Some 160 union members and community activists gathered at Laborers Local 42 Feb. 27 for an AFL-CIO and CBTU Black History Month Symposium called “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor.”
The union members and activists came together to develop a plan for a fresh perspective on how to advance the Labor Movement that focuses on power over grievances and connecting with workers around issues they can care about such as criminal justice, education, jobs/economy, voter ID/voter suppression, and the future for workers.
The program was moderated by Fred Redmond, national AFL-CIO vice president and A. Philip Randolph Institute chairman, and one of the authors of the report.
“In the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown and AFL-CIO President Trumka’s visit to Ferguson in September, 2014, some of us started having discussions about how labor needs to become a part of the larger community and have a discussion on race,” Redmond said. The report “A Future of Workers: Contribution from Black Labor” was developed from those discussions.
Panelists included President emeritus of the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Lew Moye (UAW retired), leader of the Organization for Black Struggle Jamala Rogers, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420 President Mary Armstrong, attorney. Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project and UAW-LETC Apprenticeship Coordinator John Bowman.
Following panel presentations and a Q&A, union members and community activists developed broke out into five issues work groups:
- Voter ID and Voter Suppression Laws;
- Criminal Justice;
- Jobs and Economy;
- and the Labor Movement.
The work groups developed action steps to bring communities of color and the Labor Movement closer together on the issues discussed.
The Voter Suppression working group noted that the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature is pushing bills that encroach on the Constitutional right to vote.
Lieberman stated “Today in America we are seeing the greatest roll back to voting rights that we have seen in more than century,” Lieberman said. A call was made for Organize Labor, to launch a full scale operation in opposition to voter id and voter suppression bills in the Missouri Legislature.
The Labor Movement session noted that Organized Labor has long held the mantle of the champion of social justice but must do more to address current concerns.
“One of the most difficult discussion for union members and leaders to have, is an honest discussion about race and how to confront it,” Moye said. “We need to get beyond past and current union leaders failure to address race and economic justice issues, it should be on the agenda of all local and state union meetings. Black rank and file members and Black union leaders must insist that Black justice is a part of organize Labor agenda”.