Feb 15, 2018

NAGE/IBPO Celebrates Black History Month

NAGE/IBPO Federal/Municipal Division celebrates Black History Month by recognizing black labor leaders, whom through their dedication and resilience, helped to lay the foundation for the labor movement as we know it. African Americans leaders in the labor movement were determined to secure safer working conditions and fair wages for all African American workers as many workers were paid less than their white counter parts, were discriminated against and suffered through harsh working conditions. 
 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a critical role in the labor movement. Most notably he supported and encouraged the 1300 black Memphis Sanitation Workers represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who were on strike for higher wages, safer working conditions, and better treatment in the spring of 1968. On the day before his assassination, Dr. King told the men, “We've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We've got to see it through.” Following Dr. King’s assassination, the strikers were granted the union recognition and higher wages they sought after.

During World War II many women were given jobs in the meatpacking industry, however, black women were discriminated against. Once Rowena Moore noticed this, she organized the Defense Women’s Club (DWC). Members of the DWC promoted war bonds, food rationing, and child care for working mothers and jobs for black women. Due to her efforts and those of the union, the Federal Fair Employment Practices Committee forced the industry to stop discriminating against black women, this resulted in the hiring of Moore and hundreds of other black women. Moore continued to challenge discrimination by the industry. She also was the founding president of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.

A. Philip Randolph was one of the most notable leaders in the American labor movement. In 1919, he became president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America, however it dissolved in 1921. Subsequent to this, he organized and led the first predominantly black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). Randolph also served as the first president of the union. Due to no union presence, many employees were underpaid and endured dangerous working conditions. Following a 10 year struggle to be recognized and have their voices heard, under Randolph’s leadership, the BSCP won their election and signed their first collective bargaining agreement.

The Colored National Labor Union (CNLU) was formed after blacks were excluded from existing labor unions. On January 13, 1869, over 200 black delegates, led by Isaac Meyers, founded CNLU, in Washington DC. In 1872, Frederick Douglas became the president of the union and his newspaper, the National New Era, served as the official voice of the union. The union’s mission was to help improved the harsh working conditions that blacks endured. The CNLU also attempted to provide farmland to poor blacks in the south, government aid for education and to implement legislation that was non-discriminatory towards black workers. The CNLU accepted all workers without regard to race.

Bayard Rustin was most notable for serving as an advisor and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the chief organizer for the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. He  worked with Dr. King to organize the successful bus boycott Montgomery, AL. Rustin also worked to strengthen the labor movement and to ensure Black workers place in the House of Labor. He was the founder and Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) in 1965, which coordinated the AFL-CIO’s work on civil rights and economic justice. Under his leadership, APRI announced a “Freedom Budget” which proposed to eliminate poverty in 10 years, conducted a nationwide voter registration campaign and ran a successful program to prepare people of color for apprenticeships in the building trades.


We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; but we can't have both. - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
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