National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chairman Julian Bond followed in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. Friday and joined forces with the labor unions to kick off an all-weekend labor teach-in at GW.
The event, Democracy and the Right to Organize, has reached 30 campuses since 1996. The weekend served as the founding meeting of Scholars, Artists, Writers for Social Justice and included films and workshops.
Bond served as the master of ceremonies for Friday night’s event, and stressed King’s dedication to the labor cause. He said King’s assassination took place following a garbage workers strike in Memphis.
Betty Dumas moved the crowd with her personal account of abuse without organization.
Dumas, a native of Trinidad, recently was fired from her job as a welder at the Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans because she tried to organize the union.
“I don’t want to be rude,” Dumas said, “But I was a better welder than a lot of the men out there.”
Dumas said she constantly was threatened and mistreated by her superiors and felt unable to fight back until the labor union came.
“I didn’t know what racism was before I got to Louisiana,” Dumas said. “They would tell me `nigger, you better not bother the white guys’ and I could not say a word.”
Fighting off tears, Dumas said the arrival of union members to the shipyard gave her a voice.
“I began to get stronger,” she said. “And I would fight the boss on everything he did.”
Because of her new affiliation, however, Dumas was treated worse than before. She told the audience how her overseers urinated on her chair at work.
Knowing that Dumas was deathly afraid of snakes, one was placed in her toolbox in an attempt to scare her away, she said.
Dumas was arrested for arguing with her boss.
“The hardest part was having to explain to my kids why I tell them not to get in trouble with the law, and then they ask me why I went to jail,” she said.
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations President John Sweeney said many of the nation’s universities are discouraging their employees from organizing. He expressed sarcastic pleasure at GW’s ability to keep from selling out.
“I’m delighted they haven’t changed their name from George Washington University to Ronald Reagan University,” he said.
Bond stressed unity among the workers of America. He repeated the theme of the weekend, Democracy and the Right to Organize.
“You can’t have one without the other,” he said.