(Washington, DC) – Six months into the Trump administration Black labor organizers are facing new and old challenges. The Institute for Policy Studies held its third State of Black Workers in America Conference at historic Howard University, led by our Black Worker Initiative project, to discuss big-picture national trends impacting black workers, as well as the innovative Black-led labor organizing happening in the U.S. Panelists engaged with the audience to talk about topics from the women of color-led fight for a domestic worker bill of rights, to alternative power for Black workers, to partnerships for workforce training with German corporations in the Deep South.
Three dynamic panels included:
We Dream in Black: Telling the Story of Black Women Low-Wage Domestic Organizing in the South, moderated by Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. This all women-of-color panel introduced the partnership between We Dream in Black and the Black Worker Initiative. It focused on telling the compelling stories of Black female domestic workers in North Carolina and Georgia who are fighting for better wages, access to benefits, and a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights at the state level. This project hopes to move both hearts and policy in the coming years.
“While Black women are working hard, democracy isn’t working for us. Black families depend on Black women, yet Black women face the highest poverty rates in the nation, second only to indigenous women,” Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter said. “We do our part to make this country better—we vote at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. It’s time for an agenda that puts Black women at the center. When Black women succeed, all women succeed.”
What the Hell Do We Have to Lose? Black Workers Reflect on the First Six Months of the Trump Administration, moderated by MSNBC’s Joy Ann-Reid. This panel featured Carmen Berkley of Planned Parenthood (formerly the Civil Rights Director for the AFL-CIO), Tanya Wallace-Gobern of the National Black Worker Center Project, and the Black Worker Initiative’s own Marc Bayard. The panel discussed big-picture national trends impacting black workers, especially in the Deep South. These former and current labor leaders and activists discussed the effects of this administration on civil rights, the shift in focus back to white male workers, alternative power for Black workers, and the power of narrative change.
“This Trump moment has shown the world that the needs of U.S. workers have not been met and many of them are suffering. But if we continue to leave Black workers out of the conversation, we will never see a revitalization of a labor movement that serves the people,” Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies said.
Building Bridges Between German Corporations, the Civil Rights Movement, and Labor. The Black Worker Initiative is seeking to build stronger and more positive relationships between German firms working in the U.S. and civil rights, academic, labor, and racial justice organizations. Our focus states are Mississippi and Alabama. This panel showed the success of our early efforts. This panel including powerful opening remarks from DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez set up an important frame as to the value of the German apprenticeship model for education, jobs, and dignity at work. Perez stated, “In Germany, everyone has the same stature. We devalue apprenticeship here. [We] need to change that perception.” Representatives from the Mississippi NAACP, Foundation for the Mid South and Adah International discussed vigorously the role of German corporations in the Deep South and their relationship to the Black communities that live and work there. Conversations about future partnerships and access to workforce skills and training in German companies for Black high school and college students were key to the discussion.
This day-long event attended by one hundred fifty labor, civil rights, women’s rights and community activists, as well as a number of academics and representatives from foundations.