On the heels of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we should exuberantly celebrate the significance of Labor Day.
Organized labor played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. After all, the march was actually titled the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” though the former is often overshadowed by the latter. Unions were partners in the struggle for better pay, dignity and equality for all. That involvement continues today.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for civil disobedience, unions and union members came to his aid with legal and financial assistance. Union members marched in Washington in 1963 and in cities around the country. When King was killed, he was in Memphis to aid striking sanitation workers.
Today, the union movement is in the forefront of efforts to ensure that the gains of the past are maintained and to fight for those still denied opportunity and equality.
From its struggles to ensure U.S. workplaces are free of discrimination to its battles to ensure that the hard-earned right to vote is secure for all, the union movement continues to fight for the poor and the oppressed and to build the middle class.
So this Labor Day, take a moment to reflect on the contribution of the American labor movement and remind those who criticize unions that organized labor was the vital force that demanded safe working conditions, decent wages, retirement with dignity, basic health care, Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education and the end to child labor.
Lynne J. Webb
Land O’ Lakes
The writer is president of West Central Florida Federation of Labor, United School Employees of Pasco.