March 5, 2016
Similar to Black History, Women’s History Month is celebrated in order to promote the significant contributions women have made to the labor movement and beyond, that are often left out of the history lessons taught in our classrooms or promoted in society.
The following women are just some of the major players who have had a major role in the fight for equal rights, who made (and are still making) history by exposing horrible labor conditions and acted to change them, and inspired a generation of activists and leaders today. But before you take a look, we know that all the women in our union family are making a difference today too, and we want to share your stories. Tell us about your union story here, and we might feature it on our blog!
*the following is adapted from the Zinn Education Project*
Photographer Louise Boyle is best known for the images she captured, documenting the devastating effects of the Great Depression on American workers. In 1937, at the height of a wave of labor militancy, Ms. Boyle was invited to photograph the living and working conditions of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union members from several Arkansas communities. Her provocative recording depicted courageous people linking their futures together despite devastating poverty, physical hardship, and brutal police-endorsed reprisals. Most portray African American farmers in their homes, at union meetings and rallies, or at work with their families picking cotton. Boyle returned in 1982 to rephotograph some of the people and places she had documented earlier.
A Las Vegas transplant in rural Alabama, legendary African American unionist Hattie Canty was one of the greatest strike leaders in U.S. history. Her patient leadership helped knit together a labor union made up of members from 84 nations. During her time as an activist, she saw first hand how the labor and civil rights movements were intrinsically linked: “Coming from Alabama, this seemed like the civil rights struggle…the labor movement and the civil rights movement, you cannot separate the two of them.”
In 1982, May Chen helped organize and lead the New York Chinatown strike of 1982, one of the largest Asian American worker strikes with about 20,000 garment factory workers marching the streets of Lower Manhattan demanding work contracts. “The Chinatown community then had more and more small garment factories,” she recalled. “And the Chinese employers thought they could play on ethnic loyalties to get the workers to turn away from the union. They were very, very badly mistaken.” Most of the protests included demands for higher wages, improved working conditions and for management to observe the Confucian principles of fairness and respect. By many accounts, the workers won. The strike caused the employers to hold back on wage cuts and withdraw their demand that workers give up their holidays and some benefits. It paved the way for better working conditions such as hiring bilingual staff to interpret for workers and management, initiation of English-language classes and van services for workers.
A field worker since the age of five, Jessie knew poverty, harsh working conditions, and the exploitation of Mexicans and all poor people. Her response was to take a stand. She joined the United Farm Workers union in 1965 and, at Cesar Chavez’s request, became its first woman recruiter. She also participated in strikes, helped ban the crippling short-handle hoe, became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, testified before the Senate, and met with the Pope. She continued to be a political activist until her death in 2013, at the age of 93.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn once said, “I will devote my life to the wage earner. My sole aim in life is to do all in my power to right the wrongs and lighten the burdens of the laboring class.” In 1907, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and in 1912 traveled to Lawrence, MA during the Great Textile Strike. She became “the strike’s leading lady.”
In 1886, year after her arrival from Lithuania, Emma Goldman was shocked by the trial, conviction, and execution of labor activists falsely accused of a bombing in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, which she later described as “the events that had inspired my spiritual birth and growth.” A born propagandist and organizer, Emma Goldman championed women’s equality, free love, workers’ rights, free universal education regardless of race or gender, and anarchism. For more than thirty years, she defined the limits of dissent and free speech in Progressive Era America. Goldman died on May 14, 1940, and buried in Forest Park, Illinois amongst the labor activists that first sparked her life’s work as an activist. Throughout her career, she fought against the corporate powers that tried to dehumanize the people that worked for them: “Still more fatal is the crime of turning the producer into a mere particle of a machine, with less will and decision than his master of steel and iron. Man is being robbed not merely of the products of his labor, but of the power of free initiative, of originality, and the interest in, or desire for, the things he is making.”
Velma Hopkins helped mobilize 10,000 workers into the streets of Winston-Salem, NC, as part of an attempt to bring unions to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The union, Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America-CIO, was integrated and led primarily by African American women. They pushed the boundaries of economic, racial and gender equality. In the 1940s, they organized a labor campaign and a strike for better working conditions, pay, and equal rights under the law. It was the only time in the history of Reynolds Tobacco that it had a union. Before Local 22 faced set-backs from red-baiting and the power of Reynolds’ anti-unionism, it gained national attention for its vision of an equal society. This vision garnered the scrutiny of powerful enemies such as Richard Nixon and captured the attention of allies such as actor Paul Robeson and songwriter Woody Guthrie. While it represented the workers, the union influenced a generation of civil rights activists.
Before becoming a labor organizer, Dolores Huerta was a grammar school teacher, but soon quit after becoming distraught at the sight of children coming to school hungry or without proper clothing. “I couldn’t stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.” In 1955, Huerta launched her career in labor organizing by helping Fred Ross train organizers in Stockton, California, and five years later, founded the Agricultural Workers Association before organizing the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962. Some of her early victories included lobbying for voting rights for Mexican Americans as well as for the right of every American to take the written driver’s test in their native language. A champion of labor rights, women’s rights, racial equality and other civil rights causes, Huerta remains an unrelenting figure in the farm workers’ movement.
Marry Harris “Mother” Jones made it her mission to stand up for the rights of the children who worked in factories and mills under horrible conditions in the early 1900’s. “I asked the newspaper men why they didn’t publish the facts about child labor in Pennsylvania. They said they couldn’t because the mill owners had stock in the papers.” “Well, I’ve got stock in these little children,” said I,” and I’ll arrange a little publicity.” On July 7, 1903, Jones began the “March of the Mill Children” from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island summer home in Oyster Bay, NY, to publicize the harsh conditions of child labor and to demand a 55-hour work-week. During this march she delivered her famed “The Wail of the Children” speech, even though Roosevelt refused to see them.
“Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.” These words, which eerily echo some sentiments today, were spoken more than 120 years ago by Mary Lease, a powerful voice of the agrarian crusade and the best-known orator of the era, first gaining national attention battling Wall Street during the 1890 Populist campaign. As a spokesperson for the “people’s party,” she hoped that by appealing directly to the heart and soul of the nation’s farmers, she could motivate them to political action to protect their own interests not only in Kansas but throughout the United States. “You may call me an anarchist, a socialist, or a communist, I care not, but I hold to the theory that if one man as not enough to eat three times a day and another man has $25,000,000, that last man has something that belongs to the first.” Mary spent most of her life speaking out in favor of social justice causes including women’s suffrage and temperance, and her work reflected the multifaceted nature of late nineteenth-century politics in the United States. Many female leaders today, such as Elizabeth Warren, still fight against Wall Street and the 1% as inequality has reached exorbitant levels.
“I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.” These were the words of Clara Lemlich, a firebrand who led several strikes of shirtwaist makers and challenged the mostly male leadership of the union to organize women garment workers. With support from the National Women’s Trade Union League (NWTUL) in 1909 she lead the New York shirtwaist strike, also known as the “Uprising of the 20,000”. It was the largest strike of women at that point in U.S. history. The strike was followed a year later by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that exposed the continued plight of immigrant women working in dangerous and difficult conditions.
Luisa Moreno, a Guatemalan immigrant, first got involved in labor activism in 1930 at in Zelgreen’s Cafeteria in New York City, when she and her co-worker protested the employer’s exploitation of its workers with long hours, constant sexual harassment, and the threat, should anyone object, of dismissal. Hearing that workers would picket the cafeteria, police formed a line on the sidewalk that allowed customers to pass through. Luisa, in a fur collar coat, strolled through the cordon of policemen as if she was going to enter the cafeteria. When she was directly in front of the door she pulled a picket sign from under her coat and thrust it in plain view, yelling, “Strike!” Two burly policemen grabbed her by the elbows. They lifted her off the sidewalk and hustled her into the entrance way of a nearby building. She came out with her face bleeding and considered herself fortunate that she was not disfigured. Moreno spent the next 20 years organizing workers across the country. Her story serves as a reminder of just how dangerous the conditions were in those days to simply make one’s voice heard, but her bravery helped change those conditions for the better.
“Any new method which the company sought to put into effect and disturb our work routine seemed to inflame the deep indignation already burning inside us. Thus, when a procedure was suggested for subdividing our work, so that each operator would do a smaller part of each glove, and thus perhaps increase the overall production—but also increase the monotony of the work, and perhaps also decrease our rate of pay—we began to think of fighting back.” This reminiscence by Nestor described how the oppressive conditions of the glove factory pushed her to take a leading role in a successful strike of female glove workers in 1898. Soon she became president of her glove workers local and later a leader of the International Glove Workers Union. She also took a leading role in the Women’s Trade Union League, serving as president of the Chicago branch from 1913 to 1948.
Pauline Newman, a Russian immigrant, began working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1903 when she was thirteen years old. Finding that many of her co-workers could not read, she organized an evening study group where they also discussed labor issues and politics. Newman was active in the shirtwaist strike and the Women’s Trade Union League. She became a union organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) and director of the ILGWU Health Center. “All we knew was the bitter fact that after working 70 or 80 hours in a seven-day week, we did not earn enough to keep body and soul together,” she said.
On May 1, 1886, Lucy Parsons helped launched the world’s first May Day and the demand for the eight-hour work day. Along with her husband, anarchist and activist Albert Parsons, and their two children, they led 80,000 working people down the Chicago streets and more than 100,000 also marched in other U.S. cities. A new international holiday was born. Parsons went on to help found the International Workers of the World, continued to give speeches, and worked tirelessly for equality throughout the rest of her life until her death in 1942.
On March 4, 1933, Frances Perkins became the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. Having personally witnessed workers jump to their death during the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Perkins promoted and helped passed strong labor laws to try to prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.
When Rose Pesotta arrived in Los Angeles in 1933 to organize employees in the garment industry, the workforce of which was 75% Latina, the local leadership of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), consisting of mostly white men, had no interest in organizing female dressmakers, feeling that most would either leave the industry to raise their families or shouldn’t be working in the first place. On October 12, 1933, a month after Rose Pesotta arrived, 4,000 workers walked off the job and went on strike. Their demands included union recognition, 35-hour work weeks, being paid the minimum wage, no take home work or time card regulation, and for disputes to be handled through arbitration. The strike ended on Nov. 6 with mixed results, but the workers gained a 35-hour workweek and received the minimum wage. Although not a complete victory, the message sent was a powerful one. What Rose Pesotta knew all along was now clear to the garment bosses and her male union counterparts; women, specifically women of color, should not be discounted. When it came to the demands of dignity and respect, these workers would not be ignored.
When Poo started organizing domestic workers in 2000, many thought she was taking on an impossible task. Domestic workers were too dispersed–spread out over too many homes. Even Poo had described the world of domestic work as the “Wild West.” Poo’s first big breakthrough with the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) happened on July 1, 2010, when the New York state legislature passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The bill legitimized domestic workers and gave them the same lawful rights as any other employee, such as vacation time and overtime pay. The bill was considered a major victory, and the NDWA expanded operations to include 17 cities and 11 states.
Florence Reece was an activist, poet, and songwriter. She was the wife of one of the strikers and union organizers, Sam Reece, in the Harlan County miners strike in Kentucky. In an attempt to intimidate her family, the sheriff and company guards shot at their house while Reece and her children were inside (Sam had been warned they were coming and escaped). During the attack, she wrote the lyrics to Which Side Are You On?, a song that would become a popular ballad of the labor movement.
CHORUS: Which side are you on? (4x)
My daddy was a miner/And I’m a miner’s son/And I’ll stick with the union/‘Til every battle’s won [Chorus]
They say in Harlan County/There are no neutrals there/You’ll either be a union man/Or a thug for JH Blair [Chorus]
Oh workers can you stand it?/Oh tell me how you can/Will you be a lousy scab/Or will you be a man? [Chorus]
Don’t scab for the bosses/Don’t listen to their lies/Us poor folks haven’t got a chance/Unless we organize [Chorus]
At the age of 10, Harriet Hanson Robinson got a job in textile Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts to help support her family. When mill owners dropped wages and sped up the pace of work, Harriet and others participated in the 1836 Lowell Mill Strike. Later as an adult, Harriet became an activist for women’s suffrage and would recount her mill work experience in Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls. In her book, Harriet concludes: “Such is the brief story of the life of every-day working-girls; such as it was then, so it might be to-day. Undoubtedly there might have been another side to this picture, but I give the side I knew best–the bright side!”
Fannie Sellins was known as an exceptional organizer that also made her “a thorn in the side of the Allegheny Valley coal operators.” The operators openly threatened to “get her.” After being an organizer in St. Louis for the United Garment Workers local and in the West Virginia coal fields, in 1916 Sellins moved to Pennsylvania, where her work with the miners’ wives proved to be an effective way to organize workers across ethnic barriers. She also recruited black workers, who originally came north as strikebreakers, into the United Mine Workers America. During a tense confrontation between townspeople and armed company guards outside the Allegheny Coal and Coke company mine in Brackenridge on August 26, 1919, Fannie Sellins and miner Joseph Strzelecki were brutally gunned down. A coroner’s jury and a trial in 1923 ended in the acquittal of two men accused of her murder. She is remembered for her perseverance and bravery.
“When I look back now, I really think we had a lot of guts. But I didn’t even stop to think about it at the time. It was just something that had to be done. We had a goal. That’s what we felt had to be done, and we did it,” said “Stella Nowicki”, the assumed name of Vicki Starr, an activist who participated in the campaign to organize unions in the meatpacking factories of Chicago in the 1930’s and ‘40s.
“I was arrested a number of times. I never thought in terms of fear. I thought in terms of justice,” said Emma Tenayuca, born in San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 21, 1916. Later, she would become to be known as “La Pasionaria de Texas” through her work as an educator, speaker, and labor organizer. From 1934–1948, she supported almost every strike in the city, writing leaflets, visiting homes of strikers, and joining them on picket lines. She joined the Communist Party and the Workers Alliance (WA) in 1936. Tenayuca and WA demanded that Mexican workers could strike without fear of deportation or a minimum wage law. In 1938 she was unanimously elected strike leader of 12,000 pecan shellers. Due to anti-Mexican, anti-Communist, and anti-union hysteria Tenayuca fled San Antonio for her safety but later returned as a teacher.
On Jan. 28, 1917, 17-year-old Carmelita Torres led the Bath Riots at the Juarez/El Paso border, refusing the toxic “bath” imposed on all workers crossing the border. Here is what the El Paso Times reported the next day: “When refused permission to enter El Paso without complying with the regulations the women collected in an angry crowd at the center of the bridge. By 8 o’clock the throng, consisting in large part of servant girls employed in El Paso, had grown until it packed the bridge half way across. “Led by Carmelita Torres, an auburn-haired young woman of 17, they kept up a continuous volley of language aimed at the immigration and health officers, civilians, sentries and any other visible American.”
Ella Mae Wiggins was an organizer, speaker, and balladeer, known for expressed her faith in the union, the only organized force she had encountered that promised her a better life. On Sept. 14, 1929, during the Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, NC, Textile Workers Union members were ambushed by local vigilantes and a sheriff’s deputy. The vigilantes and deputy forced Ella Mae Wiggins’ pickup truck off the road, and murdered the 29 year-old mother of nine. Though there were 50 witnesses during the assault and five of the attackers were arrested, all were acquitted of her murder. After her death, the AFL-CIO expanded Wiggins’ grave marker in 1979, to include the phrase, “She died carrying the torch of social justice.” Also a song-writer, her best-known song, A Mill Mother’s Lament, was recorded by Pete Seeger, among others.
Sue Cowan Williams represented African-American teachers in the Little Rock School District as the plaintiff in the case challenging the rate of salaries allotted to teachers in the district based solely on skin color. The suit, Morris v. Williams, was filed on Feb. 28, 1942, and followed a March 1941 petition filed with the Little Rock School Board requesting equalization of salaries between black and white teachers. She lost the case, but then won in a 1943 appeal.
March 1, 2016
[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”30%” align=”right” size=”2″ quote=”It’s great being a Local 400 member. It helps me on the job having my union standing behind me. And that enables me—and many of my Local 400 brothers and sisters—to do what we can for our community.” cite=”William Iveym, UFCW Local 400″ parallax=”on” direction=”left”]
When William Ivey says, “We try to give back to the community,” he’s not kidding. A UFCW Local 400 member working as a sanitation specialist at Boar’s Head in Jarratt, Va., for the past 12 years, Billy goes far above and beyond the call of duty to support not only his Local 400 brothers and sisters, but his neighbors, too.
Together with his Local 400 colleagues Emerson Tennessee and Andrew Blunt, his brother Leon and other friends, Billy founded the Community Fellowship of Men, an organization that has “adopted” the second grade class at Capron Elementary School in Capron, Va., as their own. The Community Fellowship hosts an annual cookout every October, which raises funds to provide every second grader with a backpack filled with school supplies. The 2015 cookout marked the 10th year of this great event, which includes inflatable bounce houses for the children, and a car show for the adults.
“We provide the sausages and the meats and we man the grills,” Billy said. “It’s a real family gathering. People look forward to it every year. And the children love their backpacks.”
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#084e93″ text=”#ffffff” width=”content” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”It’s a real family gathering. People look forward to it every year. And the children love their backpacks.” parallax=”on” direction=”left”]
Community Fellowship members support the students in other ways, too, volunteering in the school, passing out healthy snacks, and helping with athletic contests, for example.
And it’s not just children who benefit. The Community Fellowship assists widows in Southampton County, with members mowing the grass when it’s hot outside and helping out around the house as needed.
Billy’s community spirit is also seen in his involvement with his church, Pleasant Plains Baptist, located in his hometown of Drewryville, Va. Billy is a member of the church’s Ministry of Comfort and serves on the Usher Board. “The church is very important to me,” Billy said. “It helps me be a better person.”
Billy’s exemplary leadership and activism reflect the values of his union. “It’s great being a Local 400 member,” he said. “It helps me on the job having my union standing behind me. And that enables me—and many of my Local 400 brothers and sisters—to do what we can for our community.”
February 29, 2016
As the UFCW continues to honor Black History Month and reinforces its commitment to racial and economic justice, we’re asking members why these issues matter to them. Hidi Frazier of Local 1996 has worked for Kroger in Georgia for 15 years. As a Deli Manager, she oversees both the deli and bakery, trains new associates, takes inventory, and makes orders.
[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”30%” align=”right” size=”2″ quote=”A lot of issues affects us all in one way or another. We all want fair wages, good health benefits and good pensions. We all have to continue to stand together and keep working families strong.” cite=”Hidi Frazier, UFCW Local 1996″ parallax=”on” direction=”left”]
Hidi says that to her, “Black History Month … is about honoring and remembering those who made a difference and paved the way for people like me. Without their sacrifice and determination to want and fight for change, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Hidi first became active in her union seven years ago when a fellow member asked if she’d like to volunteer with phone banking to ask fellow members to vote and help get labor-friendly candidates elected in her state who will make a difference for working families. She agreed, and has been an active member ever since.
During her time volunteering, Hidi was inspired by Mary Lou Romaine-Waymer, who leads and organizes the phone banks and other political activities for the local: “She does a great job. Mary Lou Wagner is a leader for UFCW. She keeps the members well informed in local and state politics. Mary Lou reminds us that these races are the most important because they affect our everyday lives as citizens of Georgia.”
After seeing first-hand just how much of a difference being part of union family makes in her life, Hidi wants to spread the word. As a manager, she’s in a unique position to help explain to her fellow coworkers what the union is all about. “I would advise everyone, not just African Americans, to become involved. A lot of issues affects us all in one way or another. We all want fair wages, good health benefits and good pensions. We all have to continue to stand together and keep working families strong,” she says
[aesop_quote type=”pull” background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”30%” align=”left” size=”2″ quote=”When union members, community members, and other working people come together, we are more powerful.” parallax=”on” direction=”left”]
Hidi also stresses the importance of solidarity. “We have the AFL-CIO, where all the unions come together to keep the fight going for working families,” she says. “When union members, community members, and other working people come together, we are more powerful. Labor and civil rights intersect by continuing the fight on issues that affect working families. We will continue to rally and lobby together to make sure that we all have the same opportunities as everyone else. We have to have more training and workshops so that minorities can compete in the workplace. Lastly, we have to make our unions stronger than ever.”
February 23, 2016
As part of our ongoing celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Civil Rights and Community Action Department Robin Williams to talk about the important relationship of the labor movement and the achievements and contributions made by African Americans.
What does Black History Month mean to you and why is it so important?
Black History Month is about celebrating and being proud of being Black in America. It is a time where we celebrate the contributions that African Americans, past and present, have made in our society. Our country’s rich history has been deeply impacted by so many groups and it’s important we celebrate everyone’s contributions in order to create a tradition of acknowledgement, inclusion and community engagement. By remembering and celebrating our history, we can build awareness on the struggles and challenges that African Americans have faced and inspire a new generation of civil rights and social justice leaders.
How and why did you become involved with the labor movement?
I was born in 1964 in Washington, D.C. and the labor movement, like the civil rights movement, has been a huge part of my family’s history. My father was a minister and supporter of Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the 1970’s, he worked for Raleigh’s Clothing Store and Woodward & Lothrop Department Store, which were both represented by The Retail Clerks Local 400, which later became UFCW Local 400. I remember my dad talking about the union organizing campaign and how solidarity and joining the union was so important for the advancement of Black people. It was because of his union job that my father was able to purchase a home and raise his family in a middle class neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
The 1970s in Washington, D.C. was a time where African Americans were gaining more opportunities to land full-time jobs in local and federal government, as well as in healthcare and other public and private sector jobs. With the increase of union organizing in these sectors, worker solidarity and union membership had quickly become the greatest pathway to the middle class for African American workers.
By the time I was hired as a part-time food clerk for Georgetown Safeway Food Store in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, the labor movement was a part of me. I got involved in my union, UFCW Local 400, after organizing a delegation of part-time employees to meet with store management in a demand for fair scheduling. I went on to become an assistant shop steward and then I joined Local 400 as a full-time organizer and led the healthcare team in organizing hundreds of healthcare workers in Southern Maryland and Virginia. I joined the UFCW International staff as Associate Director of Civil Rights and Community Action in 2005.
What suggestions do you have for other African Americans who want to become more involved in the labor movement?
I am grounded in my faith, my family, and in my union. My faith teaches me that the most important thing in life is love. My family keeps me connected to who I am and my culture and my union allows me to be in solidarity with mankind and to serve others.
I am proud to be union–UFCW Union! I am proud to be an advocate for workers’ rights. Unions need more active African American union members, organizers, leaders and advocates to get involved in the labor movement. The labor movement remains one of the greatest avenues for economic freedom for African Americans. If you have passion to fight for justice, if you want to work to create a more equitable society–the labor movement could be the place for you.
There are many ways to get involved. If you are a union member, you can start by attending membership meetings and learning more about the activities of your union. You can also volunteer for union organizing campaigns, workplace actions, social media campaigns, participate in Get Out the Vote campaigns, run for union shop steward or run to serve on your contract bargaining team.
If you are not a member of a union, you can get involved in the labor movement by joining a living wage, fair scheduling, sick leave, or other social and economic justice campaigns–apply for intern opportunities, seek out job opportunities. African Americans that desire to get involved in the labor movement can also seek out volunteer, internships and job opportunities with organizations that are in partnership with labor and civil rights organizations, voter engagement, community organizing, LGBTQ organizations, immigration and workers’ right organizations.
In the 60s, activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin, and Malcolm X led the Civil Rights movement, which also advocated for expanded workers’ rights. In your opinion, what groups or leaders stand out as being at forefront in the fight for equality and justice now?
Leaders like Reverend William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP and founder of the “Forward Together Movement,” the Advancement Project, DEMOS, and many African American labor activists, like myself, are now at the forefront in the fight for equality and justice. Through the Labor Commission on Race and Economic Justice, UFCW International President Marc Perrone and Fred Redmon, Vice President of the United Steelworkers, are at the forefront in leading the conversation and work to dismantle racism within the labor movement.
Also, in today’s era of social media, movements like Color of Change, Not One More Deportation, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and the Dream Defenders have sparked a new generation of advocates for racial and social equality. Many of these young leaders are also leading in the labor movement. Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter is Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Carmen Berkley, cofounder of Black Youth Project 100, is Human, Civil and Women’s Rights Director for the AFL-CIO, and Greg Cendana is a young, openly gay Asian American activist and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Through their civil rights, community and union activity, these millennials are leading the charge to expose and dismantle a racist system that disenfranchises communities of color.
The labor movement has a rich tradition of fighting inequities that extend beyond the workplace. In what way do labor and civil rights intersect and how can unions help narrow the income and equality divide that disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities?
In a speech entitled “if the Negro Wins, Labor Wins,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
Negroes in the United States read this history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the good will and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us…. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table… Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, and health and welfare measures… That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.
These words stand true even today: the success of the civil rights movement as well as the labor movement is the ability to work together in order to move a vigorous agenda that addresses institutional and generational racism, worker exploitation, and social and economic inequality.
Just as Black Lives Matter and today’s Black Liberation movement share agendas that include workers’ rights and union protections, the labor movement must adopt and move a robust civil rights agenda that includes the voices of Black, Latino, Women, Asian, and LGBTQ workers. It must be an agenda that moves campaigns to declare that all workers can earn a better wage, regardless of the level of their education. All workers have a right to paid sick leave and paid family leave. An agenda that works to protect all workers against discrimination based on the color of their skin, their nationality, their self-identity or sexual orientation, or past incarceration or criminal record. Labor should move an agenda that promotes equal pay for all workers regardless of gender, their place of employment or past criminal record. Labor should move an agenda that works with the civil rights movement to protect the right to vote for all people.
The work of the Labor Commission on Race and Economic Justice is only the beginning of a process to address discrimination. Labor can no longer be silent about the attacks on Black communities. Labor must become true allies of the civil rights movement. For the enemies of the labor movement are the same enemies of the civil rights movement, and neither movement can win without the other…
With cases like Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association and expansion of Right to Work, labor cannot withstand the attacks on the movement without joining a greater movement for social and economic justice. The two movements must show up for each other, “For in the End, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”…words of Dr. Martin King, Jr.
February 12, 2016
One of the most significant events in our country’s history was the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. 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 showed that people of all races and religions can come together to stand against injustice and oppression.
Over 50 years later, the fight against injustice and oppression continues. 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 under-served communities that are struggling with increasing inequality, racial profiling and social unrest. From the Making Change at Walmart and the Fight for $15 campaigns to Black Lives Matter to the fight for LGBT equality to the fight to change our broken immigration system, activists have taken the lead in tackling these issues and pushed income inequality, social justice and gender equality into the national conversation.
Civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who organized the March on Washington, once said that “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.”
The UFCW is proud to stand with today’s activists as they continue the fight for social and economic justice.
February 3, 2016
UFCW President Perrone Highlights Historic Announcement as Part of UFCW’s Commitment to Building a Diverse and Strong Union Family
PHOENIX, AZ — Today, the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Executive Board elected Esther López as the new International Secretary-Treasurer. The historic announcement reflects the commitment by the UFCW, as the largest private sector union with 1.3 million members, to building a diverse and strong union family.
Esther López is a leading champion of hard-working men and women, and has worked tirelessly for decades on behalf of immigrants and all families seeking a better life. López has helped lead the UFCW’s groundbreaking outreach effort to the Latino and immigrant communities, and is recognized as a national leader in the areas of immigration reform, as well as civil, human, and labor rights.
“To become a better and stronger union family, I have been absolutely committed to building a diverse and inclusive union. It is why I’m so proud to announce that the UFCW International Executive Board elected Esther López as our union family’s new International Secretary-Treasurer. Esther is a tireless advocate for the rights of all hard-working men and women. Esther believes, as I do, that our nation’s diversity is our strength, that we must grow our union family, and that by working together we will provide a better life to all our incredible members,” said Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union.
In accepting her position, López said:
“I am truly honored to be elected as the International Secretary-Treasurer. This union and our members are my family. Doing everything I can to improve the lives of hard-working families, and provide them with the better life they’ve earned, has been my life’s mission. It is why the UFCW’s commitment to building a stronger and more diverse union family is so important. It inspires me to never stop fighting to better the lives of our members, and those who deserve to be our members. Under Marc’s leadership, and as part of this incredible UFCW team, I’m more optimistic than ever about the future of our great union family.”
Throughout her career, López has been a champion of the rights of all workers – regardless of where they come from or where they were born. To help provide hope to immigrant workers, López launched a groundbreaking program to ensure eligible UFCW members were first in line to apply for citizenship. Prior to that, she spearheaded the Union Citizenship Action Network, also known as UCAN, to help UFCW members become naturalized and get on the path to citizenship. López was the lead staff person on the UFCW Commission on ICE Enforcement that highlighted civil rights abuses in the 2006 Swift raids. All along, López has never lost focus on the broader goal of giving aspiring Americans the chance to become citizens and ensuring all workers and their families are protected from exploitation.
López began with the UFCW in November 2006 when she was hired as Director of the Civil Rights and Community Action Department. In that role, she has helped put the UFCW on the front lines of the most crucial civil rights battles of our time—fighting back against voter suppression, working to end exploitation of refugees from countries like Burma, Sudan and Somalia, creating more opportunities for women, and expanding LGBT equality.
Prior to her career at the UFCW, López played an active role in improving labor conditions within the state of Illinois, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Labor, as well as in the governor’s cabinet as Director of the Illinois Department of Labor.
We are 1.3 million families standing together to build an economy that every hard-working family deserves.
February 1, 2016
Every year in February, we take part in celebrating Black History Month. Throughout the next four weeks, we will highlight and celebrate the rich history of African Americans, the achievements of the civil rights movement, and the impact that various civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and union members have had on the fight for civil and labor rights throughout history, and today.
Black History Month’s origins began in 1926, after historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans dedicated the second week in February as “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, the celebration was officially recognized and expanded to span the entire month, and every U.S. president since then has celebrated Black History Month during the month of February.
Paying tribute to African American leaders and community members who have fought for fair wages, dignity in the workplace, and the freedom to organize is still important today–despite the progress that many civil rights leaders made in spite of considerable barriers in the 1960’s, our country still faces threats to the Voting Rights Act, racial discrimination in our cities, and many other setbacks to this progress. Even during the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign, we have seen race-baiting and other derogatory rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump. The ideas being put forth by many of the Republican presidential nominees do not represent the America that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of–we must continue to honor his and and many others’ significant contributions to the labor movement as we fight for equality in the workplace and beyond, for people of all races and backgrounds.
January 28, 2016
Community members and El Super workers rallied outside the chain’s newly opened El Super store in Pico Rivera yesterday. El Super has been under consumer boycott since December 2014, and its unionized workers have struck the company twice in protest of unfair labor practices. Jobs at El Super are beneath grocery industry standards and the federal government has issued multiple complaints, and a temporary injunction, against the company for violating the rights of workers who speak out in favor of higher standards.
On January 22, a new El Super opened at 9320 Slauson Ave, Pico Rivera. This space was a Ralph’s store, before it closed last October.
“This will be a non Union store where workers have fewer protections and no voice at work. Pico Rivera needs good, union jobs that uplift workers, their families and our community. We need grocery stores that preserve the quality job standards established at neighboring stores,” said Andrea Zinder, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) 324 Secretary Treasurer.
Ralph’s workers at this store had a good union contract that included guaranteed hours, family sustaining wages, adequate paid sick leave, and affordable family health care. The jobs at the Pico Rivera El Super are inferior in every way.
In 2014, Chedraui posted over $100 million (US) in profits, and El Super contributed more than a fifth of the company’s net revenues. Despite its success, unionized El Super workers at seven (7) California stores have been working without a fair union contract for over two years.
January 21, 2016
The AFL-CIO held its annual Martin Luther King (MLK) Conference last week in Washington, D.C., where UFCW members from across the country attended and participated. The conference, titled “Change The Rules, Be The Power,” revolved around organizing, politics, and other issues, openly discussing race, and activism — including the in-the-neighborhoods activism by its 1,000 delegates. At least one speaker urged the federation to openly endorse and back the Black Lives Matter movement, which has pushed the discussion about racial justice to the forefront of U.S. consciousness. A special AFL-CIO race and justice commission, co-chaired by UFCW International President Marc Perrone, is holding a series of hearings nationwide to get that discussion going.
The MLK Conference also covered issues ranging from ending mass incarceration of minorities and immigrants, to the looming U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would make every state and local government a right-to-work fiefdom. One speaker noted that the right-to-work ruling would disproportionately harm minorities and women.
The conference’s big secondary theme was the need to greatly increase organizing, both by the labor movement and its allies (faith groups, community groups, women’s groups, civil rights groups, environmentalists and others) in order to increase membership and supporters and marshal resources and people to call out and fight against the issues that would harm hard-working men and women in the 2016 election and beyond.
The conference agenda was packed with incredible speakers from union presidents, to community activists, representatives from worker centers, young workers and more. UFCW Executive Vice President Esther Lopez was honored with the distinguished “At The River I Stand” Award at the Sunday night awards dinner. During the conference, UFCW activists participated in many dynamic plenaries, workshops sessions, awards, events and community service projects. Some of the community service projects included cleaning the homes of senior citizens and preparing meal kits and food bags at food pantries. The conference ended on Monday with conference participants joining community members from Ward 8 in Washington, D.C. for their MLK parade.
December 14, 2015
The AFL-CIO Bonnie Ladin Union Skills (BLUS) Training Program offers week-long intensive courses for union leaders, staff and activists that combine in-class instruction with discussions of real world experiences shared by a diverse group of participants. The main training areas include:
- Union administration;
- Collective bargaining (private and public sector);
- Organizing (internal and external);
- Arbitration and grievance handling;
- Communications and media; and
- Best financial practices.
The BLUS courses are taught by a corps of experienced instructors to help participants to better serve their union and community brothers and sisters. The BLUS experience brings rising union and community ally leaders together in a spirit of mutual development and camaraderie. Most courses are held at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute (CCMIT), located in Linthicum Heights, Md.
Visit the BLUS page for the 2016 course schedule and for course registration.