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1/17/2005

Unions Honor King by Building Political Power

Union members celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are focusing on strategies for building on the union movement’s unprecedented political mobilization in the 2004 elections.

“We came within a few votes in Ohio of winning back the White House,” says Harriett Weaver, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 in St. Louis. “We can’t wait until 2006 or 2008 to start getting ready for the next election. We have to start organizing today, building more coalitions and educating our members on the important issues like Social Security and keeping the right to join a union.” Weaver says she is participating in the AFL-CIO’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities in Los Angeles because workers are under attack and must come together and fight harder than ever to survive.

The more than 240 union civil rights activists who are gathering in Los Angeles for the King holiday observance Jan. 13–17 will hold a community forum on building political power to highlight the importance of working together to advance the cause of workers and people of color. The discussion will include get-out-the-vote strategies for African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos.

Every candidate we support for every office should take a stand and join us in the struggle” to save Social Security, gain good jobs and protect the freedom of workers to form unions,” says AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson. “The way we fight these battles—the way we take the momentum we built last year and run with it—will define who we are and how successful we can be.”

‘Modern-Day Civil Rights Struggle’

Union members taking part in the events this weekend say the union movement must grow to gain political strength. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day participants will show strong support for the freedom of workers to form unions by joining with Los Angeles clergy and elected leaders in a Jan. 14 “Break the Chains of Injustice” march through downtown Los Angeles. The march highlights the nationwide fight by private security guards, 80,000 of whom are African Americans, to win affordable health care, better wages and more training by forming a union with SEIU. Of the 10,000 private security guards in the Los Angeles area seeking to join SEIU Local 1877, some 65 percent are African American.

“The security guard’s effort is a modern-day civil rights struggle and one that Dr. King would have supported,” says Terence Long, a member of Local 1877 working on the campaign.

Participants also will discuss ways to increase educational opportunities for people of color and the impact of environmental problems on communities of color. The group will distribute clothing, paper goods and other items to local agencies, food banks and shelters.

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