Unions have played a significant role in Black civil rights

Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Correspondent | 10/11/2018, midnight

Much is known about many aspects of the history of the civil rights movement in America. However, the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America provided one of the least often heralded but most essential roles in the movement’s success.

Better known as the United Automobile Workers or UAW, the union was responsible for, among other things, posting the cash bond needed to have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. released from a Birmingham jail and later, called attention to Apartheid in South Africa and the incarceration of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.

“We have never left the movement,” said Ray Curry, UAW’s International Secretary-Treasurer and member of the Daimler Supervisory Board, whose core functions include the control and monitoring of important corporate decisions for Daimler AG, the German multinational automotive corporation.

“Among many archives of our building, there is a photo of our president, Walter Reuther with Dr. King during the March on Washington in August 1963. He was one of the few labor leaders on the podium to speak and be recognized,” Curry said, noting another recent photo that includes himself and UAW’s current president, Gary Jones, with Dr. William Barber who has resurrected the Poor People’s Campaign.

“Dr. King actually wrote his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Detroit in our offices and earlier that year, we were very instrumental in securing his release from a city jail and one of our former presidents, Owen Bieber, actually went to visit Nelson Mandela in prison and led a charge for his release. One of the first places Mandela spoke at following his release was at a UAW Local Union Hall in Michigan,” Curry said.

The backdrop that helped buoy the UAW is found in the fact that the union was formed to fight for and ensure worker’s rights. Thus, it was a “no-brainer for UAW to join the civil rights movement,” Curry said.

The UAW has remained vital because right-to-work initiatives and anti-worker legislation have often threatened to undermine labor unions’ efforts to secure negotiation rights and contracts for workers in their workplaces.

“We believe that labor is alive and well and we have been successful in organizing even in the South over the last four years where we have 12,000 new members in places like Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Oklahoma,” Curry said.

“The UAW now has over 430,000 members and each of the last nine years we’ve had growth.”

Born in North Carolina in 1965, Curry earned a B.S. Degree in Business Administration/Finance from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Later, he earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Alabama.

A U.S. Army veteran, Curry began his manufacturing career at Daimler Trucks, in Mount Holly, North Carolina and he served in numerous elected roles for UAW Local 5285 until his 2004 appointment to the UAW’s International Staff and later, in 2010, as assistant regional director.

Curry won election as regional director in 2014 and, as a member of UAW’s International Executive Board, he was responsible for Region 8, which consists of 12 U.S. states in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.