Tuesday, January 19, 2010


For us in the labor movement, like most activists, MLK Day is not a holiday, it's long been a day of action.  This year, new elected curators of most of the unions in the U.S. get to show us how they will help us position ourselves for better jobs & healthcare, rights on the job, & civil rights for all workers, former workers, & potential workers.  Whether you are fan of John Sweeney or not, immigrant and LGBT civil rights had become, during his tenure as director of the AFL-CIO, central to the AFL-CIO mission.  This has not always been the case, and in fact its taken a concerted effort on every level of organization to undo the many early years of contracts with two-tired systems (for some member unions of the AFL this was the norm across the board), followed by a long period of blase/mere vocal support for growing numbers of workers, many of whom have been, sometimes without much reciprocation, vocal supporters of labor.  After the 1950s and due to the civil rights movement this began to change pretty dramatically.  And Sweeney's call to organize and galvanize support for both immigrant workers and the LGBT community--often one and the same group of workers and retirees--was, I think, rather radically implemented/organizationally designed by director of organizing, Stuart Acuff.  If this organizing was not visible to you, it was (and is) because of the immense uphill climb, the era of Bush and perhaps the most anti-labor administration in history, a time during which membership in unions (union density) was/is at its lowest point in U.S. history.  

I'm hoping that former assistant director of the AFL, now director (president) will work with other elected regional directors, union presidents, membership, and so forth, to ramp up this organizing fight, and make it part of a radical rethinking of the AFL-CIO's ten point plan, along with redoubling of efforts to a) put pressure on the Obama administration on all civil rights issues, i.e., detainee rights & Guantanamo, and b) to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and to get this Act passed with Card Check Neutrality inserted back into the bill.  

The latter is, perhaps at this point, a pipe dream.  And this is too bad.  Because Martin Luther King was murdered while marching at a labor rally for sanitation workers, and the union I used to organize with was one of that rally's co-sponsors.  That was also a time when union density in this country was nearly thirty percent.  It's time to ramp up some of the positive organizing foci that unions within the AFL adopted in reaction to Bush, but to keep those efforts up.  Otherwise density will remain at around thirteen percent, then eventually plummet.  

For now, a rather meek but "nice" post from the AFL-CIO on the occasion of MLK Day of Action (so-called in the labor movement):

Arlene Holt Baker: Without Jobs, Civil Rights an Empty Promise

by James Parks, Jan 15, 2010

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.

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