Toward a New Solidarity: WFSE Celebrates Black History Month

We are stronger together.

Black History Month is a chance for us to learn, celebrate,    grieve, and aspire. Black organizers, workers, unionistsartists, and creators have shaped our movement’s past and laid paths to freedom, collective liberation, and justice in our future—and today.

Union members know how important history is. In a nation that often embraces collective amnesia about our past, the stories of power, triumph, and struggle that formed unions are critical to our strength as a movement today. They hold lessons, strategies, and dreams of what we can achieve through collective action.

The challenge is to remember not only the inspiring stories of our movement- but to acknowledge and learn from the heartbreaking moments in our past when union leaders and members acted far outside our shared values of solidarity and justice. 

“The labor movement has never been immune from racial divisions; an unflinching look at the history of labor over the last 70 years lays bare the many ways that labor as a group has not been on the frontlines in the fight for equity,” wrote Washington State Labor Council’s first African-American Secretary-Treasurer, April Sims, last year.

“Historically, our hesitance to step into the fray has weakened our collective strength as workers.” 

Division weakens us.

When labor has embodied racial exclusion and white supremacy in the past, unions have fallen to division. In fact, keeping workers divided along lines of race has been a central and profoundly damaging tactic of unions’ enemies. 

Ours has always been a movement of strength in numbers. Our union, AFSCME, has strong roots in the work of Dr. King and the Black sanitation workers’ strike he was working at the time of his death. This Black History Month, I urge you to seek out stories of the past, present, and future of Black unionism.

The genius, joy, resilience, humor, and love of Black people are unbreakable threads through our American past and future. Looking at our history truthfully and with brave hearts has the potential to bring us closer, make us stronger, and open our eyes to a future where we are united in a new solidarity.

We can do better than the history of white supremacy and exclusion in our past. If we want unions to survive, we must. We are stronger together.