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UAW’s involvement in civil rights: Part of our proud history and our responsibility

Most people know legendary UAW President Walter Reuther marched alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he sought to make America a more just nation.

Indeed, the UAW gave Dr. King office space at its headquarters at Solidarity House in Detroit where the Nobel Prize winner penned his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech that remains firmly etched into our collective social consciousness a half century later.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ ”

Joined by Reuther and others, King spoke these words at Detroit’s Walk to Freedom, two months before he gave his famous speech on Washington’s Mall.

The UAW Human and Civil Rights Department enhances the union’s efforts to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and that all have the same opportunity for advancement.

As a union, we marched with King because it was the right thing to do. We marched with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers because it was the right thing to do. We supported anti-apartheid marchers and Nelson Mandela in South Africa because it was the right thing to do. We support pay equity measures like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act because it’s the right thing to do.

The connection between the labor and civil rights movements is natural. King was supporting sanitation workers in Memphis when he was assassinated. He also understood that when pro-business groups talk about the “Right to Work,” what they really mean is the “Right to Work for Less.”


“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining... We demand this fraud be stopped,” King said in 1961.


Today, we support a variety of groups and causes that advance the ideals of equality and opportunity for all Americans. It’s because workers can never be free to fulfill their own destinies unless all workers have an equal chance.

The United States is slowly rebounding from the worst economic recession in 80 years  that undercut civil rights at every possible turn. Our mission is to keep our eyes on the prize of progress in civil rights and not slide back. You can help by getting involved in your local’s civil rights committee.

Or, as Cesar Chavez once said:

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. … Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own,” Chavez went on to say, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.  You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.  We have seen the future, and the future is ours”

 



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