Thursday, 5 May 2011

Human Rights - Civil Rights - Trade Union Rights


Pressure of work since coming back from leave has meant that I (quite disgracefully) did not post an item for either Workers' Memorial Day (28th April or May Day.

To try and remedy this catastrophe I am posting this fantastic image of Martin Luther King (and one of his many pro-union quotes) I came across recently when discussing a book that an MA student has used for a recent assignment.

Poor Workers' Unions by Vannessa Tait is, from my perspective, a book of tremendous scope and from several perspectives. One of the most important is that it charts the linkage between the social movement of the 60's civil rights protests and that of trade union demands for basic rights (particularly pay) for black workers. The coverage also of what historically have been called 'poor workers' unions' is also important to understanding trade union history, particularly in the US, as it helps delinate between the those unions which not only have a troubled history in the organisation and representation of the interets of black workers, but whom also disinhereted the interests of those workers outside of 'skilled' professions.

A review of Tait's book can seen here:'_Unions.htm

The overall trajectory of the civil rights movement in the US can be seen as one moving from human rights (in simply recognising the existence as black people as equal to that of whites - particularly in the context of the constitution) to civil rights (with a focus on the right to vote, the abolishing of segregration etc.) and the transition to the embodiment of these achievements within the context of trade union and other social rights.

We know that the last period in the life of Martin Luther King was one where he connected social justice with the grinding poverty of black people across the US and aligned himself with trade union demands for a minimum wage and the protection of basic freedoms.

It is a legacy that all trade unionists must firstly become familiar with in its historical sense and secondly commit to as a programme of action that is still as vital today as it was then.

Any thoughts and comments are, as ever, welcome.

In Solidarity.



Jenni Ashton said...


What a fantastic quote - where did you get it fro. Was it in the student's assignment, or in the book you mention by Vanessa Tait?



Val said...

Fantastic quote and picture Ian,

I havejust had to dig one of my favourites out:

"Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. 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."

This is from when he is at the AFL-CIO conference in 1961.

Another real pearl, and one which nearly brings me to tears is:

"As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined."

This is references as "Letter to Amalgamated Laundry Workers, January 1962"

Well done Ian, that picture/quote hit the right note!


Pete Eden said...


This is a truly amazing quote, thanks for posting. Like the book you mention I knew that King was supporting striking rubbish collectors (I think it was Memphis?) just before he died and that this was, as you say, his linking of social and political issues - and why some say that the rightwing decided the time had definitely come to kill him.

I just hadn't realised that he saw labour and race as the same - what a visionary!



Ian Manborde said...

Thanks Jennie/Val/Peter,

Your contributions are fantastic!