The 2011 AFL-CIO’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday observance took place this year in Cincinnati, OH. The five day event was attended by over 500 members of various unions across the country, from every sector of the work force, including locals from the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO. Attending for TWU Local 555 along with me was HOU Ramp Agent & Human Rights Committee Member Curtis Brown. There are a few reasons why Cincinnati, OH was chosen to host this year’s observance. First, the city of Cincinnati has a rich civil rights history due to its location on the banks of the Ohio River, which served as a natural dividing line between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North. Because of this, it served as one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad. Although it was one of the last stops, slaves who made it across the river to Cincinnati from Kentucky were not entirely safe. Laws on the books at that time gave runaway slave hunters the right to legally come across the river, into a free state, to search for these slaves seeking their freedom and try to return them to their so called “owners”. To be truly safe at that time slaves would have to continue their journey, with the help of both whites and free blacks, until they were able to cross the border into Canada. Another reason for choosing Cincinnati is that both the city and state governments there are trying to do away with union rights. The city of Cincinnati is trying to privatize the sanitation work there, which would mean the loss of good paying union jobs and benefits. Dr. King was assassinated while he was in Memphis, TN trying to organize and fight for the rights of the sanitation workers. It was in that spirit after a town hall meeting Friday night that all in attendance marched down the streets of Cincinnati, almost 500 union members strong, led by a anitation truck to the steps of city hall to hold a candlelight vigil, to let the city officials who look to break the unions and harm their families’ welfare know that we will not stand idly by and let this happen. We attended classes and workshops and heard from various speakers throughout the weekend. We also participated in a community service project. This year several schools were in need of help and we were there to give it. Curtis and I, along with most of the other TWU locals, went to Rockdale Academy, a K-7 grade school. There we helped the staff clean graffiti from walls, read and tutored to the younger students, organized the library, sorted through various learning kits, and cleaned windows…lots and lots of windows. As always the observance ended with us participating in the MLK parade through downtown Cincinnati. TWU International has a long history with Dr. King. While our founder Michael J. Quill was fighting for the rights of workers and Dr. King was fighting for civil and human rights, they formed a bond realizing that they were in essence fighting for the same thing. If you wish to find out more about our union history and relationship with the human rights movement go to www.twu.org and click on the history tab at the lower left of the page. I want to leave you with a quote from Dr. King. When your union was born in strife during the turbulent times, it grew and developed in the pioneering democratic tradition of a CIO union, with respect to racial equality. Your crusading spirit – which broke through the open shop stronghold, also broke through the doubled walled citadels of race prejudice.
If you need to reach Ralph Darnell for any reason, please contact him at the Dallas Office or via e-mail Ralph.Darnell@twu555.org