OPINION: Labor moving into the future



(EDITOR’S NOTE: These are remarks made at the recent Coalition of Black Trade Unionists [CBTU] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights awards dinner Jan. 20 honoring Laborers Local 110 President/Business Representative Ronny Griffin, CWA Local 6355 President Natashia Pickens and Fight for $15 Organizer Stanley Jackson. See story details here.) 

Thank you to Jay, Lew and the rest of the CBTU officers for the honor and privilege of speaking to you tonight. Let me say congratulations to tonight’s honorees. Not only are they more than deserving of tonight’s honor, but also I am proud to call them my friends.

We gather on this holiday not only to honor a great man, but also to honor the work that he did every day. I don’t have to remind you that Dr. King was killed while helping with the Sanitary Workers’ strike in Memphis. He was also a staunch supporter of Organized Labor.

We also know the farce they call “right-to-work” was created by racist white men to pit white union members against their fellow brothers and sisters of color. Sadly, that concept has taken hold in too many places, even today. But thanks to the folks in this room, not here in Missouri.

Thanks to the CBTU and its leadership, along with many other organizations, we made history a few years ago when, together, when we defeated the Republican-controlled legislature’s effort to make the so-called “right-to-work” Missouri law.

Now, where do we go from here? What can we do to honor Dr. King’s legacy moving forward?

I know we have a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction. As a Movement, and once again, thanks to the people on this dais, we have been striving to inject more inclusive policies in our organizations.

We have made some impressive accomplishments, including:

  • Graduating and retraining approximately 200 graduates in the building trades BUD (Building Union Diversity) program.

  • Negotiating minority and women participation numbers on major construction projects.

  • Training for our predominantly white, male leadership on race and social justice.

  • Creation of a Diversity Committee within the Labor Council that meets monthly and has two seats on our Council’s Executive Board; they are involved in many other programs.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg:

  • In the works are programs like talking to young African American men and women in high school about the trades.

  • Plans to continue more in-depth and intense training on race with our leadership to expose them to the problems in today’s society.

  • Participating in events and causes that we have traditionally shied away from, like exposing our membership to the importance of Medicare expansion, the Census 2020, voting rights, equal rights and how the minimum wage affects them as crane operators, pipefitters, electricians and laborers, just as much as the janitors fighting to make a living wage.

  • Educating politicians on critical issues that effect our brothers and sisters every day.

With my job comes great responsibility and I thank the people in this room for entrusting me with that task. We don’t know what the future holds, but we must remember that every day there are people suffering one way or another. Hate and bigotry have no place in our Labor Movement, or anywhere for that matter.

If we truly believe in the words of Dr. King, then we must live by his words in everything we do. My wife has a sticker on her car that reads, “Kindness Matters.” I do believe in those words.

I am honored to be up here tonight, and to wake up every day representing the working men and women of our region.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King:

“The Labor Movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into progress.”

(Pat White is the president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council.)


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