Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. Died Fighting for Labor

Today marks the 40th anniversay of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination in Memphis. King died fighting for labor and a living wage. He was there to support municipal sanitation workers who were striking for better pay, benefits and working conditions. King didn't die in vain. The strikers did ultimately win their strike and receive better pay, benefits and working conditions, which helped lift millions of other Americans into the middle class. However, the AFL-CIO reminds us that for all the good that came from that strike, labor rights and economic equality have been losing ground (which we know all too well here in Michigan):
Over the past three decades, however, this situation has taken a turn for the worse as both the number of jobs in manufacturing and the number of unionized jobs have declined sharply. In 1979, for example, manufacturing accounted for nearly one-quarter of all jobs in this country and about the same share of the total workforce was in a union. Today, only about one-in-10 jobs is in manufacturing, and roughly 13 percent of the workforce is in a union or represented by one at their workplace. [...]

Meanwhile, probably the most important reason for the simultaneous drop in unionization was corporate America's deliberate decision to adopt a more hostile attitude toward unions. Many firms have relocated plants overseas or in states with little union presence as part of a conscious effort to evade unions. [...]

Employers also regularly violate other aspects of the NLRA designed to protect workers' freedom to form unions. Research... has estimated that one-in-five workers actively involved in organizing a union can expect to be fired in the middle of a union organizing election.
And here in Michigan we have the "right-to-work" crowd stirring the pot. These attacks on labor are discouraging, but as King often said, "We, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

In his lecture, "The Quest for Peace and Justice", King said...
Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.
If Martin Luther King were alive today, I have no doubt he'd be openly critical of the economic inequality in our country. King believed all work has dignity and worth and it was a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. It's up to us to continue his fight.


Larry said...

If Martin Luther King were alive today he would be branded a terrorist by the Republican extreme because he fought for the common man.

Larry said...

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Martin Luther King Jr.

Kathy said...

Larry, absolutely. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party would be targeting him for sure. Rich, white men are greedy and have no intention of parting with any of their millions/billions willingly.

Thanks for the quote. The world could use more people who live by those words.

abi said...

Wonderful post, Kathy. Time has done nothing to diminish King's reputation. It just grows and becomes more impressive. I think he had no equal in all of post-WWII
America. No wonder he had to die.

Larry, I would argue that if King had not been assassinated, there wouldn't be a powerful right-wing extreme in this county today. One man with King's leadership ability can do that, just like one man - Reagan - made the Republican extreme respectable and possible.

Lew Scannon said...

Did you know that King's family successfully sued the US government for having caused King's death?

Kathy said...

Abi, I agree that King has no equal post-WWII. His selflessness and desire to improve living conditions for all people is unmatched and actually quite humbling. What a contrast to the "compassionate" powers that rule our country today.

Lew, I didn't know about the lawsuit. I recall a lawsuit against a man who claimed he was part of a government conspiracy to kill King. Is that the one you're referring to. How much did they win?