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  • Counter-protesters lock arms as police try to disperse them, after members of the Ku Klux Klan rallied in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia

    Counter-protesters lock arms as police try to disperse them, after members of the Ku Klux Klan rallied in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia | Photo: Reuters

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AFSCME said it will contribute to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League in an effort to combat hatred and violence. 

One of the largest labor unions in the United States has pledged to fight against the rise of white supremacists in response to the violent rally in Charlottesville that left one dead and 19 injured.

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The Washington Federation of State Employees, WFSE and its parent union, American Federation Of City, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, have joined the mounting solidarity movement, promising to step up efforts to protect civil rights.

The union is present in 46 U.S. states and comprises of 3,400 local unions and 58 councils, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

In a statement released Saturday, the AFSCME said it will contribute to the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, and the Anti-Defamation League in an effort to combat hatred and violence.

Following the violent Charlottesville rally, Lee Saunders, AFCME's president and Elissa McBride, secretary-treasurer, said in a statement on Tuesday, “Now is a moment for all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance, and inclusion to stand up and speak out.”

Saunders told Colorlines, "We’re going to have to get back to basics and bring all of our communities together to fight against those who don’t want us to have the freedom to have a seat at the table."

As part of these efforts, the union has said it will train labor organizers to tackle income inequality and racial disparity via "I Am 2018," an 18-month initiative that was launched in June this year.

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The campaign, named after the 1968 protest slogan “I am a man,” is focussed on training and mobilizing communities across the United States to address basic economic justice issues such as health care, a living wage and paid sick leave.

In 1968, around 1,300 of the city’s mostly Black sanitation workers, mostly AFSCME union members, marched in the streets carrying placards that said, “I am a man” in protest of racial discrimination, low wages and unsafe work conditions.

It comes on 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation strike where Martin Luther King's gave his iconic “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech at the historic Mason Temple to show solidarity with sanitary workers.

"I Am 2018 comes as civil rights and economic justice are under attack. This moment provides an opportunity to connect and highlight current issues that directly affect our nation’s working families," said a statement by AFSCME.

“To truly celebrate his ( Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) life, to carry his values forward, to keep faith with everything he preached and practiced, we need to do more. We need an extended campaign of grassroots education and mobilization. We need more than a commemoration; we need a call to action." Saunders added.

In July, the City of Memphis made advances to compensate some of the workers from the 1968 strike who never received retirement benefits. They gave 14 of the surviving strikers US$50,000 in tax-free grants, announcing that improvements for current employees were underway.

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