HOUSTON — For the first time, the national AFL-CIO’s observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will take place in Texas. The AFL-CIO MLK Holiday Observance, a five-day celebration from Jan. 11-15, will highlight Dr. King’s solidarity with the union movement.

At the time of his assassination in 1968, Dr. King was in Memphis supporting sanitation workers who were fighting to form a union.

A variety of events involving international union leaders, membership mobilizations, worker education and advocacy, and community service projects are scheduled. The “Unions and Community Support Workers’ Rights” events will involve activists from across the nation who fight for the rights of all the people that King supported.

Scheduled guests include Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Bill Lucy, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Norman Hill, president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and Nat LaCour, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.

The conference headquarters will be the Hilton Post Oak Hotel.

The goal of the events is to help advance efforts by the AFL-CIO’s constituency groups, the Texas State Federation of Labor and the Harris County Central Labor Council to forge a strong labor and civil rights agenda and to advance organizing and political empowerment. Many activists in Houston are thrilled at this effort to bring attention to the connection between civil rights and workers’ rights.

The support of civil rights and workers’ rights is crucial to the advancement of working people’s issues. Indeed, this is a central theme running through Dr. King’s work. Historically, there has been a great partnership between the labor movement and the civil rights movement. The conference will serve to build on this strength.

The events will begin on Thursday, Jan. 11. Reports the AFL-CIO’s Rebuilding New Orleans Project and on Zimbabwe trade unions will be featured on the opening day.

On Friday, the general session will begin with a Civil Rights Forum followed with workshops on voting rights; the impact of the Iraq war on people of color; jobs and human rights in the global economy; civil rights, public education and vouchers; and unions and immigrant workers. There will also be a dedication of union-donated playground equipment to the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School.

On Saturday, participants will be engaging in Community Service Projects scheduled for the Martin Luther King Early Childhood Education Center, Golden Age Hobby House Senior Citizen Community Center, the “Our Park” city of Houston park, and the SHAPE Community Center. These projects are intended to uplift a predominantly African American neighborhood which is close to Texas Southern University (the second largest historically Black university in the country) and the area’s NAACP headquarters.

Sunday activities will include a worship service at the Fifth Ward Missionary Baptist Church featuring a sermon by the Rev. Al Sharpton. An awards banquet will be held that evening honoring national and local political, religious, labor and community leaders.

On Monday, the participants will be marching in the Martin Luther King Grande Parade behind the AFL-CIO float. The AFL-CIO contingent will also include two city sanitation trucks to remind people that Dr. King was assassinated while working to help Memphis sanitation workers in their struggle to form a union. The AFL-CIO contingent is expected to be the largest single entry in the parade. The NAACP will also have an prominent contingent in the parade.

After King’s assassination, the Memphis sanitation workers formed a union which is now known as AFSCME Local 1733. It is one of the strongest unions in that city and represents thousands of city employees.

Dr. King’s support of the sanitation workers was part of his “Poor Peoples Campaign.” He recognized that strengthening unions and labor is critical to the struggle for long-term justice for African Americans and all working people.

phill2 @ houston.rr.com