Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, did you know that?  I bet you did.

But I am going to bet that you didn't know that he worked for equality in more than just issues related to race.  He also worked diligently on behalf of workers.  

Yep, I mean it, Dr. King was pro union.

I had a diary up on Friday night, very late Friday night and decided that I'd repost it.  Here's a link to it (and it has a poll).

Previous Diary

This weekend is the rememberance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Although he is most remember as a civil rights leader, I remember him most for his fight against Poverty.

We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity altogether and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we have ourselves created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice.

crossposted on uniongal

When he was murdered (which always sounds much more scaring and real than Assassination to me, I wonder why), he was on a mission to end poverty in America.  We have yet to meet that goal.  But during that time, he spoke of economic freedom, worker's rights, in general, he spoke of the American condition.  

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining... We demand this fraud be stopped.

What is often left out of the discussion about race in this country is how the owners of industry use Americans of color and immigrants to break unions and pit worker against worker.  This, of course, is an example of scabbing.  

Scabbing seems to have been almost a cottage industry in this country. Movies like The River, On the Waterfront, or the Replacements glorify the worker who must take a job to save his farm, take on corrupt union bosses, or to play a game they never thought they could.  You know, man against the mountain themes.  How very noble.  

I personally have found that movies like Norma Rae, Matewan and Harlan County Wars, had much more realistic looks at what an organizing drive is and the kinds of things bosses and owners are willing to do just to prevent workers uniting.  

Now, since I've brought it up, let's look at Matewan.

In an effort to break the miners' union, the mine owners brought in immigrant Italians and blacks from the south.  The movie uses an organizer's voice to discuss the issues of race and strike breaking and does so in the same breath

"You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain't a union, it's a goddam club! They got you fightin' white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain't but two sides in this world--them that work and them that don't. You work, they don't. That's all you get to know about the enemy." - Joe Kenehan

The longshoreman took a similar approach:

...had to go into the whole question of Blacks. I said, "Look, fellas, the only way these guys ever got a job was as scabs. The bosses saw to that. Let's right now say, `You've got a job as a working stiff. No discrimination.'"

It wasn't pretty in 1934 when Harry Bridges talked about discrimination.  It wasn't easy getting the longshore gangs (teams) to see scabs as equals.  But they did it.  They did it by isolating the scab gangs and bringing the gangs into the union, one by one.  By the 1936 strike, there would be no more scabbing.  Bosses couldn't use race baiting to pit whites and blacks against each other.  They had to acknowledge the union and learn how to work with them.

Being in a union, organizing, working for workers' rights, it's what everyone of us should be doing.  Like Valerie Taylor

I just did what I thought was necessary. I didn't feel like I was doing anything more advanced than anybody else, but somebody had to speak out. What's that saying about being ashamed to die if you haven't done some good for humanity or some such thing like that? I kept that in the back of my mind. Working to make this a better world for having lived in it has been my philosophy...

The history of the labor movement is a long bloody one.  It was common place for local authorities and "special policemen" would beat or run out of town anyone looking for a job.  Lynchings of union activists were far too common place, like that of Wesley Everest

The hall was raided; the Wobblies defended their hall, and two legionnaires were killed. When Wesley Everest who was was armed and inside the IWW hall tried to make his escape, he shot two of the men who were pursuing him. Now there were four legionnaires dead. The need to exact instant retribution overcame the survivors; Everest was captured and almost hanged before he was taken to jail. That night the power was cut off in Centralia and Everest was taken from the jail there to a bridge over the Chehalis River and hanged.

The article fails to tell you how American Legion members beat, tortured and mutilated Mr. Everest before finally hanging him.  

I read stories like that of Wesley Everest and Harry Bridges and I think of Dr. King.  That all three of these men spoke of the American condition and asked the question, why?

They each took a stand, never backing down, despite the odds, death threats, deportations, beatings, jailings, need I go on?

These men knew what solidarity meant; they lived it, breathed it; they embodied it.

Today, as I remember Dr. King, I also remember that we are all in this together, that

the poorest people in our country today, on the whole, are working every day. But they are earning wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. We have thousands and thousands of people working on full-time jobs, with part-time incomes.

Long live Harry Bridges, Wesley Everest, Dr. Martin Luther King jr. and so many many more.

These quotes and other Dr. King quotes are availablehere.

I'm about to board a union airline right now, so if I don't respond, give me a few hours, I will.

Originally posted to Bendygirl on Mon Jan 21, 2008 at 12:39 PM PST.

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