“Less than a century ago, the laborer had no rights, little or no respect and led a life which was socially submerged and barren…American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing existence was economic organization through trade unions…”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1961 speech before the AFL-CIO
“Labor unions are the only large-scale movement left that tirelessly acts in the economic interests of the middle class,” St. Louis License Collector Mavis Thompson said in a speech before the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) at its 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Awards Banquet, Jan. 20 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36’s hall on Choteau Ave.
“Organized labor has given workers higher wages, a voice without reprisal and, substantial leverage against rogue employers,” Thompson told the 310 guests in attendance. “Dr. King applauded the cause of labor unions. I applaud the cause of labor unions.”
Service Awards were presented to:
• Steve Hollis, president, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3354
• State Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis), representing the 84th District
• State Rep. Clem Smith (D-St. Louis), representing the 85th District
The program focused on Dr. King’s support for unions and poor workers around the globe. From the welcome by CBTU St. Louis Chapter Vice President Mark Esters to closing remarks by Chapter President Lew Moye, speaker after speaker spoke about past and present attacks on the labor movement, including the current push by extreme politicians in the Missouri Legislature to make Missouri a right-to-work (for less) (RTW) state.
“The National RTW Committee was formed by a group of southern businessmen with the express purpose to fighting unions,” said Brooks Sunkett, International Vice President of the Communication Workers of America. “States with RTW laws have lower wages and income, less job based health care coverage, higher poverty, less investment in education and higher rates of death on the job.”
Sunkett urged the crowd to, “organize, involve the community, build coalitions and fight back against the attack on workers’ rights.”
CALL RTW WHAT IT IS
One of the key highlights of the evening was Thompson’s speech. She pulled no punches in attacking right-to-work (for less)/”Freedom to Work”/”workplace freedom” legislation and the lying proponents who are trying, yet again, to foist this union busting, anti-worker scheme on working Missourians with lies about job growth, higher incomes and economic opportunity, all while financially starving unions in an effort to mitigate their influence.
“ ‘Freedom to Work’ is an appealing moniker that disingenuously taps into the sentiments of the civil rights movement,” Thompson said.
“In the 1960s, the slogan of the day was ‘right-to-work.’ It is a misnomer created by anti-union advocates that promotes the theory that organized labor somehow prevents Americans from exercising their God-given right to work. But, let’s be clear, right-to-work prohibits unions from requiring membership or union dues as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. These laws or statutes do not guarantee employment nor do they protect the rights of working people.,” Thompson said.
“Experts say these laws have no impact on the performance of state economies,” she said. “In fact, in 2011, the Economic Policy Institute noted that seven out of the 10 highest-unemployment states are states with right-to-work laws.
“We must look beyond fancy, misleading words and stay focused on the ramifications of an America without organized labor,” Thomson said.
Then, Thompson quoted Dr. King’s famous admonishment against right-to-work from 1961:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights…its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”
THE FIGHT AHEAD
Moye stated in his closing remarks: “We defeated the right-to-work effort in 1978 with a strong coalition of Blacks, labor, farmers, women and faith groups. We were not fooled by the false RTW slogan in 1978 and we won’t be fooled in 2014.
“Ninety-eight percent of African Americans voted against RTW in 1978 and we will work to get 100 per cent in 2014,” Moye said.