By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-
Labor and community activists working in Southern states plan to make North Carolina ground zero in their fight against the American Legislative Exchange Council’s State Policy Network, a web of think tanks in all 50 states the activists contend are hijacking state politics by enacting draconian policies behind closed doors.
Fresh from its 2013 State and Nation Summit in Washington, D.C, where ALEC outlined proposed legislative bills for 2014, the conservative group reportedly received $83 million from corporations like Reynolds American, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, Facebook, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods, Comcast and Time Warner, according to the Wisconsin-based Center for Media Democracy, an investigative research and reporting group.
The 2014 agenda aims to lower wages for workers in the private and public sectors, undermine collective bargaining, launch initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards and eroding workplace protections, rollback Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases and clean energy, enact voter suppression laws, undermine the Affordable Care Act, and cut use of federal funds for Medicaid and public schools has been in the works for awhile, according to Rebekah Wilce, a research reporter for the Wisconsin center’s PR Watch.
“We need a lot more transparency to stop the state legislatures and we need to get the corporate money out of politics,” Ms. Wilce told The Final Call.
Saladin Muhammad, national chairman of Black Workers for Justice and a member of the Southern Workers Assembly, has spent hours explaining why it is important to build a “powerful” Southern movement against this conservative legislative agenda, particularly in North Carolina.
North Carolina is the least unionized state and is the home to what is known as “Wall Street South” with business giants Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other influential financial institutions headquartered there, said Mr. Muhammad.
“This Republican-dominated state legislature wants to rekindle the South’s legacy of Jim Crow laws and they don’t feel that they should discuss legislative matters in a transparent atmosphere–meeting after midnight behind closed doors has become commonplace here,” Mr. Muhammad notes.
“North Carolina and Michigan are harbingers of a very dangerous future, particularly for Black folk,” warned Bill Fletcher, Jr., a Washington, D.C.-based labor and human rights activist. With this conservative legislative attack we are seeing clearly the reenactment of the historically counter-revolutionary Jim Crow bills and mentality, Mr. Fletcher agreed.
Mr. Muhammad decided to go head to head against what Mr. Fletcher refers to as “the ruling elite” by entering the North Carolina capital building in Raleigh, and challenging state legislators face-to-face, which earned him a conviction from the N.C. District Court for trespassing, disorderly conduct and violating rules of the N.C. General Assembly; and a $100 fine. He is appealing the ruling.
“The ruling elite is concerned with the reaction on the ground–knowing that people are incensed by the polarization of America’s concentrated wealth–they don’t know how people are going to respond,” said Mr. Fletcher. So the Constitution is being thrown out the window, he added.
“We have to become more proactive in fighting these template laws around the nation,” said Shoshannah Sayers of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She shared that in the early months of 2014, there will be statewide community organizing in an “effort to educate people” concerning ALECS’s intentions.
“It is clear that in North Carolina they are attacking Blacks, the poor and the disabled,” she said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s Black unemployment rate of 17.5 percent is the fourth highest in the nation. Blacks constitute 22.1 percent out of the population of 8.04 million people with 9 percent of Black families living below the poverty level.