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On this date in 1966, the Maryland Freedom Workers was formed.
It began when twenty black women working as nurses’ aids, housekeepers and kitchen staff walked off their jobs. They were working at Lincoln Nursing Home in Baltimore, MD. They contacted field secretaries of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) with whom they had met the previous week and told them that Lincoln was “on strike” and they had named their union “Maryland Freedom Local No. 1.” They told them that CORE workers had better come down to Lincoln Nursing Home immediately to show the workers how to “run a proper picket line.”
The workers who made as little as .25 an hour and worked up to 72 hours per week, became the source of what they called a “new kind of union,” the Maryland Freedom Union (MFU). The MFU was founded due to frustrated CORE staff members’ failed efforts in helping Black workers for union rights and benefits. They were convinced that the AFL-CIO unions were not interested in organizing black workers and they were elated with the success of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s Mississippi Freedom Labor Union project. CORE selected Baltimore as the site of its own freedom union experiment. Together CORE, MFU, local churches, and school supporters picketed the suburban homes of nursing home owners and marched on city hall.
By March 1966, they created a union study group on black and labor history; reading a history of Black struggles, American Civilization on Trial 1963. They also invited its author, political philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya to lecture at the MFU Freedom House. Dunayevskaya ‘s suggestion that the workers view themselves as “self-developing thinkers” made a huge impact. After victory the union began to organize workers in small retail and service establishments in the inner city and won a recognition agreement from Silverman's Department Store chain.
While it flourished, the MFU’s membership, nearly all Black and 90% women, with many recent arrivals from the south created a union different from the typical AFL-CIO affiliate. Its allure was not solely that it was a union willing to accept them as members; it was that this organization called itself a freedom union and sought to organize low-wage workplaces as an integral part of a movement to change a portion of American society.