AFL-CIO leader says black churches and labor movement have common goals

Injustices faced by poor people and people of color are crushing US democracy, Fred Redmond, who heads the country’s largest labor organization, said in an address at St. Paul Baptist Church on Sunday.

“You know as well as I do that our nation and our world face serious and existential threats,” said Redmond, secretary and treasurer of the AFL-CIO, which represents 57 unions representing more than 15 million active and retired workers combined.

Among the threats Redmond named: voter suppression, particularly in the South. Poor people and people of color “are hit the hardest,” he said.

He also cited viruses and diseases, extreme heat and cold, floods and wildfires, and contaminated water and air.

“I hope we can say that despite our fear, we stopped and helped and together we spoke the truth to those in power,” he said.

Redmond, the highest-ranking black official in the US labor movement, was in Charlotte as part of the AFL-CIO’s “Labour in the Pulpit” campaign, which invites union leaders to guest speak in communities of faith to “teach about the values ​​of justice, racial and… economic justice and the solidarity that workers share with the faith community.”

Redmond made history in June when he was unanimously elected head of the AFL-CIO.

In his message ahead of Labor Day at St. Paul Baptist, he spoke of the need to reconnect the labor movement with the black church.

Redmond’s visit comes at a time when the nature of work and the role of unions have taken on a new meaning.

In 2021, union membership fell by 241,000 people to 14 million workers, or 10.3 percent of the US workforce, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest unionization rates were among black workers.

Redmond reported on a sermon given by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the night before King’s assassination, in which the civil rights activist referred to the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.

Like the Good Samaritan who stopped to help a wounded traveler, according to Redmond, King traveled to Memphis against the advice of his advisers to rally sanitation workers who were striking for better working conditions.

“He wondered if he didn’t go to Memphis, what would happen to the 1,300 suffering sanitation workers?” Redmond said.

Redmond also quoted Walter Reuther, a former president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), who once said, “Those who serve God must prove themselves worthy by serving the people.”

“We have many opportunities ahead of us to prove ourselves worthy,” Redmond said, citing the Black Church’s history of organizing for civil rights and social justice.

He said the current generation of young people campaigning for labor rights has “put him in a positive mood” for the future of the labor movement.

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