U.S. and World Politics

“We Rise Together, Homie”

An Interview with Antoine Dangerfield by Micah Uetricht

U.S. labor history is full of moments of tremendous drama and upheaval. That history is riveting stuff, but getting a raw, unfiltered view of the human drama of workers fighting their bosses on the shop floor, the place where the day-to-day confrontation between workers and bosses takes place (and occasionally boils over), is rare.

Which is what makes Antoine Dangerfield’s recent viral video a must-watch. A thirty-year-old welder in Indianapolis, Dangerfield worked for a construction contractor building a UPS hub. On Tuesday, he says that a small number of Latino workers (millwrights, welders, and conveyor installers, in his telling) working for a different contractor but in the same hub were ordered home after disobeying the orders of a white boss he calls racist.

In response, the entire group of workers—over a hundred, in Dangerfield’s estimation—walked out.

Dangerfield caught their wildcat strike on camera at the moment they walked off the job. In his video, he is positively giddy watching them shut down their massive workplace.

“They are not bullshitting!” he says as Latino workers walk off. Referring to the boss, he says, “They thought they was gonna play with these amigos, and they said, ‘aw yeah, we rise together, homie.’ And they leaving! And they not bullshitting!”

After all the workers are gone, Dangerfield gives the viewer a tour of the empty hub. He’s incredulous: “Ain’t no grinding, cutting, welding—this motherfucker dead-ass quiet. The Mexicans shut this motherfucker down.”

Since he posted the video1 on Wednesday, August 1, 2018, the footage has been viewed two million times on Facebook and YouTube (nearly 800,000) and on sites like WorldStarHipHop (300,000). It also, as he explains in this interview, led to his firing. Dangerfield thinks it’s worth it, though.

Jacobin managing editor Micah Uetricht spoke with Dangerfield on Thursday afternoon. Neither could track down the striking workers in the video, but Dangerfield spoke about what was a “life-changing” experience for him. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Micah Uetricht: Where do you work?

Antoine Dangerfield: It’s a contractor that’s doing a UPS superhub. They fired me about [the video], though.

Micah Uetricht: Really?

Antoine Dangerfield: They’re real mad about it. They tried to pay me $250 to take it down. But there’s nothing I could do about it. I didn’t expect it to be this big.

Micah Uetricht: So what happened?

Antoine Dangerfield: There was a safety guy. He was just a racist, basically—always messing with anybody who’s not white. The Hispanics just stayed out of his way. They warned each other when he came because they knew he was always messing with them, taking pictures and videos, trying to get them fired.

We have safety meetings, and we usually have a translator [for Spanish speakers] because there are so many. On Tuesday, we had a safety meeting, and like I said, the Mexicans don’t really like [the safety coordinator].

He asked one of the Mexicans to come up and translate. He didn’t wanna do it. [The coordinator] got mad, real red-faced. Next thing you know, he dismissed the meeting. So he’s walking around just sending them home, trying to fire them. So he sent like five or six of them home.

So the Hispanics got together and were like, “Nah. We got families and kids. We’re not about to let these dudes just do whatever.” So they took a stand.

Micah Uetricht: Do they have a union?

Antoine Dangerfield: Nah. They just decided today’s the day. They fired the [safety coordinator], though. And they fired me, too, for the video. But there wasn’t one [worker] left in the building.

Micah Uetricht: How long had there been issues with the safety guy?

Antoine Dangerfield: As soon as he started. It’s been three or four months. I’ve been there since January.

Micah Uetricht: So what happened when the video went up?

Antoine Dangerfield: The owners of [the construction contractors] came down, corporate people from UPS.

Micah Uetricht: From UPS?

Antoine Dangerfield: That’s what people were telling me. Because I went back to pick up my last check and my welding gear. That was when they offered me $250 to take it down. It was at 1.1 million views on Facebook at that point. So there was nothing I could do.

I was shocked. I come in here every day. The last video I posted got two likes! I wasn’t trying to harm anybody.

Micah Uetricht: How did you feel watching them walk off the job?

Antoine Dangerfield: I just felt that power, man. It just felt good. They were walking out with their heads up, strong. It touched me. That’s why I was like, wow, this is beautiful. It was beautiful that they came together like that—stood up for themselves and not let that dude walk all over them.

Micah Uetricht: Have you had that experience at work, feeling walked all over?

Antoine Dangerfield: I stay out of their way. I just work. I don’t get involved with management usually. I just come in and get my check. And they just offered me a team lead job and everything. I was there every day and thought everything was cool. If I hadn’t posted the video, I would still be there working.

I had just come back from California in December. In January, I came back home because my son is here. He didn’t like me being gone—he had a hard time with it. So I decided to get something local, close to my dude. Because he loves me, you know what I mean?

Micah Uetricht: You said the workers walked off the job with their heads up.

Antoine Dangerfield: Yeah. It was powerful, bro. They were proud of themselves, like they’re supposed to be. But [management] still paid everybody for the whole day. That’s how you know they were wrong. They sent everybody home, but I stayed until the end, because I was in awe.

Micah Uetricht: Have you ever had an experience with that kind of action before?

Antoine Dangerfield: Never. It was like the Million Man March or something. You heard me in the video—I was excited.

Micah Uetricht: You’re Black. The people you filmed in the video are Latino. You said in the description of your video that Black people need to learn something from this. What did you mean?

Antoine Dangerfield: All the hate going on—we need to stick together. I think Black people are moving in the right direction. We were down for a minute with the crack era. And you see the news, a lot of killings in the Black community. Sometimes we don’t come together. But if they can do it, we can do it. And we can all come together. There’s power in numbers.

I don’t like racist anything. I don’t like people picking on people, bullying. It’s ridiculous. So when people come together, it’s a beautiful thing.

Micah Uetricht: They were specifically taking on a boss, taking action on the job.

Antoine Dangerfield: Yeah, and you can use that in any way. Votes, we could show up for. Or all corporations that have done you wrong.

We’re the ones, the workers—we make the heads get rich. Treating us lesser-than isn’t even cool. We’re the reason the hub was getting built. Ain’t no owners out there in their hard hats. We’re the ones putting our life on the line. So you gotta respect us.

They’re a cool company. I don’t really have anything against them. But when you see wrong being done, you should step up and do something about it.

Micah Uetricht: There’s what was happening at your workplace, but then there’s the state of the economy as a whole.

Antoine Dangerfield: Yeah, and it can be on that scale. [The video] is funny or whatever, but people love seeing people come together like that. That’s why it’s so viral. Because everybody wants that deep-down. Everybody wants to move as one. That’s why you look at the comments [on the video] and see Black people saying, “Yeah, that’s what we need to do.”

Micah Uetricht: Do you think this experience will change you, on the job in the future?

Antoine Dangerfield: You can say that. It was life-changing to me to see that happen. Because it was like, dang, they really came together. And that’s why I’m not mad about the video, about getting fired. Because it’s five million people who saw that. And it might change their view on things. Empowering people.

So me losing a job is nothing compared to the big picture. If we can get it in our heads that we are the people, and if we make our numbers count, we can change anything.

Update: A GoFundMe has been created to support Dangerfield and his son: 

Jacobin, August 3, 2018