Labor Activists Honor Dr. King, Strategize for the Future in Montgomery

More than 800 union activists, including members of the USW, gathered in Montgomery, Ala., for the 2024 AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference on Jan. 12-14.

This year’s conference was titled “Our Voice, Our Ballot, Our Future” in honor of Dr. King’s vision for collective action to safeguard the pillars of our democracy.

Keynotes and panels focused on topics including organizing the South, advocating for LGBTQ+ workers, and fighting for democracy in state legislatures. Conference members also enjoyed remarks from Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su.

Herm Santana, who serves as chair of the Civil and Human Rights Committee at Local 12775 in Indiana, said that the most impactful event of the conference for him was touring the Legacy Museum, which is located on the site of a cotton warehouse where enslaved Black people were forced to labor in bondage. The museum tells the story of slavery in America and its legacy through interactive media, first-person narratives, world-class art, and other exhibits.

“I saw images there that I don't think I will ever forget,” said Santana. “I am a Puerto Rican man, and while my culture is known for being mixed and all encompassing, it was a vivid reminder of why civil and human rights affects us all.”

Maggie Gamboa, who serves as grievance chair for Local 7600 in Southern California, was also incredibly moved by her tour of the museum as well as by attending a workshop on the struggles of migrant workers.

As the child of immigrants, Gamboa is well aware of the many obstacles the community faces, and her time at the conference reinstated her commitment to solidarity.

“At the end of the day, our battles extend past your specific job, background, or history,” she said. “There are so many willing to break us and keep us separated, which is why it is so important to educate our youth on the past so it doesn’t get repeated.”

Click here to view videos from the MLK Conference.

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