The civil rights movement was one of the most significant events in our country’s history. From the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech, to the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, the movement united people of all backgrounds for a common goal and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The brave men and women of the civil rights movement showed that people of all races and religions can come together to stand against injustice and oppression and served as a source of inspiration for oppressed people worldwide.
While the civil rights movement changed our country for the better, the fight against injustice and oppression continues. As singer-songwriter John Legend recently pointed out in his acceptance speech for best original song from the film “Selma” at the Oscars, “’Selma’ is now, because the struggle for justice is right now….We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.”
Today, a new generation of activists is faced with high incarceration and unemployment rates in the African American community, along with a growing divide between the rich and poor, a shrinking middle class, stagnant wages, high student debt, job and housing discrimination, and underserved communities that are struggling with increasing inequality, racial profiling and social unrest. From OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15 to DC Ferguson to the fight for LGBT equality, activists have taken the lead in tackling these issues and pushed income inequality, social justice and gender equality into the national conversation.
image via Aljazeera America
Civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who organized the March on Washington, once said that “justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship.”
The UFCW is proud to stand with today’s activists as they continue the fight for social and economic justice.
Yesterday, approximately 2,000 union members, middle class workers, and community supporters thronged to the the state capital in Madison, Wisconsin, in a final push to stop the fast-tracking of Right to Work laws, which would make Wisconsin the 25th Right to Work (for less) state.
While a Senate committee hearing on the legislation went on upstairs in the Capitol, hundreds of working men and women and union members, including 50 from the UFCW, filled the balconies of the rotunda. State senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald appeared before the Senate’s labor committee, fielding sharp questions from Democrats about who was pushing the bill and why it had to be moved so quickly. Fitzgerald called for the fast tracking of the bill, knowing that the measure would receive less scrutiny and deliberation than it normally would.
A vivid reminder of similar events four years ago at the very same building, when union members turned out in full force to protect collective bargaining rights, union men and women, including 50 UFCW members, came to the capitol yesterday to defend the rights of all working people.
Shouts of “United we stand! Divided we fall!” echoed throughout the building.
Claude Morris, a UFCW member of over 20 years, reiterated this sentiment: “I don’t want to see this state divided. It scares me to see them attacking workers when we have so many other problems. Workers aren’t the problem. Life is hard enough – this terrible law will just make it even more difficult.”
Under Right to Work legislation, union funding inevitably drops, making it harder and harder for unions to function, and thereby lessening their power to help and protect their members, dues paying or not.
Andrew Dziedzic, a UFCW member who has worked at Metro Market for ten years, explained how Right to Work affects all workers: “We have to be here to tell legislators how this law hurts workers. What people don’t understand about this law is that it will drive down standards across the state. Wages, benefits – everything will be lowered.”
“To me this feels like a direct attack on my wages and benefits,” said Joseph Mikich, a UFCW member working at Wisconsin Vision, an eyeglass retailer, in Milwaukee. “I’ve worked at a number of non-union stores. My current union job blows all of those out of the water. I make more, I earn raises, I have better benefits, and I’m trained so that I can climb up the ladder. I’m scared all these opportunities I’ve enjoyed are going to be taken away.”
UFCW member Valerie Truman of Birds Eye Foods added that “what concerns me most about Right to Work is our economy. If people can’t be paid what they deserve to paid I don’t see how our state can stay strong. We want a brighter future. The rally today was so loving and supportive. People are being honest with their concerns. It’s a necessity that this bill doesn’t pass. We deserve good laws, not laws that will hurt us.”
Many people believe the push for Right to Work in the state is part of Governor Scott Walker’s plan to “divide and conquer” unions. If Right to Work passes, things would certainly be harder for unions and their members, and the hardworking people of Wisconsin. However union members have shown time and time again that they will never back down, and they will always stand together to fight for their rights.
Tyrone Sutton, a five year UFCW member working at Fair Oaks Farm in Kenosha summed up why it was so important for him to be there, touching on his son’s future, and the future of all people fighting Right to Work in states across the country:
“I’m going to tell these people the truth. For them to vote against working people is stripping us of our stability. It’s like kicking a chair under our feet. The benefits we have earned by sticking together shouldn’t be stripped away. I’m so proud of the work I do. My 10-year-old son wants to go to work and save money because he sees how proud I am to go to work and earn a good wage. I used to work in a temp agency. There was no stability, no benefits. I’m worried this law will make the whole state like that. Everyone will be over worked and under paid…It’s about respect. A strong union makes our employers respect us – that shouldn’t be too much to ask for. On the ride down here I was nervous, but when I saw all these people and the solidarity and to see how many peoples lives are going to be affected – I knew I had to be here.”
In June 2014, the UFCW accepted 36 promising young members from across the country into the first-ever session of the UFCW GOLD Internship program, which launched in Chicago.
Now, after a wildly successful first year, the GOLD program is preparing for its 2015 session. The UFCW GOLD Internship Program provides growth opportunities for learning and development in order to raise up future union leaders and activists.
The 2015 program will select 36 rank-and-file members in the United States to participate in a seven-week program. The program will run from June 21 – August 5, 2015. Interns are required to participate in the entire length of the program. All interns should have a valid driver’s license and be flexible with travel outside of their home area.
During the program, there will be a four-week action project that interns will be individually assigned. Action projects will be assigned within one of five areas: Legislative and Political Action; Organizing; Collective Bargaining; Civil Rights; and Health and Safety. Last year’s action projects included working on a earned sick leave ordinance in the city of Chicago; working on a Retail Bill of Rights in San Francisco; participating in the Summer for Respect alongside Walmart workers fighting for justice on the job; and many other important projects relating to the welfare of working people.
You can learn much more about the upcoming session, and what previous GOLD participants learned from their experiences by visiting the updated website: http://gold.ufcw.org/.
Be sure to also check out the video recap of the 2014 session, where participants share their experiences and talk about what service projects they worked on.
“Getting the chance to come out to Chicago, meeting different people from different locals—it’s been an eye opener,” said 2014 UFCW Local 21 participant Bruce Le.
Fellow participant Samantha Christian also noted that after completing the program she felt like “we are all related—we are all brothers and sisters. I’ve never been as comfortable with people as I have been with the people I met here.”
Melissa Berry said she applied to become a GOLD participant because she felt that “a lot of people don’t know the role of their union, or what part they can play in it. I was eager to meet new people and learn about how we can spread the message.”
Tracy Officer, who worked on a service project in the Seattle area, said that “this internship builds us up—it gives us the knowledge to go back to our locals and give them the inspiration to say, ‘We are one. If you have an issue, we are fighting it together, and you don’t have to do it alone.’ I’ve been in the union for almost twelve years and I didn’t know that until this program.”