CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bryan Pfeifer is not happy with the Democratic Party.
The activist with Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement says it was a slap in the face to unions for the Democratic Party to hold its national convention in North Carolina, a right-to-work state that has never been friendly to organized labor.
"It's an absolute affront to unions in this country," Pfeifer says. The Southern anti-union stance is a legacy of Jim Crow laws, he says, adding: "Obviously they don't really care about the unions and they're being lead by the banks, the corporations. Otherwise they wouldn't be having their convention here."
Wisconsin state Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who is poised to replace Tammy Baldwin in the U.S. House, says the party picks the state of its convention for strategic reasons and it was anticipated that North Carolina would be a swing state. But the party hasn't abandoned labor, he says.
"More important is the fact we're working with labor across the country," he says. "Working families are at the very crux of where the Democratic Party is at. We can't win, Tammy Baldwin can't win, without the support of working people. The Democratic Party, at least in Wisconsin has had a really strong relationship with organized labor."
And if you believe the right-wing media, the Democratic Party is supposed to be in bed with labor unions. But the unions are clearly ticked off by the choice of the host state.
On Labor Day -- the day before the convention officially kicked off -- union leaders from around the country held the Southern Workers Assembly at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Charlotte. Union members from around the South attended, along with some from the Midwest and California, including Pfeifer. (View photos of the gathering.)
The assembly wasn't just to gripe about the Democrats, but to help build momentum for worker issues.
Saladin Muhammad, coordinator of Southern International Worker Justice Campaign, says workers need to take control of their own destiny.
"We don't see political parties as the leaders of the working class. They have to be accountable to the working class. So working people have to be organized to force that accountability," he said. He compared it to the Civil Rights Movement -- before the Civil Rights Act in the '60s, there hadn't been any Southern black members of Congress since the late 19th century.
Pfeifer says that the Wisconsin protests offered a perfect example of workers taking control -- until they let the Democratic Party co-opt the movement.
Muhammad says that unions need to be more engaged and take even more direct actions to be successful.
But Pfeifer also lays some blame at the feet of the labor unions, saying they need to pursue interests beyond their own narrow agenda. They need to take up the struggle of undocumented workers, minorities and others.
"One of the big Achilles' heel of the labor movement in this country is... fighting racism," Pfeifer says. "When there's Dr. King Day, when there's police brutality and the police are murdering people, black people and Latino people in Milwaukee, where does the labor movement stand then?"