IBEW Activists Join March on Washington  


August 21, 2013


Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 Assistant Business Manager James Shaw is one of the many IBEW members who will be in attendance at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom event Aug. 24.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to be in Washington, D.C., Aug. 24 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.


But for the tens of thousands of union members planning to be in attendance, Saturday’s rally is more than just historical reminiscence: it’s a call to renew King’s fight for social and economic justice.

“In many ways we still have the same struggle,” says Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 Assistant Business Manager James Shaw, who will be attending the march. “If you could interview the leaders from the ’63 march, they’d be happy at the progress we’ve made. But satisfied, no.”

While official state-sanctioned segregation may be dead, many of the original march’s top goals remain unfulfilled.

Shaw says that people often gloss over the fact that march organizers emphasized good jobs and economic opportunity just as strongly as civil rights and ending segregation. “It was called the march for jobs and freedom.”

Also key to the event’s success was the role played by unions. “You have to remember, it started as a labor thing,” he says.

The March on Washington was the brainchild of labor leader A. Phillip Randolph. Head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union and a civil rights activist, Randolph originally proposed a mass civil rights march during World War II. It was cancelled after President Franklin Roosevelt outlawed discrimination on federally-funded defense projects. 

Randolph resurrected the idea in the early ‘60s as the civil rights movement gained momentum throughout the South.

In addition to calling for ending school segregation and passing voting rights legislation, the march also demanded a beefed up minimum wage and federal investment in job creation.

While only part of the labor movement openly supported the 1963 march, this weekend’s event has received the full support of organized labor.

As an African-America who grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi, Shaw says he remembers firsthand the injustices of segregation and officially sanctioned racial discrimination.

“I remember seeing ‘colored only’ signs at bathrooms,” he says. “I remember the time when the only job a black person could get was working in the fields.”

Shaw says the march’s emphasis on jobs remains all too relevant today. And it’s a message that speaks to the younger generation as well.

“Things have gotten better since 1963, but too many inequalities and injustices still exist,” says Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 member Logan Jones. The 34-year-old apprentice cable splicer says he’s going to Washington – along with other young 1245 members – because the labor movement can bring the country together in combatting these problems.

“Lack of educational opportunities, unsafe working conditions, no rights on the jobs, Americans unable to feed their families,” he says. “All of labor shares the common goal of eradicating these problems.”

Click here to learn more about the march.

And the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, an organization of African-American trade unionists founded to continue Randolph’s legacy, is sponsoring a week of activities to commemorate the March on Washington. Click here for more information.