar Cabral once noted, "tell no lies, claim no easy victories…" (see Cabral's Revolution in Guinea for the full text of this essay). A serious approach to fighting for genuine change demands we take Cabral's lesson to heart. However, it is interesting to note that Newark's newspaper of record, The Star Ledger, which is often fairly critical of community activists in general (and POP in particular) published a very positive assessment of our July 11th demonstration in their Sunday, July 15th Essex County edition (see Group ends 381 consecutive days of protest in Newark).

To see a page of my friend Jon's photos from this exciting event, click HERE.


bella said...

This is a very accurate and balanced assessment--which is what we need in order to move forward and learn lessons.

Labor for Life said...


I think you're in too big a hurry to criticize the coalition ]//member organizations, or ALL the
coalition members in an attempt to be even-handed. Our unions were pretty well represented on July 11. It was the religious organization members of the coalition that didn't show up (other than, perhaps, the Nation of Islam).

-Labor for Life

Rahim on the Docks said...

I want to thank "Labor for Life" for raising this issue. Yes, it's true that I probably should have reported in greater depth about union participation in the 381st day of the People's Daily Demonstration for Jobs & Justice, but I also could have included more details on the active role of Muslim & Christian organizations. I chose to frame my analysis with the role of teachers and other education activists because they weren't able to build the demonstration among concerned parents and their students to a larger extent because it occurred in July, while schools are closed for the summer.

Union organizations are different; labor unions may put membership meeting in hiatus for July and August, but the workforces labor has organized are there 365 days a year. After more than forty years as a union worker, an autoworker on the assembly line, as a warehouseman and truck driver, as an UAW staffer, a county and state AFL-CIO staff rep, and as a dockworker I know that the unions can pull out numbers like no other organizations.

The labor speakers on July 11 were impressive. Tommy Giblin Business Manager of Local 68 IUOE (AFL-CIO and President of the Essex West-Hudson Labor Council, truly recognized the value of the coalition. Noel Christmas of Utility Workers Local 601 share some deep insight about the relationship between our shared economic struggle and the battle against racism in the U.S. today. IBEW Local 827 workers at Verizon likewise played an advanced role at the march and rally July 11.

But continuing the ongoing fight and expanding this important coalition will take more than a few speeches. It will take a deep and ongoing commitment to struggle.

Jimmy Higgins said...

As an occasional visitor to the Daily Picket in Newark from the small town on the other end of the PATH, I want to try and deepen this a little.

Labor for Life correctly points out that a number of unions were represented at the concluding day, and Rahim names checks a few of those present (and there were more).

The fact is, though, that the union presence was mainly leaders and staffers, one or a few from each local. The rank and file sure weren't there in any numbers. I think that in the main, this reflects a broader problem--our unions don't know how to mobilize the membership any more, period. (The failure of the Con Ed workers to deal, erm, firmly with scabbing management in their lockout is a painful current example.)

Exceptions to this included the CWA/IBEW workers from Verizon who turned out a dozen folks or more at one daily picket I attended, and the teachers. Rahim has already pointed out that summer vacation meant they couldn't bring students to Day 381. Perhaps because attacks on teachers are so relentless in NJ these days, they also turned out in numbers at the pickets at various points during the, including rank and file teachers affiliated with various caucuses within the NEA.

So, I would argue, any summation of the 381 day protest has to include an evaluation of whether too much was expected of labor based on the formal endorsement many unions gave.

I hope somebody can also weigh in concerning the point Labor for Life raised about where were the churches, a subject on which I am woefully ignorant...

Joy said...

I went to the march from NYC. I have been to many POP marches before as I was active in NJ for many years. I saw many people I knew there. The labor movement was well represented. That seems to be an important milestone since POP has always been based in the community, so that really represents a coming together of forces. The march itself was smaller than I expected, given all the sponsors of the march. It would be interesting to figure out why. Did so many people come out during the 381 days that they already felt they had taken their stand; was the heat a factor? Its hard to know. Its notable that the march got good coverage in the Star Ledger. We all know that progressive marches, unless really large can be ignored by the press. That despite its size the march was covered positively, I think, reflects POPs credibility and longevity in Newark and Northern Jersey. Joy