Few artists have contributed more to the growth and development of our society than actor Danny Glover. A civil rights leader and labor activist to his core, Glover has transcended the silver screen to become part of our cultural identity as Americans. As we celebrate this year’s Black History Month, the AFL-CIO spoke with him about the history of the labor movement and the civil rights movement, and where we go from here.
Glover began by talking about growing up in a union household where his parents were active members in their local chapter of what was then called the United Postal Alliance. “It’s about the history I lived with my parents,” Glover explained. “I watched my parents emerge and grow as union members and see how proud they were. And I watched the civil rights movement through that lens.” For a time, his father was treasurer and his mother served as the secretary of their local union. He recalled how they placed their struggles in the community and at the workplace within the broader struggle for justice that is still happening across the country.
Throughout his career, Glover has been part of many films, playing groundbreaking roles for an African American actor. “We’re part of a large framework where there’s manufactured consent around how we look at cultural production. Sometimes we hail a film like “The Color Purple” or we hail something like “Lethal Weapon,” but does that actually shift the narrative?” He pointed to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd as two glaring examples of the need to wrestle with the continuation of racial injustice.
“Dr. King said that the best anti-poverty program he knew was a union. He said that,” Glover recalled. Of the connection between the civil rights movement and the labor movement, he said, “[m]ore generally, it’s the human rights movement. They’re both movements for justice. They’re both movements for justice, whether it’s justice in the workplace or justice on the street. All that they do is connected to that. That is the umbilical cord that can’t be broken between the two.”
Looking to the present, the AFL-CIO asked him about an ongoing organizing drive that has captured headlines across the world. In the town of Bessemer, Alabama, some 5,800 warehouse workers are voting now on whether to form the first union at Amazon. “I think it’s amazing,” Glover said. “I think it’s a big step. We know that new technology and new ways of transporting goods and services run through Amazon.” Some 85% of the workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer are Black. “It’s absolutely stunning, important—essential that we can move beyond this place. COVID-19 has exposed the underbelly, in a different way, of what this country is about,” he said of the potential for these workers to form a union and fight for their rights in the workplace.
Glover reflected on what Black History Month means to him. “I live as if Black History Month is every month. I work in the service of honoring and recognizing the past in relation to that beautiful African American anthem, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing.' It talks about the past, the present and the future,” he said. “To me, it’s important that we celebrate the context of Black History Month, which is not only the context of past struggle, but the continuation of struggle.”