“Education is the most powerful weapon
which you can use to change the world.”
What can you say about one of the greatest leaders our world has ever known? The world mourns today at the loss of Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, and civil rights activist.
For decades organized labor has been fighting against discrimination in all of its nasty forms. Labor fought to end segregation in the Civil Rights moment in the 1960s. Today labor still fights for equal pay for women, marriage equality, and anti-discrimination laws against members of the LBGT community.
Many of the current leaders of these labor unions drew great inspiration from Nelson Mandela. He was an outspoken advocate to ending the South African ‘Apartheid,’ the laws that separated white South Africans from all other South Africans. No matter what happened Mandela never waivered from his convictions. Even after he was arrested, he stayed the course. Mandela was sent to Robben’s Island – the South African version of Alcatraz- where he lived for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. After Mandela’s release he reignited his movement to end ‘Apartheid’. After ‘Apartheid’ ended, South Africa held their first democratic election where all South Africans were allowed to vote. Overwhelmingly they elected Nelson Mandela.
After Mandela’s passing was announced many of these labor leaders released statements of support and their personal connection to the great leader.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:
…His quiet dignity earned respect for him and his cause across the globe. He once said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
During his visit to the United States in 1990, Mandela spoke to the AFL-CIO and called on the labor movement to use its history of empowering America’s workers as a model for South African workers. We in the labor movement must take Mandela’s words and continue to strive for equality and fairness for all working people around the globe.
On behalf of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, the AFL-CIO Executive Council and the 12 million working men and women of the AFL-CIO, we extend our deepest condolences to Nelson Mandela’s family, his colleagues and the people of South Africa.”
Shawna Bader-Blau Executive Director of the Solidarity Center an organization that works to promote labor and civil rights throughout the world stated:
“While the world has lost a great statesman and unwavering warrior for freedom, we have not lost President Mandela’s impact on and contributions to his country—and to vulnerable and exploited people everywhere,” said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center. “He showed the world the true meaning of liberation by taking on all forms of oppression and championing equality. We are awed by his determination and celebrate his extraordinary accomplishments, which are a gift to the world.”
The AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson stated:
“Nelson Mandela’s life and historic achievements continue to instruct us in today’s struggles for equity, civil rights and opportunity for all. His moral compass still provides direction to those efforts and will guide us for as long as we honor his memory and celebrate his legacy.”
“The American Federation of Teachers has a long and special connection with South Africa and its path to freedom and democracy. These range from AFT President Albert Shanker’s efforts to assist that nation’s multiracial teachers’ unions, to our HIV/AIDS programs in South African schools, to Share My Lesson’s partnership with The Weinstein Company in promoting lessons associated with the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
A statement from the United Auto Workers:
“The UAW deeply mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential civil rights and social justice leaders of our time. Nelson Mandela demonstrated how commitment to core principles and social justice can change the world. His actions freed millions from the chains of racism. From his humble beginnings to his imprisonment for fighting against the apartheid system in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to the world.
“It was an incredible honor for the UAW, through the leadership of then-President Owen Bieber, to play a role in supporting Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s. President Bieber traveled to South Africa to support Mandela and other activists, and when Mandela toured the United States in 1990 after his release from prison, he insisted on celebrating with UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich. During that trip, Mandela invited Bieber to be at his side during a rally at Tiger Stadium.
“Nelson Mandela will be missed by those who believe in civil and human rights for all people. The best way to honor his passing is to continue to work for his ideals. We are committed to doing so.”
The world has lost a great man, and a great leader. His legacy of non-violence will live on forever. He will be greatly missed.