COMMUNITY LABOR UNITED: An Effort to Build Unity in a Grass Roots New Orleans Community: Background and Development of Community

Date Published: 
December 30, 2006

COMMUNITY LABOR UNITED: An Effort to Build Unity in a Grass Roots New Orleans Community: Background and Development of Community Labor United

[Editor: Community Labor United is the predecessor coalition to the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund.]

At 9:00 a.m. on the third Saturday in September in 1998, the multi-generational group of about 165 people hustling toward the Student Center definitely weren't students. They represented many of the progressive community organizations in New Orleans gathered, in the dining hall on the campus of Dillard University for the inaugural meeting an organization that would come to be called Community Labor United, (CLU). We didn't attract much attention because multi-generational, multi-racial groups of community people aren't unusual on the stately Reconstruction-era black campus.

After a non-sectarian "Spiritual Reflection," by one of the ministers from SCLC, famed New Orleans saxophonist, Donald Harrison Jr. opened the meeting with a moving solo rendition of Amazing Grace. Since that day, each time we convene we begin with spiritual reflections and a cultural presentation.

There were Welfare Mothers; a wide spectrum of unions active in New Orleans; Civil Rights, criminal justice and school reform organizations; women's rights, environmental justice and peace organizations; religious, arts and cultural organizations; academics, social and economic development researchers and activists of every type. It was the broadest assembly of progressive, grass roots organizations and activists in New Orleans in recent memory. It was frankly understood as an initiative of black, grass roots community organizations with support from their multi ethnic allies.

The question that brought us together was: Can we work together to achieve common goals; do we need unity in our community? On both counts the answer was a resounding yes. Relying on the principle of grass roots, bottom up organizing and coalition building that the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, (COFO), was based on, CLU was born. This is a crucially important factor in the city which has been dominated by the presence of African people since it was founded in 1720. Until "Katrina," New Orleans was officially 67.5% black. But governance and policy have always been dominated by an arcane, largely corrupt, white, quasi-aristocracy, including the last 30 years during which black elected officials have held prominent posts.

CLU devoted its first three months to developing the following Principles of Unity:

  • We are community leaders, labor leaders, and cultural workers committed to ending the exploitation of oppressed peoples everywhere.
  • We believe that all people have the right and responsibility to determine their destiny. Our organizations and unions are committed to building a society where the realities of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation are not barriers to human progress.
  • We are committed to building a society where the bottom line interests of corporations and the rich are not balanced on the backs of workers and the poor.
  • We are committed to building local, regional, national, and world economies that are democratic, just, ecological, and do not exploit labor, culture, and natural resources.
  • We are committed to building an organization of organizations and individuals, focused on educating, organizing, and mobilizing the masses within our organizations and communities from the bottom up.
  • We believe in the prospect of multiracial and trans-generational efforts to develop our communities.

"Start where you are with what you've got. Dig deep. Be radical." Paraphrased from the often quoted advice of Ms. Ella Baker

Community Labor United (CLU), New Orleans
Partial List of Participating Organizations

  • Agenda For Children works to make Louisiana a state in which all children can thrive, by ensuring that the basic needs of children and families are met.
  • Ashe Cultural Center presents and produces art, cultural works and artists that celebrate and spotlight people of color, their community traditions and issues. They do extensive community-organizing work for presentations and productions from its cultural-center base. Actively involved in organizing coalitions among arts, education, community and business organizations in the New Orleans area.
  • Christian Unity Baptist Church
  • Committee for the Support of the Angola 3 is fighting to free 2 political prisoners in Angola prison, convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972 in retaliation for their organizing on behalf of all inmates and for founding the only officially recognized chapter of the Black Panther Party in a prison.
  • Crescent City Peace Alliance is committed to finding and creating safety in New Orleans neighborhoods.
  • Critical Resistanceworks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.
  • Dillard University(Faculty and Staff from various Departments)
  • Deep South Center for Environmental Justice organizes for the right of all People of Color to exist in a safe environment.
  • Frederick A. Douglass Community Coalition
  • Friends and Family of Louisiana's Incarcerated Childrenis an emerging advocacy organization of parents and concerned citizens that are working together to build a strong sustainable community voice for the reform of Louisiana's juvenile justice system
  • Green Party New Orleans The greater New Orleans Green Party, a progressive, independent political party, committed to social justice, democracy, ecology and non-violence.
  • Guardians of the Flame (A Mardi Gras Indian Club)
  • INCITE! New Orleans Chapter is part of a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and their communities through direct action, critical dialogue and grassroots organizing.
  • Junebug Productions (A theater company)
  • Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana is working to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities in order to instill hope and to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive.
  • Information Works (A Research and Data organization)
  • Louisiana Research Institute for Community Empowerment (LaRICE) conducts credible research that stimulates community action on issues of social, economic, and environmental justice, all in keeping with the principles of unity of its "mother organization," Community Labor United (CLU) principles of unity.
  • NAACP New Orleans Chapter works to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.
  • The Nation of Islam
  • New Orleans Palestine Solidarity(NDUeS)
  • New Orleans Welfare Rights Organization is one of the oldest welfare-rights advocacy organizations in the area. Among the services provided are job training and low-income housing.
  • Pax Christi is part of the national Catholic peace movement.
  • Parents For Educational Justice
  • People's Institute for Survival and Beyond is dedicated to training and organizing to undo racism and build stronger community organizers.
  • Plessy Park Project
  • Rebuilding Louisiana Coalition seeks to rebuild an environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and culturally respectful community in South Louisiana, particularly the City of New Orleans, by learning from our mistakes; rebuilding in a way that coexists with, rather than conquers or ignores nature; supporting a process that is civilized and humane for all people, not just the privileged, and most of all, valuing Louisiana and its areas as communities not as a commodities for exploitation or entertainment.
  • Students at the Center
  • Teens With Attitude is a student activist group at the Fredrick Douglass High School in New Orleans that fights for educational justice and canvassed their community to develop true community ownership of their school.
  • Tulane University Faculty and Staff of Deep South Humanities Program
  • UNITE Local 652
  • United Teachers ofNew Orleans (AFT)
  • Urban Heart (An after School Program for Frederick Douglass feeder schools)
  • Xavier University (Faculty and Staff from Social Sciences Departments)

(Reprinted with permission from the former CLU website: wwwDOTcommunitylaborunitedDOTnet, now See also and