Notes from a conversation with Louis Farrakhan
MWMM talks to Millions More Movement about the working class
By Clarence Thomas
During Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan’s keynote address on behalf of the Millions More Movement at the Teamsters National Black Caucus 30th annual banquet and educational conference in Chicago on Aug. 20, he publicly extended an invitation to the TNBC national chair, Chris Silvera, to have a meeting in order to include MWMM issues with the MMM platform. The NOI’s chief of protocol, Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad, made arrangements with the assistance of Harlem’s NOI Minister Kevin Muhammad, to set up the meeting in New York Aug. 27.
Silvera, an East Coast convener of the Oct. 17, 2004, Million Worker March, indicated to Kevin Muhammad that he wanted to have two other MWM East Coast conveners, Brenda Stokely, former president of District Council 1707, and Larry Holmes, co-director of the International Action Center, along with myself, at that meeting, which did occur on the evening of Aug. 27.
Farrakhan had traveled to New York to meet with various sectors of the community and movement regarding the upcoming Oct. 14-16 Millions More Movement events in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.
He greeted the four of us individually with an embrace and a handshake. Despite his hectic schedule, which included a flurry of interviews and other meetings, we were able to have a 45-minute meeting at his hotel.
Many trade union rank and filers have a misconception of who Minister Farrakhan is and his importance. While he is certainly an important historical figure in the struggle for Black liberation, we found him to be attentive, humble, full of great wisdom and gracious.
I presented the minister with MWM statements on “Rank and file unity and the AFL-CIO split” and “Racism and sexism: Major pillars of the crisis inside the U.S. trade union movement,” and with an outline of how the MWMM would be doing broad outreach to workers, organized and unorganized, anti-war activists and others for the MMM. I also gave him a copy of the “War at Home—Economic Class War in America” book by Jack Rasmus.
Prior to the Aug. 27 meeting, a MWMM T-shirt, pin and Oct. 17 rally DVD had been presented to Minister Ishmael Muhammad, a Farrakhan assistant, during the July 23 AFL-CIO pre-convention activity at Mosque Maryam in Chicago. Chris presented the minister with a TNBC embroidered leather shoulder bag, T-shirt and history of the TNBC DVD.
In response to a request made by Chris, a verbal agreement was made that the MWM will be one of the national co-conveners of the MMM representing labor, and that this agreement will be conveyed to Minister Willie Williams, the national executive director of MMM. Farrakhan told us that each of the local MMM organizing committees should have labor representation. These committees will be made aware of this recommendation along with the MMM executive body that meets regularly to discuss issues. Farrakhan told us that no one can speak for workers like workers themselves and therefore asked us to select a MWMM representative to speak on the issues of labor at the MMM Oct. 15 rally.
There was a mutual agreement on the plight of working people—organized and unorganized. Farrakhan mentioned that even though many of us in the trade union movement are facing this onslaught from not only the corporations but the government, still the plight of those who don’t have jobs cannot be lost in all of this.
This includes those who don’t have pensions, don’t have livable wages and medical benefits, those who want a job and can’t have one, and how those of us who do have jobs serve as buffers, superficial divisions, between the unemployed on the one hand and the corporations and the ruling class on the other.
Farrakhan made the point that there is a disconnection in many instances between those of us who are working and those who are not, as well as between those who have jobs that are unionized and jobs that are not unionized.
Brenda mentioned how the MWMM embraces those who don’t have jobs because we call for universal health care, a national livable wage, affordable housing and education and that a worker—unemployed or a displaced—is still a worker. Farrakhan reminded us of the forces that we were going up against and about the fear that the government has of retribution from the Black community based on the racism and white supremacy that we still face.
Farrakhan said that the only way that we are going to be able to realize livable wages and jobs for the unemployed is to make fundamental changes in the government, including the military-based economy.
He stated that the government has committed wrongdoing to the victims of “American foreign policy,” and that government fear created an attitude of locking up Black folks before there is some kind of action taken by the Black community to the oppression that we’ve been under.
I underscored the fact that Farrakhan is the continuer of the legacy of the Honor able Elijah Muhammad and the ongoing struggle for economic and social justice. With all due respect to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Farrakhan has the moral authority to be able to make Black trade unionists respond and mobilize around the issues raised at the MWMM. Farrakhan’s speech on Aug. 20 with regard to issues of the Black working class was in fact helping to carry forth the work of Dr. Martin Luther King with respect to the Black community, the working class or labor, the inter-faith community around issues of the right to a job, decent education and health care.
When we mentioned to him the issues of bringing the troops home, repealing anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, upholding workers’ critical weapons like having the right to strike without replacement workers, ending all discrimination in the work place—be it based on race or gender—Farrakhan told us that he was not interested in just being able to rattle off statistics, but he wants to develop a perspective of what the working class is facing in order to feel their pain. He wants us to provide him with an additional perspective on issues put forward by the MWMM.
Farrakhan impressively recited the preamble of the Declaration of Inde pen dence verbatim in order to re-emphasize the point that when the government is not serving the needs of the people, the people have the right to change the government.
To quote from the Million Worker March Movement’s Letter for a Millions More Move ment Resolution: “Oct. 16th 2005 marks the 10th Anniversary of the historic Million Man March (MMM). This event was not only the largest gathering of African American people; it was also the site of the greatest mobilization of workers in a single demonstration in American History. However, there was no specific labor organization that participated in the MMM responsible for organizing a conscious Black worker presence with clear national working class demands.
“The Million Worker March Movement is issuing the call to Black workers (organized and unorganized) and the entire labor movement to endorse and mobilize for the 10th anniversary of the MMM, called the Millions More Movement on Oct 14th-16th in Washington, D.C.
“The present attacks on all workers have made the stakes for Black workers in particular and the working class in general much higher than they were when nearly 2 million workers elected to attend the MMM and did not go to work on Monday, Oct. 16, 1995.
“The MWMM clearly recognizes that the labor movement cannot be absent from this next mobilization. We will be mobilizing workers to participate on Oct. 14th-16th around the demands put forward by the Million Worker March on Oct. 17, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.”
Our Aug. 27 meeting was a reconfirmation of what Minister Louis Farrakhan stated at the kick-off MMM news conference this past May in Washington, D.C.: “Millions More means that we are reaching for the millions who carry the rich on their backs.”
Thomas is a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 executive board in San Francisco, a past secretary-treasurer of ILWU Local 10, a current member of the executive committee of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, and a member of the Northern Calif ornia chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Silvera is also secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 808 in Long Island City, New York. Stokely and Holmes are members of the Troops Out Now Coalition.