Teamsters National Black Caucus Holds 38th Annual Conference
“Labor unions are the only group in the world fighting for the working people and the middle class. We’re the only ones left. Let’s do our work,” said Al Mixon, looking out at the hundreds of Teamster leaders, rank-and-file members and guests at the annual education conference of the Teamsters National Black Caucus (TNBC).
Mixon, an International Vice President, Chairman of the TNBC and Secretary-Treasurer of Cleveland’s Local 507, implored the crowd to continue the fight started by the civil rights movement. He also reminded them that the Teamsters Union, and the labor movement in general, are still fighting many of the same things the civil rights movement fought for.
The 38th annual TNBC conference kicked off on August 14, 2013, in the heart of downtown Atlanta. This year, more than 600 dedicated Teamsters and guests were in attendance, each there to celebrate history.
The participants attended workshops, networked, fellowshipped and had the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. historic site in Atlanta, the home of the civil rights movement.
The theme for the TNBC conference was honoring and continuing the fight of the original fighters for civil rights. The conference also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“The importance of the TNBC conference is to inform the youth of exactly who the Teamsters are, and what we do. Since attending the conference I’ve reached out to many of the youth in my community and inspired those who have crossed my path,” said Teamster Melissa Spaulding. “I’ll be attending the conference for more knowledge to spread about the changes that need to be made next year. This caucus is a networking tool.”
This TNBC conference featured the fifth annual Women’s Day. TNBC delegates honored not only the Teamster women in attendance, but those who came before them. A tribute to the late Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. King and a civil rights icon in her own right, was the highlight of the morning. A sea of red shirts filled the hotel ballroom as TNBC delegates observed Women’s Day with inspiring speeches, recognitions and a special luncheon.
“The reason for organizing this group of strong black women is to mentor and educate each other,” said Ferline Buie, International Vice President and President of Joint Council 55 in Washington, D.C. “We continue to fight the war on workers, and we’re working hand and hand with our brothers.”
Those in attendance also heard presentations on health and welfare, other benefits, Teamster history and what the union is doing to organize new members. They also heard from several Teamster leaders.
“I consider it an honor to be able to address this group, because you all have done a great job,” said Ken Hall, General Secretary-Treasurer.
John Coli, International Vice President and President of Joint Council 25 in Chicago, expressed how proud he was of the TNBC. “This is one of my favorite events of the Teamsters. You know how to have fun, but you also know how to get the job done,” Coli said. “Without you guys, the fabric of our International would not be what it is. These conferences are really the backbone of everything we do. So keep up the good work.”
“Once we get it in our minds that this is what we do and who we are, servants to our members, we’ll get better and greater every day,” said Antonio Christian, Executive Director of the TNBC.
“We have to fight because we’re in the fight of our lives,” said Harvey Jackson, Vice Chairman of the TNBC.
John Lewis Speech
One of the highlights of the conference was Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the original civil rights Freedom Fighters, who encouraged attendees to not lose sight of why they were there: to continue the fight for working people.
“If it wasn’t for this union in particular, I wouldn’t be standing here as a state representative. I thank you,” Rep. Lewis said. “We sat at counters waiting to be served while they spit on us, put out cigarettes in our hair, and poured water and coffee on our backs, but we didn’t retaliate with violence.”
“Teamsters! The wind may blow, the thunder may roll, the lightening may flash, but stay with the union, hold hands! We’ve come too far. We’ve made way too much progress to go back,” he said.
Over the years, the annual TNBC Conference has become a meeting place for the leaders and members of the Teamsters Union. Caucuses were designed to gather members together to discuss issues and reform. Their purpose is to help resolve problems, as well as educate its members.
The TNBC takes great pride in its conference being all about education and inclusion, and the membership in attendance told the story without saying a word.
The diversity in gender, race and even geographic regions of those in attendance shows the TNBC is achieving its goals.
“The TNBC is growing larger and better each year,” Mixon said. “I had someone say to me, ‘The moment I walked into this room was the moment I started thinking about how I could be a better person and a better Teamster.’ That’s what this is all about.”
Celebrating the Dream
Teamsters played a very important role in the March on Washington 50 years ago. They were at the forefront of the march demanding better jobs, better education, and decent living for working men and women.
On August 28, 1963, Teamsters from all over the nation were front and center for the march. Today, the union’s members are still front and center in fights involving social justice and economic equality.
On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Teamsters again turned out in force, demanding economic equality, better working conditions and wages for all Americans.
“This is a time to reflect on the progress made toward achieving civil rights and workers’ rights across the country, but it’s also important to recognize the steps that remain to be taken in order to guarantee these rights,” said Becky Strzechowski, International Vice President and President of Chicago’s Local 700.