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Big, Glitzy Marches Are Not Movements

In 1963 and today, the real work happens elsewhere.

Boston Review

August 28, 2013
Robin D. G. Kelley

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vpickering/

 

Anyone paying attention to the events leading up to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington should know by now that this historic gathering rallied under the banner of “jobs and freedom.” It has become common knowledge that economic justice was at the heart of the march’s agenda, and the main forces behind the event had roots in socialist movements—Bayard Rustin and veteran black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who threatened a similar march two decades earlier after a black woman activist proposed the idea at a Civil Rights conference in 1940.  Thanks to the penetrating scholarship of William P. Jones’s March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, Gary Younge’s The Speech: The Story Behind Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Dream, and Michael Honey’s eye-opening collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, forgotten speeches on labor, All Labor Has Dignity, among many other books and films, we have finally begun to crack a half century of myth portraying the march as a moment of Civil Rights triumph culminating in Dr. King’s optimistic and iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.  While King’s speech remains the focus of every commemoration, A. Philip Randolph’s opening remarks are now getting some attention.  Echoing Karl Marx’s oft-quoted line in Capital, that “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded,” he presciently warned,

This civil rights revolution is not confined to the Negro, nor is it confined to civil rights for our white allies know that they cannot be free while we are not. . . . [W]e have no future in a society in which six million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty.  Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them. Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practice Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers black and white?

Organizers of March on Washington Commemoration Defend a Criminal Administration

MarchonWashington

Dorothy Meekins holds up the national flag with the picture of President Barack Obama as she attends the rally, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. Organizers have planned for about 100,000 people to participate in the event, which is the precursor to the actual anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, march. It will be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and King’s son Martin Luther King III. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

World Socialist Website

26 August 2013

 By Sandy English

On Saturday, tens of thousands of workers and young people marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.

The presence of working people expressed the powerful hold on popular consciousness of the ideals of democracy and equality that animated the mass movement for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s and are associated with the event that culminated in King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

However, the politics that dominated Saturday’s march, promoted by the organizers and the collection of Democratic politicians, official “civil rights” leaders and union bureaucrats who spoke from the podium, were the antithesis of those ideals. The organizers sought to exploit the anniversary by staging an event backed by the White House whose aim was to channel growing political and social opposition behind a government that is carrying out an unprecedented assault on democratic rights and a further growth of social inequality.

The event took place under the shadow of a new campaign of lies by the Obama administration to justify the launching of a war against Syria—something that no speaker so much as mentioned, doing a further disservice to the memory of King, who opposed the US war in Vietnam.

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