08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

United Steelworkers and AFLCIO Lead Historic Arkansas March for Employee Free Choice Act

On Saturday, July 11, we made history in Arkansas. We -- civil rights and community leaders, local elected officials, and union activists and leaders, 1,500 of us-- held the largest ever demonstration in Arkansas to demand that Sen. Blanche Lincoln vote for and support the Employee Free Choice Act.

We began at the iconic symbol of civil rights, Central High School integrated in 1958 by nine brave Black teenagers, with Steelworkers President Leo Gerard thundering workers rights are civil rights. Then African-American Little Rock Judge and Rev. Wendell Griffin told the story of his family and how life changed for the better when his father's job at a non-union sawmill became union. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker talked about how the freedom struggle of the workers rights movement is an extension of the freedom struggle of the civil rights movement. African-American Little Rock State Senator State Senator Joyce Effiott welcome us to her district and talked about the fight to restore the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

After Sen. Elliott, USW President Gerard kicked off the mile long march in 100 degree heat to the State Capitol.

After the 45 minute march, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and soontobe President Rich Trumka made the case for Sen. Lincoln to support the Employee Free Choice Act. With all the passion and vigor of his call a year ago for union members to support Barach Obama, Trumka talked about the unfinished business of freedom in America and he thanked labor's allies--the ministers and imams and other faith leaders, Interfaith Worker Justice, the local African-American elected officials and community organizations.

There were many more speeches in the course of that very hot midsummer day in Arkansas at the Capitol and at the subsequent catfish fry--more ministers, State Representatives Carrell and Nickell, Maxine Nelson, Chair of Arkansas ACORN all calling for Sen. Blanche Lincoln to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Strategists on both sides of the fight agree that Arkansas and its two moderate Democratic Senators is ground Zero in the history-making campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

July 11 had started with six buses picking up activists in Texarkana, Ft. Smith, and Pine Bluff taking them to meet the multitudes of Little Rock activists.

This huge and historic march is the latest in a series of tactics in Arkansas that are much more reminiscent of the modern Civil Rights movement than a typical legislative campaign. The AFL-CIO Employee Free Choice Act campaign has included a statewide 24-hour candlelight prayer vigil, a previous march and rally, mobilization of faith leaders, and other creative movement activities.

But on July 11, all other tactics were eclipsed by Arkansas largest ever march and rally.