Reporter: Jelks, Lo, 1939-.
In this WSB newsfilm clip from March 24, 1969, sanitation workers in Macon, Georgia strike for recognition of their chosen union, and African American leaders comment on the situation.
The clip begins showing the Macon City Hall. Cars drive along the street in front of the building. An African American man carries a picket sign with the slogan "I am a man" as he walks down the street. The camera focuses on a patch on the man's shirt which reads "Macon Public Works Dept." Next it focuses on a street sign indicating "City of Macon Public Works Dept. and Stockade." Near the public works building, two African American men with picket signs walk down the sidewalk then turn and walk the other way. The men's picket signs read "No money, no work." Inside the public works department yard, two Macon garbage trucks are parked nose to nose. After this, an African American man, possibly Atlanta union organizer James Howard, explains to reporter Lo Jelks that there are over one hundred people from the Macon Public Works Department on strike. Howard hopes that the city will recognize a local branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union as desired by those on strike. However, he declares that he will follow the leaders of the African American community in Macon in order to achieve recognition. Later, another African American man expresses the African American community's support for the striking sanitation workers. He recognizes that "too often and too long they have gone with underpaid, poor working conditions, and we want to help them."
Following these remarks, the camera again shows Macon garbage trucks driving down the street. Another man carries a picket sign with the slogan, "We shall overcome in spite of the mayor." Finally reporter Lo Jelks comments on the situation. He explains there are conflicting reports on the effectiveness of the sanitation strike. The core of the issue, according to Jelks, is that Macon mayor Ronnie Thompson has refused to recognize the union. Jelks reports that no one from the mayor's office was available to answer his request for an interview. Jelks explains that sanitation workers in Macon assisted striking sanitation workers in Atlanta and Memphis "some months ago" and that in those strikes, "the workers received some of their demands." According to Jelks, Ralph Abernathy, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), is aware of the strike in Macon and may come to town to support the striking workers. He concludes with the assertion that striking workers "seem to be saying, no union, no work."
Macon sanitation workers began a strike on March 12, 1969 in which they sought city recognition of their union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At the city council meeting the night before, March 11, Macon mayor Ronnie Thompson refused to recognize the union and threatened to fire employees who went on strike. Mayor Thompson countered claims of low wages by pointing to a wage hike and work-week limits he helped establish the year before. During the strike, the city maintained garbage collection services by hiring new employees and by using prisoners from the city stockade. According to union organizers, the pay scale for employees of the Public Works Department was based on race, with white employees the highest paid workers. The union also claimed that more than 200 Public Works employees signed cards wanting union representation. After the March 28, 1969 death of former United States president Dwight D. Eisenhower, African American leaders agreed to a three-day pause of demonstrations out of respect to the former president. During that rest period, SCLC president Ralph Abernathy spoke at a meeting in Macon on Sunday, March 30 and pledged the SCLC's support for the striking employees. Late Monday, March 31, the mayor and African American leaders reached an agreement that ended the demonstrations and averted a planned economic boycott. Seventy-five striking employees returned to work April 1, 1969. According to an article in the Macon News, under the terms of the agreement, the city agreed to return striking workers to their jobs without prejudice or harassment; to pay the returning employees the same, higher wage as replacements hired during the strike; to drop trespassing charges against over thirty individuals who had been arrested during the strike; to provide lockers and daily changes of uniforms to employees; and to repair showers at the stockade. The city also agreed to discuss further improvements with employees individually or collectively. Yet it refused to recognize the union. Mayor Thompson did suggest the union seek recognition through the Georgia General Assembly following the example of workers in Savannah, Georgia. In return union representative James Howard agreed to withdraw the union representatives from Macon until the city was better able to discuss wage increases. The newspaper also reported that with the rehire of striking workers, the sanitation department had sufficient manpower for the first time.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of African American sanitation workers on strike as well as comments by African American leaders in Macon, Georgia, 1969 March 24, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1534, 4:13/07:16, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.