Neutrality was the keyword, the password and the compromising word at the meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, August 1972, in Miami Beach, Florida. Neutrality was the political position advocated by George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, in terms of the presidential candidates – Richard Nixon and George McGovern. And neutrality it was – much to the consternation of a few unions represented on the Executive Council and most certainly the Black representatives in attendance. The alternative to neutrality is to take a position, to take a stand and make a decision to act on same. Fortunately for the labour movement in general and for the Black trade union member in particular, five Black trade union leaders met and decided that being neutral was detrimental to the well –being of Black and minority unionists. The five Black leaders discussed and planned the concept of forming a vehicle and a voice for the Blacks and minorities in the labour movement. This independent and uncontrolled mechanism would be the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).

The five leaders would be the initial steering committee of CBTU; they were:

William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer, AFSCME
Nelson Jack Edwards. Vice-President, UAW
William Simons, President WTU, Local 6
Charles Hayes, Vice-President, UFCWIU
Cleveland Robinson, President, Distributive Workers 65

We are, and should be, extremely indebted to these leaders for their foresight, acumen and guidance.

Immediately after the Miami Beach meeting, the Steering Committee began preparations for the call to a founding conference, which took place the following month, September 23-28, 1972, at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. More than 1200 Black Union officials and rank-and-file members attended this historic conference.

The conference was chaired by Charles Hayes, Vice-President of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. In his opening remarks he stated: “?we have to begin to give some profound thought to some kind of an ongoing structure that stretches beyond the November elections and reaches out into the bowels of the trade union movement to give some guidance and sense of direction in helping us to overcome some of the shackles that are around our ankles within the movement.”

Brother Hayes introduced Nelson Jack Edwards, Vice-president of the United Auto Workers, who, in turn, after brief remarks introduced, to deserving applause, the other members of the Steering Committee – Cleveland Robinson, President of the Distributive Workers of America, who became known as and often referred to, the historian of the organization because of his long involvement and participation in the labour movement, the Negro American Labour Council, and the civil rights movement. William Simons, President of the Washington Teachers Union, Local 6, active in the political arena and with many civic and labour projects in Washington, D.C. The delegates seemed to be waiting for the introduction of William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Brother Edwards in his introduction: “I am going to bring you now a young man that I have a great deal of respect for. All working class, no matter their colour, have a great deal of respect for him. No matter where you hear the name, if men and women have heard of the work that he has done, they say, ‘Oh, he is great. I’d love to meet him.’ Well, many of you here today will meet for the first time this great labour leader, the Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME, Mr. William Lucy.” The place shook to thunderous and sustained applause. They were saluting the highest ranked Black elected labour official in the world.

Plans were then made by the Steering Committee for the convening of a Constitutional Conference which was held in January 1973, in Washington, D.C. The existing CBTU Constitution and the Bill of Rights was formulated and adopted.

The first annual CBTU Convention was held five months later on Memorial Day weekend, May 1973, in Washington, D.C. The Steering Committee and a structure for the Executive Council were established. Organizing committees for chapters were created in the following cities: St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, Baltimore, Memphis and Pittsburgh.

It was agreed that the CBTU would hold annual conventions in May of each year on the Memorial Day weekend. The delegates also voted on using the words “The Black Worker:” Leading the theme for each convention. From May 1973 to the present time, CBTU has held the following conventions:

1974 Detroit, Michigan 1975 Atlanta, Georgia
1976 Cleveland, Ohio 1977 New York, New York
1978 Memphis, Tennessee 1979 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1980 Detroit, Michigan 1981 Washington, D.C.
1982 Memphis, Tennessee 1983 Chicago, Illinois
1984 Cincinnati, Ohio 1985 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1986 Atlanta, Georgia 1987 St. Louis, Missouri
1988 Washington, D.C. 1989 Detroit, Michigan
1990 New Orleans, Louisiana 1991 Chicago, Illinois
1992 Los Angeles, California 1993 Atlanta, Georgia
1994 Orlando, Florida 1995 Detroit, Michigan
1996 Miami, Florida 1997 New Orleans, Louisiana
1998 Minneapolis, Minnesota 1999 New Orleans, Louisiana
2000 Orlando, Florida    

It was predicted by many in 1972, that CBTU would not survive. Not only have we survived for twenty-eight (28) conventions, we have grown and will continue to grow. Currently, there are over fifty (50) different international and national unions represented in CBTU with fifty-seven (57) chapters located across the country and one (1) in Ontario, Canada. The regional structure adopted in 1978 is actively functioning in eleven (11) regions. The Women’s Conference has been held at the last twenty (20) conventions and has become a feature of the annual convention.

Our resolutions have become action programs and projects for the members of our chapters as well as the overall labour movement and political/constituency/community based organizations. CBTU made a statement of purpose at the original convention which was to call for an increase in Black leadership in our local unions and to increase Black and female representation on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Our political action program has generated not only increased political awareness but also greater activism and expertly trained campaign workers. And it must be noted, we are the first labour organization to adopt in 1974 and act on resolutions regarding South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

We have much to be proud of, but we have much, much more to do. And we will!

William Lucy, AFSCME
Charles Hayes, Meatcutters (UFCWIU) (deceased)
Nelson Jack Edwards, UAW (deceased)
Cleveland Robinson, District 65 UAW (deceased)
William Simons, AFT (deceased)
Alzada Clark, UFW
Isom Clemons, Longshoremen’s Association
Levi Daniels, UMW
Ola Kennedy, USWA
Oliver Montgomery, USWA
Gideon Parham, Teamsters
Lillian Roberts, AFSCME
Dennis Serrette, CWA
Ed Todd, Textile Workers (deceased)
Agnes Willis, IUEW
Robert Wilson, Butcher’s Union (UFCWIU)
Constance Woodruff, ILGWU
Robert Simpson, Teamsters (deceased)
Leonard Ball, AFSCME (deceased)


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