Labor Day feature from a Passages interview with Mama Maida Springer Kemp. She was an historic labor leader who cared and made advances for people through the union movement in the U.S. and abroad.
n the 1950s she began working for the AFL as an adviser to newly founded labor unions in Tanzania, Kenya, and Ghana, where she came to be known as “Mama Maida”. In 1951, sponsored by the American Labor Education Service, she traveled to Sweden and Denmark to observe workers’ education programs. She then took an eight-month hiatus from ILGWU to study at Ruskin Labor College, Oxford University, on an Urban League Fellowship. In 1955 she attended the first International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) conference in Accra, Ghana, as one of five observers, of which she was the only woman. In 1957 she played a key role in the founding of Solidarity House in Nairobi.
In 1959 she went to work for the AFL-CIO‘s Department of International Affairs as its representative to Africa. For the next several years she made her home alternately in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya), and Brooklyn, New York. She started an exchange program for Africans to study at Harvard University, founded a trade school in Kenya whose mission included expanding opportunities for women, established a post-secondary scholarship for Tanzanian girls, and started the Maida Fund to enable farm workers in East Africa to return to school. In the course of her work she befriended many of Africa’s emerging leaders, including Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. Between 1957 and 1963, she attended the national independence ceremonies of Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya.
In 1964 she represented the U.S. at the 48th Session of the International Labour Organization conference in Geneva. In 1966 she resumed working as a general organizer for ILGWU. Later she worked for the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
In the 1970s, as a consultant for the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI), she worked with trade unions in Turkey, where she helped introduce women into the labor movement by establishing the Women’s Bureau of TÜRK-İŞ. Initially her efforts were met with resistance by male union leaders who wanted women to participate in the organizing work, but had little interest in the concerns of women workers, such as equal pay, equal opportunity, and child care. She also worked in Indonesia to get more women involved in the labor movement. She attended International Women’s Year conferences in Mexico and Nairobi in 1975, and the Pan African Conference on the Role of Trade Union Women in 1977.
Give a listen to Mrs. kemp’s story on Passages celebrating Labor Day ….
Pray for workers and our leaders to do the best for those in need the most for making a living to sustain life for them and their families.