CWA 6355’s Mark Esters to assume helm, endorses Stenger for St. Louis County executive
By TIM ROWDEN
After 35 years at the helm, longtime labor leader and social justice activist Lew Moye is stepping down as president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), effective Nov. 1.
CWA Local 6355’s Mark Esters, vice president of the St. Louis Chapter, will assume the leadership role.
Moye and St. Marks Family Church, which has served as a safe haven and central meeting place during the unrest in Ferguson, were honored Oct. 18 at CBTU’s 28th Annual Ernst and De Verne Calloway Awards banquet.
Moye is known in the St. Louis region and nationally for his progressive activism in the labor movement and the African American community.
“It is an honor to follow behind a legend like Lew,” Esters said. “Those are big shoes to try to fit into. It’s a big lift.”
SUPPORT FOR STENGER
Esters said CBTU and union members in general need to work to elect worker-friendly candidates like Steve Stenger, the Democratic, COPE-endorsed candidate for St. Louis County executive in the Nov. 4 election.
Stenger is facing off against Republican Rick Stream, who, as a Missouri House rep., consistently voted against worker-friendly legislation.
“Rick Stream is not the candidate that we need for county executive,” Esters said. It’s very important that we participate in the election and make sure we get a labor friendly candidate and a candidate that supports Ferguson.”
HISTORY OF THE FIGHT
Moye has been an active member of the UAW for 50 years, and was an employee of Chrysler for 44 years, starting in 1964 when, fresh out of the U.S. Army, he was hired to work on the assembly line in the trim shop in the car plan and became a member of UAW Local 136. He transferred to the new truck assembly plant in 1966 and was one of the founding members of UAW Local 110.
In the late 1960s, Moye was one of the founding members of Black Employees for Equity at Chrysler. The group filed a racial and sexual discrimination complaint with EEOC against the local plant, which, in combination with local action, forced Chrysler to comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and open up job opportunities in skilled trades, clerical and supervisory positions for African Americans and women on the assembly line.
In 1978, Moye and CBTU played an integral role in defeating right-to-work in Missouri, coordinating workers in North St. Louis County to get the African American vote out.
CBTU was also supportive of the Machinists strike against McDonnell Douglas Corp. and, most recently, in the United Mine Workers fight to protect the pension and health care benefits of Peabody Energy retirees caught up in the bankruptcy proceedings of Peabody spin-off Patriot Coal.
“I’ve been through some major campaigns,” Moye said. “It’s been a long journey, but I’m still having fun.”
WORK TO BE DONE
Moye said he was saddened and frustrated to see the decline of auto industry employment in St. Louis and throughout Missouri – prompted by the financial crisis, foreign competition and the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico and overseas – as well as the decline in union membership throughout the country.
Moye worked as an assembly line worker, repairman, inspector and utility man at the plant, and also served as shop steward, committeeman, shop chairman, national negotiator and elected delegate to all UAW National Conventions from 1977-2010.
“That’s a struggle we’ve still got, trying to maintain industry and union membership in our country” Moye said.
“We need to continue vigorous organizing campaigns, particularly among minorities that tend to be in industries that are unorganized.”
Moye cited the Service Employees union (SEIU) for its work helping to organizing fast food workers, hotel employees and home care workers.
“There are a lot of potential union members,” Moye said. “We can’t make it alone, and we need to take a stand by organizing. I think there’s some unions that realize that more than others.”
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
Moye also urged union members to heed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s recent call for Organized Labor to play a role in addressing racial and economic inequality.
Moye noted that when he went to work for Chrysler in 1964, many African Americans in St. Louis didn’t own a car. Many were on public assistance, he said, and the fight for fair housing had yet to take place.
“I lived through a lot of changes,” Moye said.
Today, he said, “We are being challenged by the right wing in this country” – from attacks on public employees in Wisconsin and Michigan, to the battle against RTW.
Locally, the unrest stemming from Ferguson shows how much work there is still to do.
Stepping into Moye’s shoes, Esters said CBTU and Organized Labor can help, by attending rallies and protests, talking about their issues and why they are involved in the social justice movement.
Recently, Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones, (R-Eureka) suggested that economic inequality in Ferguson could be helped by passing RTW in Missouri
“That’s insane,” Esters said. “To move Missouri to RTW to lower the wages and benefits of people that are fighting for economic justice makes absolutely no sense.”
Jones and his colleagues tried to pass right-to-work legislation in the last legislative session, but massive lobbying, phone call and letter writing campaign by union members fueled bipartisan opposition among legislators to defeat the bill.