January 16, 2017

The labor movement side of ML King

Lee A.Saunders - King was in Memphis to support the city’s sanitation workers — members of the union I’m proud to serve as president, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — who were striking in protest of poverty wages and dangerous, degrading working conditions. Their fight for dignity and respect was expressed with a simple, compelling slogan: “I Am a Man.”

In his final campaign and throughout his life as an activist, Dr. King, highlighted the struggle of all working people to get a fair shake.

He’s best known, of course, for his civil rights leadership, for his unparalleled role in ending legalized segregation and advancing the cause of racial justice. But he also had close ties to the union movement, and they were instrumental in his success. Indeed, the 1963 March on Washington — the venue for King’s most famous speech (“I Have A Dream”) — featured a prominent economic message. The marchers’ demands included a higher minimum wage, job training and a stronger Fair Labor Standards Act.

King understood the unbreakable links between labor rights and civil rights; he knew it was impossible to have one without the other. The needs of black Americans, he said at the AFL-CIO’s 1961 convention, “are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

... Around the country, newly elected and emboldened state officials are systematically undercutting the rights of working people to organize, bargain collectively and raise their voices at work. The result will be lower wages and benefits, less secure retirements and a hollowed-out middle class. And when public service workers — like the 1.6 million AFSCME members who pick up the trash, staff the schools, drive the buses and answer the 911 calls — are disrespected, it also weakens our communities.

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