“… the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”
King's Words Continue to Have Relevance For Us Today
JANUARY 15, 2011 - At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the heroic leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated at a Memphis hotel after leading a march in support of the city's 1,300 striking sanitation workers. Dr. King, the Nobel Peace-Prize-winning campaigner for economic and social justice, died while supporting the right of public employees to organize, fight for decent wages and preserve public services.
City officials had refused to recognize the union, and in so doing refused to recognize the workers. At another rally held a month earlier, Dr. King told a Memphis crowd of thousands:
“You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the significance of those who are not in professional jobs. Of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth… You are reminding not only Memphis but you are reminding the nation, that it is a crime for people in this rich nation to receive starvation wages.”
In his speech delivered in support of the Memphis garbage workers the night before he died, Dr. King said,
“The question is, 'If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?' That's the question. Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”
As the attacks on public workers' rights to organize and bargain escalate, the rest of our rights may not be far behind. So as we honor Dr. King's memory on the anniversary of his birth, let us commit to preserving his legacy by supporting each other and our fellow workers, and continuing to demand dignity and respect on the job, in our community and in our nation.
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