Echoing the themes they marched to 50 years ago, tens of thousands of unionists and their civil rights allies marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and to re-commit themselves to continue the fight for social and economic justice — regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or place of birth.
More than a dozen unions were represented in Washington, D.C., and in Portland.
The Portland event was sponsored by Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice & Police Reform, the Urban League of Portland, NAACP of Portland, ACLU of Portland, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and several labor and community-based organizations. Speakers included John Mohlis, executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley participated in the march.
The actual anniversary of the March on Washington is Aug. 28. On that day in 1963 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, which accelerated passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
It’s little known that AFL-CIO vice president and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters A. Philip Randolph, along with labor and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and United Auto Workers (UAW) President Walter Reuther conceptualized and called for the march.
“It’s the same fight for the same principles” that Dr. King stood for, UAW President Bob King told Press Associates Union News Service in Washington, D.C. That fight includes workers’ rights (to join a union) and the right to vote.
“This march was just the start,” King said.
There was no shortage of causes to rally behind in both D.C. (where the crowd was estimated at over 100,000) and Portland. Speakers at both events talked about workers’ rights, women’s rights, the right to vote, preserving Social Security, good jobs, fixing the criminal justice system, and comprehensive immigration reform.
“So much of what we sought to achieve 50 years ago is gravely threatened today,” the Communications Workers of America said in a statement. “We gather together not as a commemoration, but as a continuation and a call to action.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The unforgettable sounds and images from 1963 also remind us that change is possible.
In the run-up to the anniversary march, the AFL-CIO pledged to recommit itself to building a strong social and economic justice movement in the U.S. The national labor federation will initiate a plan of action at its upcoming convention Sept. 8-11 in Los Angeles.