United Workers Launch Theatrical Campaign

United Workers Launch Theatrical Campaign


On a sunny mid-afternoon on Wednesday, November 4, the United Workers (UW) performed a theatrical announcement at the Inner Harbor to kick off a major campaign for workers’ rights. 

The grassroots human rights organization declared the Inner Harbor a Human Rights Zone back on April 18, 2008. Since then they have been organizing workers to fight for a living wage, health care, and education training. 

 “The Inner Harbor has been built tremendously with tax breaks and subsidies that have created a poverty zone that is not talked about,” said leadership organizer Ashley Hufnagel. 

United Workers members performed a mock demonstration at General Sam Smith Park, located on Pratt and Light Streets (no one is allowed to formally demonstrate inside the Inner Harbor Proper), showing how the targeted businesses are treating their employees. 

Companies like Phillips Seafood, which has locations in five cities, found the United Workers activities no laughing matter. This past summer, at a mandatory employee meeting, Phillips management told its workers that they would shut down the restaurant if they continued their organizing activities. 

This was a response to the workers who had called for face-to-face meetings with the management and a six-month “cooling down” period in which workers promised to engage in dialogue rather than measures such as public protests and boycotts. The threat from Phillips did not deter the United Workers, a coalition of low-wage workers across racial and cultural lines who, only two years ago, battled the Maryland Stadium Authority and won their rights to a living wage. 

“People need to wake up and stand for what’s right,” said leadership councilperson Ernest Lindsay. “It’s not just my rights, it’s our rights.” 

The promised six-month “cooling down” period ended in October of 2009, after which workers engaged in a four-day retreat to strategize about their next major campaign. 

The result: Our Harbor Day 2010, which will take place on May 1, otherwise known as May Day—which has become, in many ways, a day of action. Through the theatrical presentation series, workers will reveal to the public their plans to secure human rights and dignity for all Inner Harbor employees. 

To prepare for this, on January 16, 2010, a Justice Theater Conference will be held at the 2640 Space at 2640 St. Paul Street. The conference will take place over the course of the day and will include a series of workshops and discussions featuring works based on the concept of The Theater of the Oppressed, street theater, puppet making, and the battle of stories framework. 

Nommo Theater, Class Lines, Theater Action Group, and Puppet Underground will serve as facilitators to prepare the United Workers for the play. 

During the second week of December 2009, various low- wage workers plus forty members of the United Workers and several allies joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) on their Fair Foods Solidarity Tour. 

The Baltimore delegation expressed their solidarity to CIW members. Farmworkers are sometimes forced to wait long unpaid hours before they’re allowed to work the fields. 

The stadium workers of the United Workers understood this injury, as they often had to wait long unpaid hours before the stadium gates opened for them to work. 

“Their struggle is our struggle,” said Hufnagel, “It’s all part of the same system that maintains poverty conditions.” 

On Human Rights Day, Thursday, December 10, 2009, the United Workers sent a letter to Cordish, the owner of the Power Plant, and to GGP, the owner of Harborplace and Gallery, to inform them of their demands. 

“We are asking them to come to the table, face-to-face with the workers, for human rights violations,” said Hufnagel, “We will see what the response will be.”