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This Black History Month, We Honor Bayard Rustin

photo credit: jrcla.org

photo credit: jrcla.org

February once again marks the beginning of Black History Month–a time to remember and celebrate the rich history of African Americans and the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the greatest moments of the Civil Rights era was the March on Washington in 1963–one of the largest non-violent protests to ever occur in America. The March on Washington brought thousands of people of all races together, in the name of equal rights for everyone–whether they were black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made one of his most inspiring and famous speeches at the march, which culminated on the National mall.

But history has often overlooked the man who was the driving force behind this monumental event–a man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the one who organized the march, bringing methods used by Gandhi as well as the Quaker religion to Washington to ensure peace, but also impact. It was Rustin who helped shape Dr. King into the iconic symbol of peace he is remembered as.

As a young adult, Rustin worked with many kinds of people who influenced his activism, including ministers and labor organizers. During World War II, Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring, and was later jailed for two years after refusing to enter the draft. Then, after protesting segregated transit systems, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.

Despite being punished for his beliefs, Rustin continued to work towards changing things for the better. In 1953, Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to partake in the famous bus boycott that kicked off after Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. The boycott brought many civil rights leaders to the area, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King, who had not yet embraced non-violence. But Rustin taught many who were partaking in the boycott how Gandhi had used peaceful tactics to bring change in India, and people saw the importance of these tactics, and began to embrace them, focusing on direct protest.

Rustin was also a champion of workers rights. In 1965, Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African-American trade union members.

Although Bayard Rustin was a tireless activist, his life achievements are unknown to many, and he has even been called the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement. This is largely because not only was Rustin silenced and threatened like many others were for being a black man speaking out for equal rights, but also because he was openly gay in a time when homophobia and bigotry was rampant. Rustin continued his life as an openly gay man, even after being incarcerated for it, and is seen as a champion of the LGBT movement still today. Despite being beaten, arrested, jailed, and fired from various leadership positions, Rustin overcame and made a huge impact on the civil and economic rights movements.

America has a long way to go before Rustin’s dreams of equal human rights for all are achieved, but without him, we perhaps would not be where we are today. Today, we have a black president, more women in leadership positions, and more of legislation in the states overturning old and outdated laws barring gay couples from marrying. These are just a few examples of the progress our country has made since Rustin’s time, and working people will continue to work so that ALL people have equal rights–at work and at home.

 

The State of YOUR Union: What You Want to Hear in the SOTU

middle_class_4_finalPresident Obama will address the nation tomorrow evening for his sixth State of the Union Address. With the income gap and growing economic inequality in America spiraling out of control, the President will almost certainly address the War on Poverty and how he plans to move forward to reverse these trends.

As the workers who keep our country running, and the people who experience these issues first-hand every day, we asked you–our members–what you hope to see addressed during tomorrow night’s speech. You weighed in, and agreed on much of the same topics. Here’s what UFCW members are saying:

We Need a Higher Minimum Wage

Many of you agreed that one key factor to ending the war on poverty is to enact a higher minimum wage. In 2014, we are happy to see that a growing number of states have passed legislation that will increase the minimum wage–but it’s also time to see it increase on the federal level, so that more people can earn the living wage they deserve. Members like John Durso, suggest that “every worker has the right to $15/ hour and a union.” We couldn’t agree more!

Putting a Stop to Right-To-Work Laws is a Must

UFCW members know that “Right-to-Work” laws mean just the opposite of what their name implies. Many of you said you’d like to see President Obama do something about putting a stop to such legislation. UFCW Member Dennis Campbell shared why it’s so important: “I’m a laborer here in Little Rock. We folded and had to consolidate with Oklahoma. This is the end result of being right to work state. All our big projects have been on hold since Obama got elected. Now I’m one of the long term unemployed hoping they extend UI.” We know that President Obama is an ally to working people, but we cannot allow legislation that essentially takes away the power of labor unions, and therefore the voice of the working people, to become law. UFCW member Daniel Risner agreed, saying that “President Obama needs to push for the removal of the right to work!!”

Creating More Full-Time Jobs and Extending Unemployment Insurance Should be a Priority

Many of you voiced how job creation needs to be at the top of President Obama’s list–and hope to see more full-time positions in a time where employers are increasingly cutting hours, forcing workers to find second, and even third jobs to make ends meet. Like Dennis mentioned, many people who are struggling to find jobs in this difficult economy were left hanging when Congress failed to extend Unemployment Insurance for millions of Americans.  For those still trying to get hired, Unemployment Insurance was life raft, keeping food on the table while the job searched continued. Below are some of the things members are saying about jobs and UI:

Pattie Santore-Svendsen: I went back to school, graduated GPA 3.88 and I still can not find a job. Medical billing/coding employers want experience. I need the EUI to live on LI, NY. Pass the extension !!!!

Jim Cronover: Not very many people that are drawing unemployment put money in off shore banks. Every dime they get goes right back into our economy.

Judy Daniels: Unemployment Insurance is paid by all of us when employed to support the common good when unemployment strikes any of us. Unemployment Benefits support our economy, especially locally, when there is no income from wages.

Fostering Better Relationships with Unions Will Help The Middle Class

Like we mentioned before, President Obama has been an ally to labor unions during his tenure, but its been a while since we really felt like any progress has been made from as a result of this partnership. Members like you are saying that you’d like to see the President make more effort to help labor unions, and do more to combat false views about them. UFCW member Kevin Boston says that, “in 2008, [President Obama] wasn’t afraid to say the word “UNION”.. He could get back to that.” Member Ben Hulsey said he wishes to see “less hostile relations directed at labor” and that doing more to ensure there is “no intimidation of workers trying to organize would be nice“.

What else is going on in America that you’d like to see the President address tomorrow, in regards to working people? We still want to hear more from you–we’ll tweet your answers at President Obama before the SOTU. Be sure to tune in at 9pm tomorrow evening for his speech–we’ll be live-tweeting if you want to join in!

 

 

 

UFCW and OUR Walmart Members Make Common Dreams “25 Best Progressive Victories of 2013”

1425713_10151718414197062_1335166752_n (1)UFCW and OUR Walmart actions are featured in Common Dreams “The 25 Best Progressive Victories of 2013” highlighting the fight for workers’ rights and bringing the labor movement to national attention.

Listed at number 2, the feature includes the nationwide Black Friday actions where OUR Walmart, UFCW locals, and community allies organized rallies in hundreds of cities, demanding a minimum salary of $25,000, plus better working conditions and benefits. The article also features the first-ever one-day strike held in over 100 cities by fast-food workers pushing for $15/hour starting pay.

The full article can be read here.