WNY AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation President Richard Lipsitz: “There’s Only One Path, The Path Of Struggle - Let Us Unite & Fight For A World For All People to Truly Observe & Honor The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: Richard Lipsitz (Pictured Below/WNYLaborToday.com File Photo) - who serves as President of the Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF), was one of the featured speakers during a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. event that was held at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on Monday (January 15th). The following is the speech Lipsitz made at the gathering of area Labor Leaders, Leaders of the Buffalo African-American Community and Community Activists, which also featured comments made by the Reverend Terrence Melvin, who serves as the International President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and is Secretary-Treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, and the Reverend Mark Blue, who serves as President of the NAACP Buffalo Chapter. The Regional WNYALF Labor Organization oversees five individual Labor Councils in Buffalo, Niagara-Orleans, Dunkirk, Jamestown and Cattaraugus-Allegany that combine to represent just under 150,000 Unionized Workers across Western New York.
There are certain days on the calendar which are very important to the American and worldwide Labor Movement.
The commemoration of the birth of Martin Luther King is one of those dates.
May 1st, Labor Day and more and more Election Days are also times when we pause and consider the struggle for Democratic Rights and equality.
I firmly believe that the struggle of the American Worker has always been bound up with the struggle to extend Democratic Rights.
The documents upon which this society was founded were both revolutionary and imperfect as 1776 represented a significant milestone in World History.
A revolution was fought that sought “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This is a profound break from the absolutism and authoritarian governments that preceded the American Revolution. The break with the King of England in 1776, the war for independence and the subsequent founding of the United States, which opened a new stage in World History.
However, it was an incomplete break and the compromises made to win independence included the scourge of chattel slavery.
Slaves were not considered full human beings, and the slave system was at its core one that provided for super exploitation of the slave to the benefit of the slave owners.
It is my firm belief that one cannot possibly understand the history and present day problems of this country without understanding the slave system and its legacy.
The entire political history of this country must be seen in the light of the struggle to extend the term “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all the people of this country.
It is here that the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is crucial to our movement today.
When the struggle of the American Working Class is identified and combined with the struggle to extend and defend Democratic Rights, a movement is created which is powerful and deep.
Dr. King understood this better that any of his contemporaries.
He saw the Labor Movement as more than just the Trade Unions, more than just the poorest of the poor.
He never erected a wall between the Workers’ struggles for wages, benefits and conditions and the struggle for equality in all aspects of social life.
For this, he was persecuted and eventually assassinated.
History doesn’t move in a straight line.
There is no reality in believing that historical events are pre-determined.
Nothing in this world is inevitable.
The election of Donald trump wasn’t.
A nuclear war isn’t.
And, unfortunately, neither is the immediate improvement of the lives of the people we represent.
People make their own history - but we don’t do exactly as we please.
It all depends on the time, place and condition of the times in which we are alive.
Dr. King was a person of immense historical significance.
He was among the very few who we can say lived lives of world historic significance.
I am privileged to have been alive during his historical moment.
His legacy is one filled with lessons for us today.
The struggle to defend and improve economic rights is intensifying as is the struggle for Democracy.
Courage is required.
Further, the struggle of the African-American People is unique and profound.
A successful alliance between the Labor Movement, a movement that must embrace equality for all Workers if it to be successful, and the struggle of the African-American People is crucial if we are to defeat the authoritarian drift represented by the Trump clique.
This task is being taken up for solution, but there should be no illusions.
Bigotry and discrimination have social, cultural - and yes, even religious dimensions.
They are also very ingrained in American Society.
However, unless we take up this task, we will be like little people, squabbling over the scraps left for us by the rich and powerful.
There is only one path, the path of struggle.
Let us unite and fight for a world which allows for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all people, and in doing so truly observe and honor the life of the great martyr and leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.