By Kosta Harlan
Pittsboro, NC - Over 80 people rallied in support of workers on strike against Moncure Plywood here, Dec. 20. More than 100 workers with the International Association of Machinists Local 369, some of who have worked at Moncure Plywood for more than 30 years, have been on strike for five months with no resolution to the dispute in sight. The strike took place in response to failed contract negotiations last summer. According to the AFL-CIO, the company’s final offer on the contract would “mandate 60-hour work weeks, weaken the seniority clause in a way that could lend itself to favoritism, discrimination and racism, increase health insurance premiums by over 300% and give fewer holidays off. Workers also raised concerns about unfair labor practices and safety violations.”
According to Melvin Montford, the business representative for the union, instead of bargaining in good faith, the company tried to intimidate workers into withdrawing from the union. “They are not interested in our folks coming back to work,” explained Montford. “They want to replace us with unskilled, non-union members.” Noting that the quality of the products from the plant has declined since the start of the strike, Montford said, “The skills that they need to turn the plant around are here on the picket line.”
Many representatives and members of progressive organizations, churches and unions were at the rally to show their solidarity and support, including the United Steelworkers, North Carolina Public Sector Workers Union (UE 150), Black Workers for Justice, United Food and Commercial Workers, the Southern Anti-Racist Network, Students for a Democratic Society and Fight Imperialism Stand Together. Some also made contributions to the strike fund and presented workers with gift cards and vouchers to help pay for living expenses.
“This is a human rights struggle”
Lewis Cameron, president of the International Association of Machinists Local 369, pointed out some of the intimidation they have faced from the management, including threats from the management to sue the union if they went on strike. Many of the workers on strike are African-American and have been replaced by mostly Latino workers who were laid off after a major plant closed in nearby Siler City. A few weeks ago, a noose was hung just inside the plant gates and clearly visible to those on the picket line. The striking workers were unable to remove the noose themselves because the company said they would sue them for trespassing if they crossed onto company property. The noose stayed up for three days until progressive activists from Chapel Hill stepped inside the gate to remove it.
There are many other stories of intimidation and harassment that these workers have faced. Melvin Montford described how difficult it was to be the only African-American in the room at the bargaining table with the all-white management team, when he knew very well they tolerated the noose being hung on their company property. That is why, Montford explained, “For us, this is not just a strike, this is a human rights struggle.”
The president of UE 150 and longtime member of Black Workers for Justice, Angaza Laughinghouse, gave a rousing speech and urged activists and union members to step up their solidarity. “The winds of change are in the air,” he said, commenting on the recent dramatic victories for workers at Smithfield in North Carolina and the workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. “This is a union busting company trying to tear this union apart. We got to step up our game.”
To support the union, please visit: http://www.goiam.org/moncure/