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Fifty-five years ago, in a speech to the convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out with characteristic moral clarity the essential role of unions in American life. “The labor movement,” he explained, “was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress … [When] the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society. Civilization began to grow in the economic life of man, and a decent life with a sense of security and dignity became a reality rather than a distant dream.”

This Labor Day, America’s working families are facing unprecedented challenges.

The path to the presidency runs through the labor movement.

“Women are more activist than men,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, “and understand that Clinton supports collective bargaining, raising the minimum wage and paid time off for illness and family care.” This year the AFL-CIO is targeting women as an individual voting group for the first time in a presidential race. Earlier this month 15,000 women, three times as many as expected, joined a conference call Shuler led to discuss strategies for convincing coworkers and relatives to vote for Clinton. 

One night at his UPS job, Tefere Gebre's co-worker handed him some union material. 

“He told me that I’d get health care and vacation and other benefits by filling it out. I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I thought, ‘Hmm. Everyone should have that.’”

Tefere, the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, has been a proud union member for most of his life, valuing the freedom of people to come together in union.

Growing up in rural Kentucky, Augusta Thomas witnessed the extreme measures elected officials would take to prevent African-American men from voting.
Culinary worker Brittany Bronson talks not only about the benefits of joining her union, but also about the opportunities being part of a unionized workforce offer women, particularly women who have long careers in the workforce.

Anniversaries can be celebratory or somber. Today we celebrate the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and it is the kind of anniversary in which we hail the success of the act, while also acknowledging the deficiencies in our democracy that make the full act necessary.