Activists organize for the future, honor Dr. King’s legacy in Washington

Labor and civil rights activists from across the United States strategized about the continued fight for economic and racial justice at the annual AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Conference on Jan. 13-6 in Washington, D.C.

The conference theme focused around “Claiming Our Power, Protecting Our Democracy,” reflecting the country’s current crises of extremist politicians, far-right judges and corrupt corporate interests. Participants also spent time in the community, volunteering with nonprofit organizations as well as lending a hand at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

Noted speakers included AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, and A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) President Clayola Brown, as well as new worker-activists from Amazon and Starbucks.

USW Local 7600 Vice President Norberto Gomez was part of a large delegation of USW members who attended the conference and said every workshop and panel discussion was motivating and inspiring, but that his favorite experience was marching in the 42nd Annual MLK Peace Walk and Parade on Mon., Jan. 16.

“Being out on the street, in Washington, D.C., chanting and hearing the community cheer for the union was the biggest boost of all,” he said.

Gomez, who helps lead Local 7600 in Southern California – which includes more than 7,000 health care workers – also believes labor activists must incorporate honest and open conversations about civil rights on a regular basis.

“The intersectionality of civil rights and labor rights are so important, not only to the community in which we live, but to the union worker,” he said. “In order for the union to be fully encompassing of its members' lives, it must fight for those issues that affect people inside and outside of the workplace.”

USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown also attended the conference that bridges the labor and social justice movements, a connection she said is unbreakable.

“Labor and civil and human rights are inextricably linked,” she said. “Both our fights and our foes are common. We are always stronger together.”

Watch a recap of the conference below.

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