At ‘We Out Here!’ event, Washington’s AFL-CIO constituency groups and unions offer a reminder: Joy and justice go hand in hand as we build power for all working people.
(March 1, 2023) — Our labor movement brings working people together across industries and identities to seek out joy and justice united with one another. It takes all of us to build power for workers; anything that divides our solidarity is a threat to our movement, and to working people’s wellbeing.
This is the spirit that guides the work of the WSLC Racial & Gender Justice Department, under the direction of Kasi Marita Perreira. Our strength as a movement is in our solidarity, and we know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are used to pit working people against one another, an age-old divide-and-conquer strategy. As enthusiasm for organized labor skyrockets among new, increasingly diverse generations, building an anti-racist labor movement is critical for ensuring working people see their needs reflected in organized labor.
Through the WSLC Racial & Gender Justice Department and the WSLC’s Race & Labor program, we support our affiliates fighting racism as a movement-building strategy.
It’s not easy work. And often we don’t celebrate what we’ve accomplished as we push forward. But joy and justice must come hand in hand for our movement to be powerful and resilient. And the diverse leaders who move us forward deserve to be celebrated.
This was the inspiration behind We Out Here! A Celebration of Diverse Leadership, a gathering of union family this past weekend at the Teamsters Joint Council 28 hall in Tukwila. Presented by the WSLC Racial Justice & Diversity Committees, along with local chapters of AFL-CIO constituency groups – A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) – We Out Here! brought together more than 200 union members on Saturday night to honor and celebrate in the spirit of cross-racial solidarity during Black History Month.
After comments from WSLC President April Sims and Secretary Treasurer Cherika Carter, and WSLC Racial Justice Committee Chair John Scearcy of Teamsters 117 and Constituency Group leaders, attendees were treated to an energy-filled performance by the Omega Delta Phi Stroll Team (featuring Union Summer Alum Jonny Gonzalez).
The short program also included a moment of pause to give roses to both long-term elected union leaders of color in our movement, and rising leaders who introduced themselves to our labor community. Finally, a surprise award, “The Lift Every Voice” award was presented to IBEW 46 Business Manager Sean Bagsby.
“Bagsby exemplifies union leadership and what it looks like to fight for all workers’ voices to be heard,” said WSLC President April Sims. “His authentic, steady leadership is invaluable for Washington’s labor movement.”
The award is the first given by the WSLC Racial Justice and Diversity committees, in recognition that the people closest to the problem are also closest to the solution and that racial and economic justice are one and the same.
“We don’t do this for accolades,” said Bagsby as he accepted his award and shared his thanks. “It’s about seeing all the young people, seeing all shades of humanity come together. It doesn’t matter what craft you’re a part of, it’s about all of us. And it will take all of us to make a difference.”
We Out Here! also provided a platform for AFL-CIO constituency groups of color, with opportunities for attendees to connect with current members and leaders and get involved in local chapters. These constituency groups are a home for union members of color, and a space for all union members to work together towards progress.
“People of color are critical leaders in transforming the labor movement. We are often invisibilized and it is so important we celebrate us,” said Eunice How, APALA Seattle President. “We are in a class and race war and in intense fights for justice in our workplaces, in the community, and the ballot box. It was so nice to celebrate in a joyful setting. We are refreshed and ready to continue the battle for democracy! Party on!”
Embodying the collaborative spirit that thrives in Washington’s labor movement, local unions and labor organizations from across industries rallied together to support this event. Tremendous gratitude and appreciation for all sponsors, volunteers and supporters, including:
- AFT Washington
- IBEW Local 46
- IBEW Local 48
- Machinists Local 751
- MLK Labor and Partner in Employment
- NW Laborers
- OPEIU Local 8
- Partner in Employment
- Seattle Education Association
- SEIU Healthcare 1199NW
- SEIU 6
- SEIU State Council
- Teamsters 117
- Teamsters 174
- Teamsters National Black Caucus
- UNITE HERE local 8
- UW Harry Bridges Center
- WA State Building and Construction Trades Council
- WFSE Council 28
While the party may be over, the energy lives on.
“This was a celebration of Black and brown leadership, staff, and rank-and-file celebrating our existence being ‘Out Here,’ but it was also a reminder that ‘We’re In Here’ within the labor movement,” said Kevin Allen, CBTU Puget Sound Vice President and WFSE 843 member. “Recognition is so important for ourselves and the labor movement as a whole. It can be lonely doing this work at times, but this was a time of rejuvenation and motivation.”
Sarah Tucker is Digital Organizer for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. WSLC Wednesdays is a regular feature of The Stand where different departments of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO describe their recent activities and the services they are providing to WSLC-affiliated unions.