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 By: Rebecca S. Jones

HOUSTON – “I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream – a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equal opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality. That is the dream…”

            These prolific words were rendered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), on December 11, 1961 in Miami Florida. For decades, the AFL-CIO has fervently maintained and tirelessly labored to achieve the true implications associated with Dr. King’s dream. Collectively, the federation is compiled of 56 national and international labor unions, who work relentlessly to ensure that equal opportunities are met for 12.5 million workers, inclusive with men and women.

On January 12-15, the AFL-CIO will host its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference in Houston. The commemorative event will be held at the Hilton Americas Hotel, located at 1600 Lamar Street, 77010. The secondary location for workshops and political boot camp breakouts will be at the George R. Brown Convention Center, located at 1001 Avenida de las America, 77010.

The theme of the conference is,Reclaiming the Dream: Strategize, Organize, Mobilize!” The annual AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference commences every year in a different city. This year, Houston is proud to welcome, a great sum of national and local laborers and labor leaders, community activists, social and economic justice advocates, educators, elected officials, clergymen and a gallery of others who will unite to pay homage to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pertinent issues such as: raising wages, ensuring racial equality for all workers and other diverse issues affecting American workers, will be discussed at the conference. Leaders of the conference are seeking to develop solutions to the many issues that heavily impact the American workforce. The conference will feature a number of events such as: workshop sessions, vendor marketplace, reception, community service, community town hall, interfaith service, AFL-CIO Civil and Human Rights Awards Gala.

Highlighted goals and objectives of this year’s project is: “to advance and highlight the labor economic policy and advocacy agenda connected to the modern day civil rights movement; to drive economic policy and advocacy advancement in core areas connected to the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention; to uplift and connect the work of race and class through an intersectional approach; to promote the value of the AFL-CIO and Labor Affiliates in running joint program with strategic partners and to prepare our attendees for the various way to build independent political power in 2018 and beyond.”

            Speakers of the MLK Conference are as follows: Labor Leaders – Rich Trumka (AFL-CIO), Tefere Gebre (AFL-CIO – by video), Liz Shuler (AFL-CIO), Rick Levy (AFL-CIO – TX), Petee Tally (AFL-CIO – OH), Lee Sauders (AFSCME), DeMaurice Smith (NFLPA), Dora Cervantes (IAMAW), Fred Redmond (USW, International Vice PresidentHonorary Chair), Maria Elena Durazo (Unite HERE, General Vice President – Co-Chair), Claude Cummings (CWA, Regional Vice President – CoChair), Robin Williams (UFCW, Vice President – Co-Chair), Vonda McDaniel (Nashville CLC), Zeph Capo (Gulf Coast Area Federation), Lorretta Johnson (AFT) and Gabrielle Cateris (SAG-AFTRA).

            The conference will also feature a number of dedicated elected officials from around the nation, who will speak including: Mayor Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Keith Kazmark (New Jersey, Congressmen Al Green, John Lewis, Gene Green and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Catherine Cortez Masto, Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia, State Representatives Bruce Franks and Danica Roem and City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda (Seattle) and Braxton Winston (North Carolina). Strategic partner leaders who will speak are Rev. William Barber and Rashad Robinson of the Color of Change, amidst a slew of other national and local influential leaders of our communities.

Additionally, AFL-CIO has partnered with several agencies to form its Host Committee. In collaboration with the Black Heritage Society (BHS), AFL-CIO will conclude the conference at the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade at 10:00am on Monday. Houston living legend, Ovide Duncatell (BHS) established the very first MLK Day parade in the nation 40-years ago. Director of Operations, Sylvester Brown (BHS) is on the Host Committee for the AFL-CIO conference. When asked, Brown expressed his delight in reference to being a partner of the event. He said, “Here in Houston, as hosts’ of the first Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in the nation, we are excited to be able join and collaborate with AFL-CIO and I want to thank Claude Cummings and the many other union members that are here.” The parade will start at Minute Maid Park located at 501 Crawford St., 77002. For more details about visit http://www.blackheritagesociety.org/.

            Vice President Sandra Massie Hines (BHS), another member of the Host Committee shared in with her excitement. “This is a labor of love for us to cooperate here together and give the time that we have been giving to make this happen and I am excited to be a partner of this Host Committee effort to bring this first class event to the city of Houston on a national level.” In collaboration with AFL-CIO, Hines will be hosting a Children’s March Activity on Saturday at 9:00 am in MacGregor Park (5225 Calhoun Rd., 77021). Several hundred children and youth and young adults from Mexico, Nicaragua and other South America regions will join in. The activity will take place throughout the park and end at the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue.

Afterwards, food will be provided by the United Food Commercial Workers and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee will speak about Dr. King’s efforts of civil rights and the strides he made while working with the labor movement. Following, there will be a presidential health fair, entertainment, talent show and awards ceremony. Community outreach will be rendered in the form of food donations, toys, school supplies and heaters and blankets. The event is open to the public. Hines also expressed her gratitude for the Houston Police Department and Precinct 7 who will be on site.

 

Claude Cummings, Regional Vice President, Communication Workers of America (CWA):

 

During a brief interview with Co-Chair of the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King, Jr. Conference, Claude Cummings provided insight on the event and the significance of hosting such. “Our theme is, ‘Reclaiming the Dream: Organize, Mobilize, Strategize’.  I think a lot of people will remember that Dr. King was assassinated marching for garbage workers. He is one that truly believed that the labor movement and the civil rights movement were walking steps with each other. The civil rights movement was all about equality, better wages, better pay and the right to vote and that’s what labor unions have been fighting for, for years – better wages, better benefits, human rights and the right to vote.”

Dr. King said, “History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

            “I agree with him because, there are a lot of people who think that because of the wages and benefits that labor provided for members, that we hurt the economy. But, we didn’t hurt the economy it is the greed of CEO’s in this country that is hurting the economy, and the greed of wanting to give to more money to their investors. That’s what hurts the economy.”

Having dedicated his entire adult life to serving in the labor movement and being on the front line of numerous social and economic issues that plague our communities; Cummings understands the need and importance of achieving an equally balanced workforce for Americans. Continuing, he shared a brief story which adds to the reasoning of why the labor movement is such an integral facet of our society.

He said, “After we got past all the sadness of Michael Brown being killed, I remember there were several young African-American men who were interviewed. They were asked, ‘Why do we have situations like what happened with Michael Brown?’ They responded, ‘Because there are no jobs and people are going to do what they need to do, in order to survive.’ So my point is, Dr. King wanted to see, more jobs in this country with good wages and benefits – and there are places like in Ferguson, Missouri, all over Texas and a lot of other states in this country, who need jobs with good wages and benefits. When we get that, crime will go down, people will participate more in the election process and true human rights will take place in this country. So we can’t forget that Dr. King was assassinated marching for garbage workers, which means he truly believed in the union’s cause and principle and we cannot let that be diminished by whomever is in office right now. We have to reclaim our dream and move forward.”

 

Expressions from the Host Committee

           

African-American News & Issues spoke with several members from the Host Committee of the 2018 AFC-CIO MLK Conference, who are motivated and determined to help the event be a success. Wretha Thomas (President, HESP Union – American Federation of Teachers) said, “I am so happy to be asked by Claude to come on board and be on the host committee because I see a big opportunity with this convention. We have got to open our eyes up and start organizing to let people know that we are here in this community and we are not going anywhere – if anything, we are going to get stronger and get our people elected in these positions and get our job done right.”

            Community worker and friend of AFL-CIO, Shelley Kennedy, chimed in also. She stated, “I am just thrilled to be here working to make this a great success and elated to be walking in the shadows of all of these great union leaders!” Host Committee member, Lovie Smith-Wright (Vice President, Houston Professional Musicians Association – Local 65-699 of the American Federation of Musicians), will be providing four bands for the entire conference.

            Jerry Wald, a Texas State Employees Union delegate and executive council member in the local assembly for the labor movement offered words. “Texas Employees Union is really happy to be a part of this conference – knowing that Dr. King was working on a garbage strike of public employees when he met his untimely death, we support him. It’s important to all Americans that we represent him, learn from him and continue to learn from people like Claude Cummings,” he said.

            Although Lew Moye is due back home in St. Louis, Missouri on Monday for their 40th MLK Human Rights Award Banquet; he could not miss out on the opportunity to attend the AFL-CIO conference. Moye is the Senior Vice President of the Coalition of Black Trade Union and has been a dedicated labor leader for many years. He says, “I’m just honored to be here in Houston this weekend, with all of these civic and labor leaders. It is important that we continue on in the legacy of Dr. King and important that we recognize and honor those who are carrying on that legacy through their actions.”

 

Significance of AFL-CIO

            The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations are composed of many components which exist to facilitate equal treatment for all working people. Factors such as ensuring that laborers are equipped with: decent paychecks, benefits, retirement, safe jobs, respect, pride and dignity, are amongst target areas that the organization strives to achieve. AFL-CIO ranks second in the nation with its extensive training network, which assists workers with the skills and resources to compete in a global economy.

According to the organization’s history it, “advances legislation to create good jobs by investing tax dollars in schools, roads, bridges, ports and airports; improves the lives of workers through education, job training and a livable minimum wage; strengthens Social Security and private pensions, fair tax policies; strives to make high-quality, affordable health care available to all; constantly reforms trade rules; reindustrializes the U.S. economy; provides worker protections in the global economy and stands firm in holding corporations accountable for their actions.”

Retired CWA member, Janice Weaver and Director of Community Relations for the City of Houston (Mayor Turner), is anticipating a great celebration of the MLK weekend. She encourages all Houstonians to come out and support the convention. “Labor is what it’s all about, labor is the reason I’m in the career I’m in right now,” she added.

For more details regarding the occasion or to register visit www.mlk2018.aflcio.org. Program Coordinators for the event are Richard Womack (267) 847-9101, Takiyah Jefferson (202) 445-3217 and Jamal R. Watkins (661) 364-7678 and administrative lead for the project is Lanita Hall (202) 445-0467.

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