At the AFL-CIO Convention’s Global Labor Symposium, the last panel of the day proved to be the most exciting. The topic was Unions at the Forefront of Democracy. After an inspiring introduction by Victor Baez, who leads the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, the entire symposium went outside to join a rally led by Missouri State Rep. Bruce Franks, Jr. to support Black Lives Matter.
After the rally, Franks addressed the gathering, making clear that the struggle for justice, dignity and respect is universal. The audience grew more engaged as they heard about worker repression and denials of free speech in Brazil, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, and Iraq. Working people at the forefront of challenging authoritarian and repressive regimes have told stories of workers who risked job loss, arrests, and violence to protect and defend the rights of all citizens to stand up and fight back.
The bottom line was that workers can’t achieve gains by negotiating with employers if we can’t also speak out in protest; join the meetings, events and organizations of our choosing; and have the freedom to express our ideas in print and online. In other words, unions aren’t just workplace organizations-we are essential to defending democratic values.