Apr 06 2011
On April 4th, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The venerated civil rights leader is best remembered for his fearless commitment to non-violence in the struggle for racial equality. However the pursuit of racial justice was interrelated with the pursuit of a more just society in many arenas, including that of workers’ rights. King was killed while traveling in Memphis in support of a historic strike of the city’s black sanitation workers. The men were paid less than their white counterparts, endured dangerous working conditions, and were being denied the right to join a union. Forty-three years later gains made by labor since the days of Martin Luther King are being rolled back by city and state governments nationwide. Elected officials are saying the deep recession justifies the decimation of collective bargaining rights. Additionally public employees are being asked to tighten their belts through a wide range of measures, including unpaid furlough days, pay freezes and cuts in health benefits. As in King’s time workers of color remain particularly disadvantaged by labor troubles. Nationally, in February, 8% of whites were unemployed compared to 15.3% of blacks. Addressing the striking sanitation workers King spoke of the “dignity of labor” in a speech that he gave on March 18th, just days before he was assassinated.
GUEST: Dr. Michael Honey, Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professor of the Humanities and Professor, Labor and Ethnic Studies and American History at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and author of, Going Down Jericho Road, the Memphis Strike and Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign
Read Dr. Honey’s recent article “King’s Fight for Unions Is Still Essential.”