Arlene Holt Baker: Without Jobs, Civil Rights an Empty Promise
Without good jobs, the gains of the civil rights movement are empty: Just as Martin Luther King Jr. fought to secure basic rights for all Americans, we must now fight for economic justice, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said.
Speaking this morning at the Martin Luther King Prayer Breakfast in Atlanta, Holt Baker said:
The freedom to sit at a lunch counter or in the Oval Office was won for us.
Now it is our time to win for the next generation the economic strength to take advantage of those freedoms. Today more than ever, we understand that without jobs, civil rights is an empty promise. And without good jobs, there is no real freedom.
The annual prayer breakfast is sponsored by the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council.
Unemployment for African American workers stands at 16.2 percent and a staggering 48.4 percent for black youths. At the same time, Holt Baker added, too many of the doors that helped African Americans reach the middle class—good manufacturing jobs and government jobs that have provided good wages and benefits—are closed.
She said working people must demand that Congress enact the AFL-CIO’s five-point planto save and create millions of jobs in the next year. Nowhere is immediate action more needed than among African Americans, who have been hit especially hard by the crisis, she said. The AFL-CIO plan calls for the government to create additional jobs in distressed areas for people who desperately need them.
The plan also includes job-creating measures, such as rebuilding the nation’s roads, schools and infrastructure, and lending Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds directly to small and medium-sized businesses via community banks.
Saying “the generation coming up now is at risk of doing less well than their parents,” Holt Baker reminded the audience that freedom fighters like Dr. King, Rosa Parks and the Rev. James Orange fought so we could leave our children a better life.
She quoted King:
It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. This is what we have to do.
Economic justice also is the focus of the annual AFL-CIO King Day celebration in Greensboro, N.C., from Jan. 14-18. More than 400 union members will call on the White House and Congress for meaningful job-creation policies.
Participants also will honor the four trailblazing students whose sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter 50 years ago ignited a nationwide effort that resulted in passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Thomas Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, will speak on civil rights priorities in 2010.