There is an opportunity for more coalition building between racial justice activists and the labor movement in 2022.

By Austin C. McCoy, Truthout

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, in which he assessed the state of the civil rights movement after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In it, he argued that the movement had reached a crossroads. After winning civil rights legislation, Dr. King argued, “The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converging crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge.”

Where did Dr. King go amid this impasse? He went to Memphis to support sanitation workers. He also followed welfare mothers as he sought to build a coalition — the Poor People’s Campaign — of poor folks. He continued articulating a politics synthesizing anti-imperialism as well as labor and civil rights.

fists in the air

We could be heading toward a similar synthesis. While 2020 was a resurgent year for the movement for Black lives — as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest state violence, advance abolitionist demands to defund the police, and to confront structural and symbolic vestiges of racism and colonialism at the center of our modern world — 2021 was a resurgent year for organized labor and workers.

As labor intellectual Kim Moody reports: “There were 124 strikes by these [private-sector] workers across industries in 2021.” Despite its defeat, the “BAmazonUnion” drive in Bessemer, Alabama, captured the nation’s attention earlier this year. Workers at John Deere, represented by the United Auto Workers, struck for the first time in three decades. Graduate students at Columbia went on strike for a second time this year last month and are seeking improvements in pay and working conditions. Even Starbucks workers at a Buffalo café successfully won recognition as the company’s first union in the U.S. Organizers there built on a two-year effort to recruit employees to Starbucks Workers United (SWU) by building support and encouraging them to join their organizing committee before announcing its unionization drive in August.

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