By Bob King
Many have noticed that the UAW has become more vocal and active in standing up for economic justice outside our union.
We've taken strong positions protesting Wall Street banks that helped cause the current economic crisis -- and are now foreclosing on hard-hit property owners in Detroit. We're supporting farm workers in North Carolina who want the right to organize.
We're working with the Rainbow PUSH coalition to promote an agenda of "Jobs, Justice and Peace" for our country and will be marching with them on Aug. 28 here in Detroit. We will participate with the NAACP and other allies in the "One Nation, Working Together" march on Oct. 2 in Washington, calling for jobs for all.
We plan much more.
It's fair to ask why: What difference does it make to our members in manufacturing plants or at casino tables, insurance companies, colleges, hospitals and elsewhere?
We've always been at the forefront of social justice campaigns, whether it was providing office space to Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 so he could preview his "I Have a Dream Speech," walking with Cesar Chavez as he fought for farm workers in California's vineyards or working with Nelson Mandela to end apartheid.
We've always been there for others seeking justice. It's the right thing to do. We also know that a "rising tide raises all boats" so that when we win social and economic justice for any other workers, we are strengthening our members' ability to win and maintain fair standards of living and social and economic justice with their employers.
And you know there is a wonderful phenomenon in life: When you do the right thing, the right moral and spiritual "thing," unintended and unexpected benefits come back to you. This has certainly been my experience.
Right now, the UAW is running a campaign to convince Toyota to respect workers' First Amendment rights to freedom of association and free speech.
Toyota has run a decades-long battle against its nonunion workers who simply want a fair union representation election, free of management's fear and intimidation tactics. Our top priority is workers' right to organize for a voice on the job in the United States and around the globe.
While we welcome Toyota and the other foreign-owned manufacturers and the jobs they provide Americans, it is essential that these corporations respect the fundamental rights of American workers to free speech and assembly.
Unfortunately, it is an irony that many of these foreign-owned corporations like Toyota accept and cooperate with unions in other countries, but when they operate in the United States they treat Americans as second-class global citizens, resisting the workers' right to organize unions.
With a little help from our friends, we're going to expose Toyota until it agrees that its U.S. workers have the legal right to join a union if they so choose -- just like its workers in Japan have.
Workers in China and in other nations are beginning to fight back, launching strikes and other job actions that would have made the UAW sit-downers at General Motors or the veterans of the Battle of the Overpass at Ford Motor Co. proud.
The flow of jobs overseas will never ebb unless we can help workers in China and other countries raise their standard of living.
This will keep more manufacturing jobs from leaving our shores. It will improve our economy so local governments won't have to cut health care, colleges can keep tuition affordable and Americans have a little more spending money.
We'll be out in the streets of Detroit on Aug. 28 and the streets of Washington on Oct. 2 to march for jobs, peace and justice.
The Aug. 28 event will mark the 47th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream Speech," which previewed in Detroit before it was delivered on the Washington Mall.
Hope to see you there.
Bob King is president of the UAW. This opinion piece first appeared in the Aug. 4 edition of the Detroit News.