AFL-CIO’s MLK Conference emphasizes protecting democracy, politics, organizing
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler | Susan Walsh/AP

WASHINGTON —For the hundreds of unionists attending the AFL-CIO’s annual Martin Luther King Civil and Human Rights Conference, the right-wing threat to democracy—and to workers’ rights—isn’t over.

And, though he wasn’t a scheduled speaker at the event, “Claiming Our Power, Protecting Our Democracy,” this weekend at the Washington (D.C.) Hilton, it’s a threat recognized by the late civil rights leader’s family, too, as his son Martin Luther King III told a D.C. crowd a week ago.

The threat to democracy shocked the country with the U.S. Capitol insurrection, invasion and coup d’etat attempt by more than 1,000 rabid Trumpites on Jan. 6, 2021.

Subsequent trials, convictions and extensive hearings and evidence presented by the House Select Committee probing the invasion have shown the huge extent of that insurrection, prompted by former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump.

But it was also aided and abetted not just by the invaders that day, but by the overwhelming majority of House Republicans, including current Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. They voted to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, with no evidence of fraud.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond | YouTube screenshot

Those same forces threaten hard-won civil, democratic and worker rights, too.

“Our democracy is in a state of emergency,” the conference call opened. “Extremist politicians, far-right judges and corrupt corporate interests aligned to take away the rights of workers. They are moving to strip us of our fundamental freedoms including the freedom to vote and to collectively bargain for a voice on the job.”

After opening speeches Jan. 13 by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, conference delegates planned to tackle those issues, plus organizing, in small-group panel discussions and general sessions, before heading out for community service and, on Jan. 16, religious services, too.

The labor movement will continue Dr. King’s “legacy by standing in our power and fighting back against these attacks. We will step into the year with purpose and make it clear that working people will determine the direction of this country.

“Together, we will build an economy and a society that works for everyone and ensures that all workers, no matter who they are, can live a life of dignity and respect,” the conference call declared.

The first conference panel features young organizers and activists from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s campaign to organize Amazon’s giant warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. Joining them were speakers from the independent Amazon Labor Union, which successfully won union recognition at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, from Starbucks Workers United, and workers who organized Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library for AFSCME.

Politics and fighting the right will be the focus of the discussion on Jan. 14—the same topics King’s son, Martin Luther King III, echoed in a Jan. 6, 2023, outdoor rally at the foot of Capitol Hill. There, members of People for the American Way and other progressive groups vowed to continue the fight against the radical right Trumpites. More than 100 people are expected to attend.

“We should always engage in building and expanding democracy,” King III declared there. “People should be more involved in this…When we are engaged, change occurs. When we stand idly by, nothing happens.”

King III said “the overwhelming majority” of people in the U.S. back democracy, civil rights, human rights and women’s rights. He didn’t mention workers’ rights.

But he warned the radical rightists made many inroads, thanks to the right wing’s influence, plus rulings by the Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority.

“My daughter has fewer rights today than she did the year she was born, when Barack Obama was elected,” King III said. “We can be a great nation, but we are not there yet.”


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.