'Unions are all about social justice'

Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires, and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor's needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth. -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

J.W. Cleary remembered his friend and union brother, the late W.C. Young, a national labor and civil rights leader from Paducah.

“W.C. always said, ‘I’ve got my union card in one hand and my NAACP card in my other hand,'” said Cleary, Paducah-McCracken County NAACP branch president and a USW Local 550 retiree. “The unions and the NAACP have always walked hand-in-hand.”

Cleary was one of several union members who joined a 30-vehicle caravan sponsored by the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that converged on Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Paducah field office Monday afternoon to protest his “meanness, mayhem and misery.”

Other motorcades rolled around McConnell field offices in Bowling Green, Fort Wright, Lexington, London and Louisville, plus the majority leader’s Washington office.

The protests coincided with the ongoing Moral Monday digital march hosted by the Rev. William Barber, Poor People's Campaign co-chair, and included live reports from each location.

Participants wore masks in their cars and trucks. They were also masked and practiced social distancing when the caravans formed up.

The protests focused on McConnell’s refusal to lead the GOP-majority Senate to approve covid-19 relief legislation, notably the HEROES Act. Passed by the Democratic-majority House in May, the measure would extend the $600 federal weekly supplemental unemployment benefit.

“Unions are all about social justice,” said UAW retiree Jerry Sykes, who wore his old blue “ORGANIZE BUILD POWER WITH JUSTICE” union tee-shirt. “Sen. McConnell—should I say ‘Moscow Mitch?’ – refuses to pass the Heroes Act. We need that bill passed.

“People are being evicted from their houses and apartments. They’re losing their jobs. When’s the government going to step in to help?”

UAW retiree Eileen Cathey joined the motorcade to “make sure [McConnell] does the right thing.” Beverly Jennings, the spouse of a UAW member came because “unions stand for all the things this caravan is about—stopping oppression of the poor.”

Benny Heady, a Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184 retiree, said McConnell “is not for the working people. I came out today because we need a change. We need somebody in there who will do things to help the people as a whole.”

Al Cunningham III, an IUPAT District 91 representative, recycled the “Workers First Caravan” sign he carried to McConnell’s office in July. He and state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Wiggins had a letter for the senator, urging him to pass the Heroes Act. When Wiggins rang the doorbell, he got no response, and the two union leaders left. 

Cunningham taped the sign to a side window of his car. "I support anybody trying to go against Mitch McConnell and everything he’s tried to do against working families.”

 In the caravan, too, was the Rev. Bruce Dobyns, president of the Mayfield-Graves County NAACP chapter. He said he was proud to pack a Laborer’s union card on a college summer job in the mid-1970s.

“When I got back to school, the kids asked me, ‘How much did you make an hour?’ Yeah, brothers and sisters, the minimum wage was a buck or two an hour in those days, and I was making seven or eight dollars an hour.”