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Today we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and recognize, looking back on the events of the last year, how relevant and necessary his work remains. Progress has been made on the issue of race in America since King’s untimely death, but economic statistics, political rhetoric and other factors make it clear that we have not fulfilled “the dream.”
There are a disproportionate number of African-Americans who remain, as King said, “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity…languished in the corners of American society and find [themselves] an exile in [their] own land.”
As a union, we should play an important role in fostering changes that lead to economic and social equity for African-Americans. King recognized this and increasingly encouraged both unions and African-Americans to recognize that “the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined.”
Again, where progress exists and should be celebrated, work remains.
The North Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters has significantly more members, training instructors, elected officers, staff organizers, business agents and executive board members who are African-American or people of color than we did even five years ago. We have also increased the number of women and younger people in leadership positions.
That diversity makes us a stronger organization, better able to represent trades workers who seek training and the wages, benefits and jobsite safety that result from representation on the job and negotiating power at the bargaining table.
Opportunities and role models exist within our union, but so, too, do negative American cultural factors that discourage some from joining or staying in our union. We have committed to continued work on both fronts by increasing discussions among and between members of different backgrounds and experience.
Like King, we believe that “the bank of justice” is NOT bankrupt. As union trades workers, hard work and faith in what’s possible, but not yet realized, are integral to who we are. We know that the work we do within our union will propel further progress throughout our country and on MLK Day we continue to call on all of our members, employer partners and community allies to join us and help us on this essential journey.