Let Us Remember Dr. King as a Champion for Economic and Social Justice Too
January 9, 2012
By Danny Donohue
As we observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday and honor Dr. King for his contribution to America’s Civil Rights Movement, let’s not forget about how his efforts also helped advance the American Labor Movement.
Of course Dr. King will always be remembered first and foremost as a civil rights leader. School children today are taught about his civil disobedience, the marches he led and the speeches he gave as he worked to end racial segregation and discrimination. They also learn how he was taken from us so suddenly and so violently on that fateful spring day in Memphis, 1968.
What they may not be learning and what many of us may have forgotten is that Dr. King was in Memphis at the time to lend his support to striking city sanitation workers who were fighting for dignity – fair treatment, better wages and benefits, safer working conditions and the right to be represented by a union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1733. In fact, the night before his assassination, Dr. King delivered one his most famous speeches to those striking workers, giving them hope with the words: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” and “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Later that month, in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, AFSCME and City of Memphis negotiators reached a deal ending the strike, granting workers better wages and recognizing their union.
As responsible citizens, it is important for us to teach our children and generations to come that Dr. King was a champion not just for civil rights but a champion as well for political, social and economic justice for all Americans including poor and working families.
Today, as we witness nonviolent protesters effecting incredible change all over the world from Egypt’s Tahrir Square to Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park, it is clear that the moral principles Dr. King espoused are still relevant and the methods he used to advance them are still effective.
Danny Donohue is president of the 300,000 member CSEA – New York’s Leading Union, representing every kind of worker in every part of New York. CSEA is also the largest affiliate of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.