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By Bob King
For the first time in modern history, African-American and Latino civil rights leaders, labor, women's rights groups and other supporters of democracy are uniting to fight today's civil rights struggles against voter suppression and anti-immigrant laws.
The re-enactment of the historic march of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists began March 4 in Selma, Ala., and ends at the state Capitol in Montgomery to honor civil rights trailblazers of the last century, and to call on people of faith and conscience to speak out on today's civil rights issues.
UAW President Bob King marches with Rev. Jesse Jackson, far right, Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and other civil rights leaders in Selma, Ala. Photo by Denn Pietro.
Thousands will demand the repeal of voter suppression laws recently enacted in numerous states and repeal of Alabama's anti-immigrant law H.B. 56 as they echo the footsteps of the "Bloody Sunday" marches that began March 7, 1965, when those seeking civil rights for African Americans were assaulted by police after crossing Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge.
We are marching for justice and calling on Alabama businesses and major foreign investors — such as Daimler, Hyundai and Honda — to support repeal of H.B. 56. All businesses have a corporate and moral obligation to speak out against laws that discriminate against their customers and harm communities where they have thrived.
The UAW's unwavering demand for rights is steeped in its history. Our union has fought for civil rights laws since the 1950s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and legislation to prohibit discrimination against women, the elderly and the disabled.
In Alabama — the cradle of the civil rights movement — H.B. 56 has resurrected the dark days of racism and hate to target Latinos and immigrant populations for harassment and arrest.
Under this law, anyone who "looks foreign" is caught in the cross-hairs of a law that is enforced by racial profiling and hatred.
The resulting climate impacts workers, families, schools and communities. Alabama stands to lose up to $11 billion annually because H.B. 56 poses a major threat to businesses and hurts workers well beyond the state's borders.
When Daimler considered opening its Mercedes-Benz plant in the state, Alabama vowed to retreat from its racist past. The Confederate flag, a symbol of that racism, was removed from atop the state Capitol.
Hyundai and Honda followed Daimler to Alabama as did dozens of foreign auto suppliers. But Alabama reneged on its pledge by enacting H.B. 56.
Daimler, Hyundai, Honda and all businesses must now support repeal of H.B. 56.
They and most global corporations have corporate policies that endorse civil rights as human rights, and they are ethically obligated to ensure that policies they embrace inside their plants areconsistent with the policies they embrace beyond their plant gates.
Failure to speak out against H.B. 56 is a failure of leadership and silent endorsement of racist policies that resulted inthis legislation becoming law in the first place.
In the midst of our economic challenges, labor, business and government came together to find pragmatic solutions. Similarly, our struggle for civil rights and sound immigration policies will be resolved when we work together on practical, humane solutions.
Let's unite and repeal H.B. 56.
Bob King is president of the UAW. This opinion piece was first published in the March 7, 2012 edition of the Detroit News.