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IATSE’S Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Reflects on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK Graphic

Today we lift our voices in solidarity to celebrate the Labor Leader and “Dreamer”, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who famously said, “History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

Working tirelessly to fight for racial and economic justice, labor was a huge part of Dr. King’s platform.  He believed labor and civil rights were twin pillars in social reform and this was evident when he led his support in the Sanitization Workers Strike in Memphis in 1968. In his work to help the sanitation workers of Memphis to negotiate a fair contract, he highlighted his belief that “white & Negro workers have mutual aspirations for a fairer share of the products of industries and farms.  Both seek job security, old-age security, health and welfare protection.” Dr. King was a strong believer in the power of collective bargaining for workers to achieve these goals.

He knew that black and brown workers were able to change their economic status quicker and more enduringly when they held union jobs the work and pay were steady, clearly defined and offered more secure job placement. He also believed that unions helped diminish some of the racial tensions that existed in the USA by allowing people who may not otherwise associate with each other in their personal time to work side by side to work together to ensure that their livelihoods would be secure and provide a thrivable wage.

And while most people remember Dr. King for his lasting influence on the Civil Rights movement and his iconic speech, we must also remember the lasting impact he made on the labor movement. Following the contentious 2021 Basic and Area Standards negotiations, beginning this January and in the years to come we are proud the IATSE is the first of the entertainment industry unions and guilds to add Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a recognized paid holiday in the union’s largest film and tv contracts.

Unions tie people together for their economic betterment. Workers in divided communities began to realize that their concerns were almost identical. They were brothers-sisters-kin in a larger community that represented their common voice and common goals. King also tied this collective activism of union members to their ability to vote in local, state and national elections. He advocated for workers to take their collective power to the ballot and vote for the changes they want to see in their community and country.  He said in his “Give Us the Ballot” speech during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957, “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. 

Give us the ballot,…we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books…”

On this anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the Committee encourages IA members to take a moment to read King’s “Give Us The Ballot” Speech and be a part of this pivotal moment for voting rights, by clicking here to contact your Senators immediately to demand they sideline the filibuster and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

In Solidarity,

― IATSE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

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The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees or IATSE (full name: International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada), is a labor union representing over 160,000 technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live events, motion picture and television production, broadcast, and trade shows in the United States and Canada.

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