Juneteenth is a holiday that every working person should hold a deep reverence and appreciation for. Colloquially, we think of the holiday in terms of freeing enslaved African-Americans. While that is undoubtedly true, this holiday changed the nature of labor in this country forever. It is a celebration of the events that forbade exploited labor in the United States. Slavery was a commitment to exploiting people for the purpose of their labor, that exploitation was determined by the color of their skin. As working people, we know that the unfair and abusive treatment of workers does not just hurt those people being mistreated but others who want to earn an honest living at a fair wage using their talent and treasure.
When General Gordon Granger rode through Texas reading aloud General Order #3, he signaled a permanent end to the relationship between master and slave. His pronouncement was the culmination of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of the general strike. Du Bois framed the enslaved as workers who contributed to their own freedom by deserting plantations and serving in the Union Army as well as sabotaging cotton crops to weaken the financial footing of the Confederacy. Du Bois also points to the nearly 100,000 white workers who walked off their jobs in the Confederacy removing the economic foundation on which that society was built.
This all goes to show us how race and class are inextricably linked together. As public employees in Maryland, we know that an injury to one is an injury to all. We recognize that we find ourselves linked in one unbreakable bond of fellowship that compels us to act in the best interests of one another. We also recognize the horrible institution of slavery has branded in the psyche of America a distinction among races - particularly for people of color. Time and time again that distinction, which is fiction, has produced harmful results.
Juneteenth should be celebrated by all Americans, and particularly by all union members as evidence of the great potential of our nation. It would be dishonest and historically inaccurate to turn a blind eye to our nation’s greatest sin, slavery, but in shining a light on that dark point in history, we can find the redeeming values that each of us can aspire to in order to help make our country more perfect and our unions live up to their full potential.