January 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – On Monday, working men and women fighting for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage sought to replace the empty platitudes normally associated with annual Martin Luther King Day observances with the kind of direct action the slain American icon was actually known for throughout his life.
“Do not forget that in his day he was vilified regularly by the American mainstream,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told marchers poised to step-off on 145th Street in Harlem. “Let’s not airbrush history. We remember Dr. King in his fullness — the man who fought against the grain.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that since Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, low-wage workers have continually lost economic ground due to stagnant wages.
“It’s not just that you feel like you’re going backwards — you’re not crazy — you are going backwards,” Governor Cuomo told the crowd gathered inside Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters. “That’s what this economic system has done.”
Earlier in the day, about 25 demonstrators at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, were arrested protesting unlivable wages that have forced many security officers, cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, sky caps and others to rely on public assistance just to get by.
The LaGuardia action coincided with 10 similar protests at major airports around the country.
Governor Cuomo, as he did earlier this month during the launch of the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice,” blasted a system of “corporate welfare” that allows the multi-billion-dollar fast food industry, in particular, to reap enormous profits each year by paying workers poverty wages.
On average, New York State must spend $6,800 per individual on those unable to survive on their salary alone. Advocates for a $15 an hour minimum wage argue that if the $2.00 an hour minimum wage Dr. King fought for before he was killed at the close of the 1960s was indexed to inflation, workers today would be earning over $15 an hour.
“Dr. King always said it’s not about words,” Governor Cuomo continued. “It’s not about saying the right thing. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about getting it done — making a difference in people’s lives. That’s what we’re going to do in Albany. That’s what we’re marching for on that street today.”
In addition to chronically unsustainable wages, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned that the Empire State currently finds itself in a wage theft “crime wave” that has, according to the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, stolen over $100 million from already cash-strapped workers.
“You march to send a message that we value these workers.” Schneiderman said.
Mayor deBlasio wondered what Dr. King would think if he were alive today, and could witness renewed attacks on the Voting Rights Act, as well as increased efforts to weaken organized labor in the form of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
“The first thing I think he would say is, ‘What happened to us over all those years since 1968?’ I don’t think he would have any lack of love for us — but I think he would call us to account,” the mayor said. “I think he would have said, 'What happened — how on earth is the Voting Rights Act under attack?' I think he would say, 'How are we at a moment when the Supreme Court of the United States is about to rollback and diminish the rights of labor unions?' [Dr. King] died in Memphis defending working people and labor unions.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, during a trip to support striking city sanitation workers who were protesting low wages and dangerous working conditions.