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Danny Glover receives UAW Social Justice Award

UAW President Bob King awarded Glover the UAW Walter Reuther Social Justice Award at the UAW’s 2011 Special Convention on Collective Bargaining in Detroit on Thursday.
Photo by Rebecca Cook

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Danny Glover understands workers’ rights.

With a strong family education in social activism, including his parent’s involvement in the NAACP, he had a front row seat for what grassroots, direct action can accomplish in bettering the lives of those who are oppressed.

Glover is a critically acclaimed actor and film director. But for decades he has also been on the front lines of civil rights and workers’ rights campaigns both in the United States and around the world.

UAW President Bob King awarded Glover the UAW Walter Reuther Social Justice Award at the UAW’s 2011 Special Convention on Collective Bargaining in Detroit on Thursday.

It’s one of the highest honors one can receive from the UAW.

“He stood with protesting union members in several states. Wherever there’s a fight for workers’ rights, he has been there. Wherever workers are oppressed, Danny Glover has been there,” King told the more than 1,200 delegates and activists as he presented Glover the award.

Glover said his roots took his social activist parents all over the country, but the family ended up in living in San Francisco, despite a job offer his father received in the Motor City before Glover was born.

“I could have been a Detroit native,” said Glover, as the crowd cheered.

“Detroit was the face of America and then became the face of de-industrialization,” said Glover. “Detroit, with the first highway … the city that brought this country into modernity in the 20th century, all of that is Detroit. At the same time, the city was perhaps the first to experience the tragedy of the American Dream, the first to face outsourcing as early as the 1940s where jobs were moved where wages were lower, instead of using those jobs as a platform to continue building America,” said Glover.
 

“Detroit, with the first highway … the city that brought this country into modernity in the 20th century, all of that is Detroit..." said Danny Glover.
Photo by Rebecca Cook

Glover said corporations made choices that negatively affected not only African Americans who migrated from the South to northern industrial centers, but their white counterparts as well. And those choices continue to be made today. He said today’s choices are affecting workers in the public sector, such as those in Wisconsin, in the constant battle to take their rights to bargain and to have living wages.

“We must take this moment not only to look at what has happened to us, but also to understand this tragedy in a much larger way, a way that shows we are not only connected to the students in Cairo, but also to students in Haiti 25 years ago when they overthrew the dictatorship of “Baby Doc” [Jean-Claude Duvalier], which led to the first free election in Haiti’s history. We must understand what happened to them as they were disempowered. That is what has happened to us, and we must see ourselves in that sense,” said Glover.

Glover referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who talked about being on the right side of history by what we support and said UAW members must be on the right side of better communities, better wages, the struggles we fight for in services and for schools. He said we must be on the right side of history with all those in the world who are struggling to build the better community that Dr. King talked about.

Glover also said it’s time to create a new economic framework that works for the middle class and will sustain workers over time.

“The 1950’s economic paradigm has failed us around the world. Even though it brought us what we consume, it has failed us around the world,” said Glover.

“The UAW is key to creating that new world,” he said. “I know the UAW is going to be there in the fight. I know it is going to create the language, the vision that we must have as we talk about our own dynamics here with this union, but also as we talk about its relationship with the rest of the world,” Glover added.

Glover pointed to a group of young labor activists who traveled from all over the world to attend the bargaining convention to talk about labor rights in their home countries and how they can work with the UAW to support each country’s workers in their fight for justice.

Delegate Jimmy Mack of Local 276 was inspired by Glover’s words, agreeing that labor is key to lifting workers out of poverty, and that history proves it.
Photo by Don Lehman
“We have some international interns here. They are the future. If capital has the right to internationalize, the workers have the right to follow the capital and internationalize themselves,” he said to loud applause from the delegates.

Glover said workers are at a critical moment in history.

“The great revolutions that created democracy were based on the ideal of the enlightenment, the right to exist. Before the enlightenment there was the Magna Carta, and human rights continued to evolve from that,” said Glover. “We have a crisis where the right to exist, not as we saw it in the 18th or 19th century, but in the 21st century, is in jeopardy,” said Glover.

“We have to stand up against that crisis. When we do that we are on the right side of history,” he added.

Delegate Jimmy Mack of UAW Local 276, which represents General Motors Corp. workers in Arlington, Texas, was inspired by Glover’s words,

agreeing that labor is key to lifting workers out of poverty, and that history proves it.

Essie Scruggs of Local 276 said Glover’s ideas are inspiring because they focus on what activists and all people of conscience around the world have in common –  a thirst for justice.
Photo by Don Lehman
“When Henry Ford offered a wage that no one had ever heard of, we, blacks, began to acquire more. So, in essence, the UAW has had an affect on our social life and what we can do, where we live and how we live, not just our economic life and wages,” Mack said.

Mack says President King is continuing the history of direct action on behalf of workers. “We have a president now that is trying to get everybody involved and is rekindling our history of activism. Getting people involved like this is important. They begin to feel like they are part of a family,” said Mack.

Delegate Essie Scruggs, also of Local 276, said Glover’s remarks reminded her that unity is key to fighting for workers when someone of Glover’s stature stands with the UAW and speaks to delegates at this convention.

“When Danny Glover spoke to us, he was just like one of us,” said Scruggs. “I was so proud to see him in person. I never knew his history. I feel close to him … like he was family. He sincerely believes in the social justice movement.”
 

Scruggs said Glover’s ideas are inspiring because they focus on what activists and all people of conscience around the world have in common –  a thirst for justice.

“Everybody should be involved with the working people movement,” she said. “I’m making a promise to myself and my union brothers and sisters that from now on, I will be at the most rallies my schedule can handle.”

Joan Silvi
Gwynne Marie Cobb contributed to this story.