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For decades, labor unions have been critical allies to the Black community in the fight for freedom, justice and respect in this country.

However, it wasn’t always that way.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many labor unions either banned Black workers from membership or segregated workers by race, resulting in the creation of Black unions such as the Colored National Labor Union, founded in 1869 and led by Isaac Meyers and Frederick Douglass, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded in 1925 and led by A. Philip Randolph.

These new Black union leaders helped pave the way for progress toward racial and economic justice in America. In the 1940s and 1950s, Black union leaders such as Randolph and E.D. Nixon played pivotal roles in ending segregation in particular industries, the military and large cities. As they made progress, they also made allies within the union movement. In 1963, Randolph and organizer Bayard Rustin joined forces with a coalition of civil rights organizations, religious groups and labor unions, most notably the United Auto Workers, in orchestrating one of the most famous civil rights demonstrations in American history — the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

But the connection between Dr. King’s work on civil rights and union issues didn’t end in Washington. Indeed, on the eve of Dr. King’s assassination, he gave his famed “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a group of Black sanitation workers whose strike for higher wages and better working conditions he was there to support.

Since the days of the Civil Rights Movement, labor has continued to advocate for equal rights for all people. Last summer, labor supported the Black Lives Matter movement and joined the call for our political leadership to seriously address how systemic racism plagues our justice system, our workplaces and our country.

While great strides have been made in the struggle for racial and economic justice in this country, there is still much work to be done to achieve dignity and justice for all.

One way every working American can support that struggle is to join or form a union at your workplace, and here’s why: