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Canada: COVID-19: teachers in shock after government suspends collective agreements

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: CTV
Categories: Labor News

Local 502 flags at half-staff for brother Wes Furtado

ILWU - Wed, 03/18/2020 - 14:09

ILWU Local 502’s flags are at half-staff to honor ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii) Wes Furtado who passed away this week.

Download a PDF of the Local 502 letter of condolence.

Categories: Unions

Global: COVID-19 highlights lack of social protections for gig economy workers

Labourstart.org News - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Business Human Rights Resource Center
Categories: Labor News

Memo to all ILWU locals re: COVID -19

ILWU - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 11:13

TO: All ILWU Locals and Affiliates
FROM: William E. Adams, International PresidentBobby Olvera, Jr., International Vice President, Mainland Ed Ferris, International Secretary-Treasurer
SUBJECT: Update on COVID-19
DATE: March 17, 2020

We are reaching out to acknowledge the challenging times facing our members and to invoke the strength and humanity of the ILWU family as we navigate through this difficult period.

As we face the uncertainty of a global health crisis with the continued spread of COVID-19, it is important that we all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. This is serious and we are in unchartered waters. Yesterday, the city and county of San Francisco announced a lockdown of all residents to “shelter in place” resulting in a shutdown of all non-essential businesses until April 7, 2020. Similar ordinances are going into effect around the country. The outcome is a dramatic drop in work and financial hardship for workers all around. The drop in work and the volatility in world markets is concerning. However, we want to reassure you that today, as always, the ILWU Titled Officers are working together to ensure that our members health and safety remains our number one priority. We are taking every precautionary measure to mitigate exposure to this disease.

As you know, in order to protect the health and safety of local delegates and committee members, and to support the effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent sustained spread in this country, we postponed the International Executive Board meeting, Coast Longshore Division Caucus, and the ILWU LEAD Program. The ILWU International and Coast Longshore Division office have moved all staff to a remote work set up. We did not take these actions lightly and believe that we all have a part to play to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Things will likely get worse before they get better, but we will get through this. At this time, we must lean on the ILWU family for help and support and stay united.

Download a PDF of the memo here.

Categories: Unions

ITF letter on the passing of ILWU Vice President Wesley Furtado

ILWU - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 10:21

William E. Adams
International President
International Longshore & Warehouse Union
March 17, 2020


Dear Brother Will,

On behalf of the members, affiliates and officers of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) please accept our deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies on the passing of our dear brother and comrade Wes Furtado.

In particular, can you please let Marla, Levana and Kyan know that they are in our thoughts and prayers, and send our best wishes as they journey through their great loss and grief at this time.

To the members, our brothers and sisters of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), and Local 142 in particular, we reach out with thoughts and solidarity at the loss of an outstanding leader, a greatly respected and true internationalist, who always kept the spirit of Aloha in every thought and action on behalf of working men and women around the globe.

Wesley’s union journey from the docks of Honolulu was as long as it was meaningful. It was founded on the hard rock of his belief in social and economic justice for all workers, and blessed with a gentle but pervasive charisma. His achievements and actions bettered the lives of all he touched and were as steady as the Kona winds of his home.

It was my great honour to share in much of that journey with him, side by side with the many great leaders of your union, both of his generation or the next generations whether they be delegates, activists or officers of the mighty ILWU.

The words and workings of Wes’ life were not solely dedicated to his fellow longshore and dock workers. He was a formidable and relentless activist for peace, an advocate for sovereign rights and true political independence
and accountability, and of course a warrior for justice, equality and universal access to all material benefits regardless of race, gender, age or religious denomination.

Again Will, to all our brothers and sisters, especially to Marla, Levana and Kyan, you have our deepest and most heartfelt thoughts for the great love you had for Wes and now the great loss you are confronted with.
We hope that in a small way these words may ease the passage of that loss and its great accompanying grief.

Vale Brother Wesley Furtado. Mahalo for your gifts of life, dignity and freedom on our behalf. Journey well and be at peace on the winds and waves before you.

Sincerely and in unity always,

Paddy Crumlin
President, International Transport Workers’ Federation
Chair, International Transport Workers’ Federation Dockers’ Section
National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
International President, Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union

Download a PDF of the letter here.

Categories: Unions

President Willie Adams’s video message to the ILWU membership

ILWU - Tue, 03/17/2020 - 10:00

“Stay safe, stay strong, stay united. We will all get through this together.” -ILWU International President Willie Adams

Categories: Unions

Global: Trade unions around the world lead fight to protect workers from coronavirus fallout

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: The Morning Star
Categories: Labor News

Australia: Union wins paid COVID-19 leave for casuals

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: CPSU
Categories: Labor News

Europe: Trade unions and coronavirus

Labourstart.org News - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: ETUC
Categories: Labor News

ILWU International Vice President (Hawaii) Wesley Furtado passes

ILWU - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 13:06

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Wesley “Wes” Furtado, ILWU International Vice President, Hawaii. Wes started on the waterfront in 1978 as a second-generation longshoreman and member of ILWU Local 142. During his time on the waterfront, he became a shop steward, longshore unit officer, and longshore negotiating committee member.

As a rank and file organizer, Wes worked on and led campaigns to organize workers in Hawaii in various industries. In August 1989, he was appointed as an International Representative. In that capacity, he organized many companies, negotiated numerous, very difficult first contracts, and successfully negotiated many contract renewals.

In 2000, Wes was elected as ILWU International Vice President, Hawaii. Once elected as a Titled Officer, he continued to carry the torch by organizing new hotels in Hawaii and providing support during longshore and hotel contract negotiations. His most recent campaign and significant accomplishment was the creation of ILWU Local 100 where he organized the supervisors at each of the shipping companies in Hawaii and successfully negotiated their first contracts.

Vice President Furtado was a devoted trade unionist who served the ILWU with the highest amount of honor and dedication. Wes will always be “Ohana” to the ILWU and we will forever remember and cherish the leadership, humor, and kindness that was Vice President Wesley Furtado.

Wes is survived by his wife, Marla, and his daughter and son, Levana and Kyan.

Information concerning memorial services will be released at a later date. Further, there will be an in-depth article about Wes’ life and accomplishments in a future edition of The Dispatcher

Categories: Unions

Memo to Coast Longshore Division Locals Re: COVID-19

ILWU - Mon, 03/16/2020 - 09:35

TO: ILWU Coast Longshore Division Locals
FROM: William E. Adams, International President
SUBJECT: Industry Update
DATE: March 13, 2020

I am reaching out to acknowledge the challenging times that we are in and to invoke the strength and humanity of the ILWU family as we navigate through this difficult period.

For the last year, we have been dealing with the harmful economic impact of President Trump’s trade war with China. Now, we face a global health threat with the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). These two things combined are wreaking havoc on the supply chain and resulting in declining cargo volumes and cruise ship work at our ports. The result is a dramatic drop in work and financial hardship for longshore workers.

The drop in work and the volatility in world markets is concerning. However, I want to reassure our ILWU Coast Longshore Division Locals that the Coast Committee is monitoring the situation, our pension funding level remains healthy, and the health care benefits we have negotiated
will provide the support needed should longshore workers and/or their family members need care for COVID-19.

As you know, in order to protect the health and safety of local delegates and committee members, and to support the effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and prevent sustained spread in this country, we have postponed the caucus and associated committee meetings. In addition, yesterday, the parties restricted industry travel coastwise in an effort to protect the rank and file. We did not take this action lightly and understand that it creates issues that will need to be addressed as we move forward. However, we all have a part to play to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Going forward, in order to ensure worker safety, we are working closely with PMA and maintaining close communication with the relevant federal, state, and local government agencies.

This includes the United States Coast Guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, local port authorities, and city governments. We are also in daily communication with the ILWU Coast Longshore Division Locals in order to share information and address issues and concerns as they arise on the docks.

Things will likely get worse before they get better, but we will get through this. At this time, we must lean into the ILWU family for help and support and stay united.

Download a PDF of the memo here.

Categories: Unions

Italy: Coronavirus sparks nationwide strikes

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 03/14/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Publico
Categories: Labor News

Argentina: Quarantined workers will not suffer a loss of wages

Labourstart.org News - Sat, 03/14/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Unifor
Categories: Labor News

Tartine bakery workers in Bay Area vote for a union despite company’s nasty anti-union campaign; some SF ballots remain challenged

ILWU - Fri, 03/13/2020 - 19:00

Union supporters win big in Berkeley & lead SF count despite company’s anti-union effort


SAN FRANCISCO – Workers at the Bay Area’s famous Tartine bakery outlets held union elections yesterday
and today where they voted in favor of forming unions.
Yesterday’s vote at three San Francisco outlets has union supporters leading by 89 to 84. A total of 24
challenged ballots remain untallied. About half appear to involve employees who were not eligible, either
because they never worked a complete shift and were added at the last minute by management, or were
supervisors. Federal law prohibits either group from voting.
The National Labor Relations Board supervised both elections and NLRB officials will decide the outcome of
challenged ballots in San Francisco after considering facts and evidence in the coming weeks.
Workers at Tartine’s Bakery in Berkeley voted in a separate election held today. The results were tallied this
afternoon and show union supporters winning decisively, 18 for the union and 0 for management. When
yesterday’s San Francisco vote tally indicated union supporters were leading, Tartine management suddenly
ordered the Berkeley bakery to close on election day, and told employees they would not be paid. The move
was seen by workers as an effort to reduce turnout and suppress union support, but it appears to have backfired.
“Today we won big in Berkeley and sent the company a strong message that we’re united and committed to
improving conditions,” said Tartine employee Matthew Torres.
During the past month, Tartine management has been coordinating an aggressive and expensive anti-union
campaign against employees, hiring anti-union attorneys and five professional union-busters. Other employers
have spent $500,000 for similar campaigns. Tactics used by Tartine included numerous “captive audience”
meetings that forced workers to attend anti-union lectures and one-sided propaganda sessions.
“We just want a Tartine worker’s union, and a free and fair election,” said Emily Haddad who works at the
Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco’s Mission District.
In recent years, Tartine’s owners transformed their small corner bakery into a large corporation with new outlets
in Southern California and Korea. Workers at Tartine’s four Bay Area locations say they need a union in order
to negotiate with the corporation. Workers at Tartine’s Manufactory in San Francisco International Airport
terminal are already represented by a union.

Categories: Unions

Canada: Fiat Chrysler plant workers walk out over coronavirus concerns

Labourstart.org News - Fri, 03/13/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: CNBC
Categories: Labor News

Global: Coronavirus forces companies like Uber and Lyft to reckon with workers' rights

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 03/11/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: Guardian
Categories: Labor News

Global: Coronavirus: lessons from a pandemic

Labourstart.org News - Wed, 03/11/2020 - 17:00
LabourStart headline - Source: IUF
Categories: Labor News

Press Telegram: Cruise passengers eagerly disembark the Carnival Panorama in Long Beach

ILWU - Tue, 03/10/2020 - 14:42

By HAYLEY MUNGUIA    PUBLISHED: March 8, 2020 at 9:17 a.m. | UPDATED: March 9, 2020 at 4:06 a.m.

While the cruise industry takes a beating over the coronavirus, some passengers disembarking the Carnival Panorama on Sunday morning said whether to book another voyage would be an easy call.

Yes. And no.

“It could have been worse,” said Cindy Turchin, who shrugged off Saturday’s day-long wait to get off the cruiseliner. “We took it knowing this could have happened.”

Panorama passengers were forced spend an extra day holed up on the ship while one traveler was taken to a Long Beach hospital and tested for the virus. The results, late Saturday, came back negative.

Ryan Hudson and Shawn Burke, 46, both from Sacramento, will think twice before they book another cruise.

“We almost jumped off, like fifty times,” said Hudson, 42.

Burke said he’ll be canceling an upcoming trip. “I’m supposed to be on another cruise in about a week out of Miami,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going.

“The problem isn’t dealing with the virus,” said Burke, 46.  “The virus is going everywhere. You’re going to get it or you’re not. It’s not like Ebola, so most people are going to be fine. But I don’t want to be stuck on a ship.”

At the nearby Port of Los Angeles, Princess Cruises on Saturday canceled a cruise by the Royal Princess after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no-sail order” because of concerns about a crew member who previously served on the Grand Princess and was transferred to the Royal Princess more than two weeks ago.

The Grand Princess was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was held off the California coast Wednesday so 46 people with possible coronavirus symptoms could be tested. The testing was ordered after a 71-year-old man who had been on a February voyage of the same ship to Mexico contracted the virus and died this week at a hospital in Placer County in Northern California.

Others who were on that voyage also have tested positive in Northern California, Minnesota, Illinois, Hawaii, Utah and Canada.

Princess Cruises said of the Royal Princess: “Late this afternoon, the CDC informed us of their decision to issue a ‘no-sail order’ until the crew member was tested for COVID-19. We have unfortunately been unable to obtain this test given the lateness of the request.”

“The crew member is past the maximum incubation of COVID-19, has been evaluated and has never developed any respiratory symptoms or fever. The crew member had no known contact or exposure to other guests or crew who were ill on Grand Princess. The crew member received a precautionary screening by the Medical Staff upon boarding Royal Princess to test for respiratory symptoms, including fever.   Due to the unknown timing of obtaining the test and results or anticipated response, we have cancelled the cruise,” the company said in a statement.

Top cruise line executives met Saturday with Vice President Mike Pence at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after which Pence announced “significant changes” to the industry going forward, but gave no indication what would happen next with the Grand Princess.

Pence said cruise officials agreed to enhanced entry and exit screenings and to establish shipboard testing for the virus, along with new quarantine standards established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industry also was asked to come up with and fund a new plan on how to transport cruise passengers who contract the disease.

Princess officials said the new protocols include asking all new passengers to sign a health declaration, and temperature screenings as passengers leave. Anyone coming from a “high-risk area is also undergoing a medical evaluation,” Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, told reporters.

There was no word on the Royal Princess crew member’s test results as of Sunday morning.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Categories: Unions

ILWU AND PMA JOINT STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS

ILWU - Tue, 03/10/2020 - 14:41

 San Francisco, CA (March 6, 2020)—The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) issued the following joint statement today in response to the impact of the spread of the coronavirus on dockworkers and operations at West Coast port terminals:

West Coast ports are the leading gateway for the movement of cargo from Asia to the United States. Over the past six weeks, operations at the ports have been increasingly impacted by the reduction of cargo flow from Asia as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The ILWU and PMA are working cooperatively and maintaining close communication with the relevant federal, state, and local government agencies as this situation continues to unfold. This includes the United States Coast Guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, local port authorities, and city governments.

Our goal is to work cooperatively to ensure worker safety, keep cargo flowing and share credible and timely information that is relevant to ILWU, dockworkers, PMA members, shippers, local communities, and other stakeholders who rely on West Coast ports. 

Recently, the PMA issued a Safety Bulletin to its member companies regarding precautionary measures for dockworkers to take at West Coast terminals. Conversations with government authorities are also taking place on the topic of handling baggage and other cargo movement related to cruise operations.

As has been widely reported, cargo imports from Asia have fallen significantly over the past month, with work for ILWU members being reduced up and down the coast. According to the most recent figures released by PMA, year-to-date work shifts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the nation’s largest port complex – have declined. 

The ILWU and PMA will issue updates as necessary. Our goal is to ensure worker safety and productive terminal operations at West Coast ports.

Download a PDF of the press release here.

Categories: Unions

Profile in Courage: John Lewis

ILWU - Tue, 03/10/2020 - 10:42

As 2019 drew to a close, U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, released a brief statement that he had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“I have been in some kind of fight – for freedom, equality, basic human rights – for nearly my entire life,” added the 80-year old Congressman and Civil Rights icon, who’s now undergoing treatment near Washington, D.C.

The revelation triggered an outpouring of sympathy and support from across the nation, including a statement from ILWU International President Willie Adams, who said Lewis was “a part of our longshore family,” and praised him for being an “unfailing supporter of the rights and dignity of working Americans.”

ILWU connections

Lewis’ longstanding ILWU connections were forged over many decades because of a shared dedication to racial and economic justice, lifelong support for unions and workers, and the fact that his youngest sister, Rosa Tyner, was a member of ILWU Locals 10 and 91 for 23 years. As a young girl, Rosa recalled her oldest brother John coming home to visit the family and sharing stories about his struggles in the Civil Rights Movement. Their mother, Willie Mae, would always urge John to “stay out of trouble,” to which the young man responded by promising to make only “good trouble.” Rosa moved back to Alabama after becoming a pensioner, while her brother John continues serving in Congress where he represents much of Atlanta Georgia in the House of Representatives.

Memoir of the Movement

The story of how Lewis and a group of brilliant, courageous young women and men emerged to lead one of the great social movements of the Twentieth Century is captured in his fine autobiography: Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. It begins with observations by the young boy who helped his family survive by raising chickens and picking cotton.

Born in 1940, Lewis and his fellow activists were raised at the end of the Great Depression and beginning of the Second World War. Some, including Lewis, had great-grandparents who passed along stories of “slavery times.”

Rural poverty

Lewis pulls no punches in describing the indignities and brutal oppression of racism that he witnessed while growing up, but notes that the poverty afflicted a majority of both whites and blacks around him. They were all burdened by debt and miserable pay that stemmed from the “tenant farming” system. He recalls that his mother and father once picked up to 400 pounds of cotton a day for a total of $1.40.

His parents continued working during his childhood, earning 50 cents a day for farm or domestic work. Lewis describes in great detail the backbreaking, miserable labor that he and others performed, explaining how it motivated him to attend school, which he did despite resistance from his parents who needed help in the fields.

Church lessons

Lewis was still a young boy when his parents nicknamed him “preacher,” because he delivered sermons and conducted funerals for chickens that died in the family coop. He attended church each Sunday with his family and kept a sharp eye on the injustices that surrounded him: chain gangs of black men who labored under armed guards, miserable schools, atrocious roads, public exclusions and filthy restrooms that were part of the Jim Crow system. “I was obsessed with learning all I could about the world beyond the one I knew,” explains Lewis, who visited the school library every day and devoured black newspapers and magazines that came from Chicago and other cities.

Key turning points

During his first year in the county’s only high school for black students, Lewis recalled reading a newspaper story about the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, which held that segregated schools were unconstitutional. The next year, in 1955, he heard a radio broadcast of the young Martin Luther King who was preaching from a church in Montgomery, 50 miles north of Troy. He said it “…felt as if King was “speaking directly to me…giving voice to everything I’d been feeling and fighting to figure out for years.” A few months later, tensions increased as Southern politicians openly defied the Supreme Court’s desegregation orders. By August, another shocking incident gripped Lewis and the nation when 14-year old Emmett Till was brutally murdered, causing a nationwide outrage.

Horror and a way forward

“I was shaken to the core by the killing of Emmett Till,” says Lewis, who admits he was also consumed with anger and rage for months after the murder. He became frustrated with the church and his own parents, who he wrongly believed to be weak for not speaking up. As 1955 drew to a close, Lewis witnessed the bus boycott unfold in Montgomery, 50 miles to the north, “an event that changed my life more than any other event before or since,” he said. The event was sparked by Rosa Parks, a domestic worker who received training in organizing skills at the Highlander Center in Kentucky.

During the year that followed, Lewis followed the bus boycott that he described as “riveting,” with 50,000 black residents of Montgomery refusing to ride on segregated buses. The 1956 protest was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., someone Lewis deeply admired for practicing the “social gospel” that connected bible teachings about justice with action against injustice in the real world. “More than ever I wanted to be a preacher too,” said Lewis.

First Sermon

His chance to preach came quickly, a few days before his sixteenth birthday in 1956, making a big impression on the congregation and elders who responded with shouts of “Amen” and “Praise the Lord.” Two days later, an uncle who was active in the NAACP and spent a decade campaigning for black voting rights was murdered by a white man who admitted to the killing but was never indicted. Lewis had his mindset on college but lacked the money and grades to attend Morehouse where King had graduated. His mother brought home a brochure for the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, which charged no tuition and offered work-study arrangements for all students, “and that was all I needed to know,” said Lewis. In a few weeks he was accepted and his life turned another corner.

Connections in Nashville

Lewis quickly connected with brilliant activists at his seminary and around Birmingham, as the city became a hotbed of organizing. James Lawson, who studied nonviolent action tactics in India, trained Lewis and other young activists in 1958, including Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry. Across his dorm hallway was the charismatic James Bevel, who was worldly, wise, and totally devoted to scripture – while also proclaiming his intention to become “a chicken-eating, liquor drinking, woman-chasing Baptist preacher.”

Sits-ins shock establishment

Lewis and other students organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville in 1959 and 1960. Their tactic soon spread to Greensboro, North Carolina and beyond.

Lewis quickly became a leading figure of the Nashville Movement – a student-driven effort based on Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance. He participated in another tactic known as the Freedom

Rides, first developed in the 1940’s and resurrected in 1960 by courageous students who were trained to desegregate buses and terminals in the face of brutal violence and bombings. These courageous nonviolent tactics embraced by Lewis, King and others were based on a broader strategy of winning public support and organizing political power to change the nation’s attitudes about racial injustice.

Leadership positions

Lewis had become a prominent student activist in the early 60’s and was elected to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963 – winning him an opportunity to speak at the historic March on Washington that same year. Years of intensive work by SNCC in the south helped pave the way for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Meanwhile, more blood was being spilled.

The bridge

In one of his most famous and terrifying experiences, Lewis and Rev Josea Williams led a nonviolent march in 1965 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, headed toward Montgomery. Organized by SNCC and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the pair led over 500 marchers into a line of violent racist police officers who attacked the group while Lewis urged everyone to kneel and pray. Lewis was severely beaten in the “Bloody Sunday” incident – one that some militants later cited as a reason to abandon nonviolent tactics.

More bitter experiences

Lewis and hundreds of activists spent years doing patient grassroots organizing in the South with Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and other unsung heroes of the movement. In 1964, these grassroots leaders were brushed aside by the political establishment at the Democratic Party Convention who seated pro-segregation delegates instead of an integrated group organized by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Conflict with militants

These and other setbacks triggered angry militants who grew impatient with nonviolent strategies to win majority support in the fight against racism, for civil rights and dignity. Lewis, who continued to advocate nonviolence, was removed as SNCC Chair in 1966, when black nationalists emerged, led by Stokely Carmichael who replaced Lewis.

Surviving the darkest days

Within two years of Lewis leaving SNCC, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968, while helping sanitation workers win a strike for justice. Robert Kennedy was assassinated the same year in June while campaigning for social and racial justice. Lewis and many political activists grew disheartened, but he never turned toward the violence and hyper-militancy that swept some others into political dead-ends.

Like a pilot light

Lewis, who has been arrested 40 times, says he views his contributions to the movement as a kind of “pilot light,” that can remain lit for the long haul. He contrasts his approach with a firecracker – that’s loud but leaves only ashes. His continuing belief in nonviolence and reconciliation to overcome race, religion and class conflicts, makes him a consistent voice for peaceful democratic reform.

Lewis was elected as the US Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, a seat he won over fellow civil rights activist Julian Bond in 1986. He remains in that position today and holds several leadership positions.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. During the White House ceremony, Obama said: “There’s a quote inscribed over a doorway in Nashville, where students first refused to leave lunch counters 51 years ago this February. And the quote said, ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ It’s a question John Lewis has been asking his entire life. It’s what led him back to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma after he had already been beaten within an inch of his life days before. It’s why, time and again, he faced down death so that all of us could share equally in the joys of life.

It’s why all these years later, he is known as the Conscience of the United States Congress, still speaking his mind on issues of justice and equality. And generations from now, when parents teach their children what is meant by courage, the story of John Lewis will come to mind — an American who knew that change could not wait for some other person or some other time; whose life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now.”

Categories: Unions

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