SEPTEMBER 30, 2022
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Retired UE International Representative Saladin Muhammad passed away on September 19, after a long battle with illness. Muhammad played a key role in the founding and building of UE Local 150, UE’s statewide local in North Carolina which recently celebrated 25 years of struggle.
Black Workers for Justice, an organization that Muhammad helped found and which laid the groundwork that helped lead to Local 150’s founding, issued a statement declaring that Muhammad was “a staunch fighter for the Black Working Class. He worked tirelessly and with phenomenal energy to organize, guide, and lead our people’s fights and battles against oppression.”
Born in Philadelphia, Muhammad got a job at the Philco factory — a former UE shop lost to raids in the late 40’s — following a stint in the military. He became a shop steward and active in the Black Power movement. According to former Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse, who first met him in 1972, Muhammad was a “key leader” of the African Liberation Support Committee, an organization that worked to build international solidarity between Black communities in the U.S. and liberation struggles in Africa.
“Saladin had a long history of building coalitions, of building organizations,” Laughinghouse told the UE NEWS.
Both Muhammad and Laughinghouse moved to North Carolina following the 1979 “Greensboro Massacre,” when members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party shot and killed five organizers of an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, NC. Muhammad began organizing workplaces throughout the eastern part of the state, most notably supporting three Black women who were fired for challenging racial discrimination at Kmart.
As Muhammad described the Kmart workers’s struggle in a 2001 article, “Their approach was that Black women workers must take the initiative, present their own demands, and call on other community forces to join them in a united struggle.”
That perspective helped inform the founding of Black Workers for Justice at First Missionary Baptist Church in Fremont, NC on December 2, 1982, by Muhammad, Laughinghouse, and 113 other Black workers.
Following discussions between Black Workers for Justice and UE about the importance of organizing the South, Muhammad was hired by UE as a Field Organizer in the late 1980s. Retired UE General President Bruce Klipple, who worked with Muhammad as the International Representative for what then constituted UE’s District One (Eastern Pennsylvania south to North Carolina), recalled that Muhammad “literally worked in every district and region of the union.” While assigned to Baltimore, Muhammad worked on campaigns from Milwaukee to Alabama, from West Virginia to California. But, Klipple said, “It was always his dream to get back to North Carolina and build a union in North Carolina.”
In the mid-90s the North Carolina Public Service Workers Network, a 500-worker strong network of public-sector workers built by Laughinghouse and other BWFJ activists, affiliated with UE. Muhammad returned to North Carolina as a UE International Representative, to assist the members of new UE Local 150 in building their union as they challenged North Carolina’s Jim Crow-era ban on collective bargaining in the public sector.
One of the workers that Muhammad recruited into Local 150 was Larsene Taylor, who would go on to become president of the local and serve on the National Union’s General Executive Board. “He was my mentor,” said Taylor. “I just learned so much from him.”
Starting in 2003, Muhammad was one of the architects of the International Worker Justice Campaign, which put North Carolina’s denial of collective bargaining rights on trial for violating international human rights standards. As Muhammad recalled in Robin Alexander’s book International Solidarity in Action, “The International Worker Justice Campaign that we developed together with the National Union … allowed us to clearly make the point that the situation faced by workers in North Carolina was not acceptable or normal, but clearly violated international law. This was tremendously empowering.”
Following his retirement from UE, Muhammad played a key role in the development of the Southern Workers Assembly, a network of local unions, organizing committees, worker organizations and organizing committees throughout the South.
Former UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley, who began working with Muhammad more than 30 years ago when UE was first developing a relationship with BWFJ, said “He was an orator whose deep voice and earnest manner could inspire individuals and move crowds into action. But he was also a deep thinker and strategist always in pursuit of the best plan to advance the working class, particularly in the South.”
“Like many other organizers of my generation, I learned a great deal from Saladin,” said current UE Director of Organization Mark Meinster. “He was a tireless fighter for Black liberation and for the entire working class, who was always ready to offer insight and guidance to others in the movement. His unwavering commitment to organizing the South helped to move UE to return to the region, and his efforts resulted in the formation of organizations that will live on for years to come, such as UE Local 150, Black Workers for Justice, and the Southern Workers Assembly. His legacy will live on, and the clarity of his writing, words, and actions will continue to inspire us.”
“We have to carry on,” added Taylor. “We cannot let it die, that’s what he would want.”
A memorial service for Brother Muhammad will be held on November 12, both in-person (Rocky Mount, NC) and online. Details will be posted on UE social media as they are finalized. —
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