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Most people have seen clips of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech in Memphis where he died, but relatively few know that he was there as part of a sustained campaign to support an AFSCME strike of santitation workers demanding a union.  

In the dumbing down of celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national icon, the relatively radical demands for economic justice that he was making in his later years tend to disappear.  

But Martin Luther King Jr. had made a strike of public employees in Memphis a centerpiece of his efforts to launch the "Poor Peoples Campaign" of his final year.  You can read more details about the strike at this website commemorating the strike, but it's worth understanding that Martin Luther King Jr., even as he rightly criticized the exclusionary rules of some individual unions, always saw a strengthening of unions and labor as critical to achieving long term justice for African Americans.  

As this archive details, in his whole career he saw unions as critical.  A few excerpts:

Less than a century ago the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and barren....American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing existence was economic organization through trade unions...

By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them...

That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

--Speaking to the AFL-CIO on Dec. 11, 1961

He attacked anti-union right-to-work laws:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone...Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote."

--Speaking on right-to-work laws in 1961
If you want to honor Martin Luther King Jr., you should honor the labor struggles, including those of public employees demanding just economic treatment.  Martin Luther King Jr. never separated collective organization of black workers (along with white workers) from the demands for equal treatment of individuals in the workplace.   Most memory of Martin luther King Jr. emphasizes only individual equality but his legacy, including his death, was also dedicated to the collective organization and empowerment of workers.

Originally posted to NathanNewman on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 08:36 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  MLK was considered a communist (4.00)
    by many of the wingnuts back then, especially as he widened his criticisms to encompass Vietnam and the ruling elite.

    Which raises a question: who killed him?

    http://www.smh.com.au/...

    •  MLK had the answer! (none)

      The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

      by ccnwon on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:37:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well its a cinch (none)

      --that is was not the poor, ignorant redneck that they fingered for it.

      RFK must have known somewhere deep inside what was coming for him too for much of the same reason -- the two of them were going to wake the working class and poor people of ALL races in this country -- and they couldnt have that -- no way.

      But they will have their revenge -- not in destruction and diminishment, but in the strength of what they stood for --- and what will ultimately be built which I believe will ultimately overcome all this horror.  The people will know and will stand up...they will make manifest and real all that MLK's words and passion identified and foretold --

      Stop Looking For Leaders - WE are the Leaders!!!

      by SwimmertoFreedom04 on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:34:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  In addition ... (none)
      The "I had a dream ..." speech was not a civil rights rally in Washington but a "jobs and freedom" rally in Washington. Some of King's best speeches were in preaching the love of Christ and against the Vietnam War. In some ways, it is not surprising that "they" had King killed; the races were joining together against injustice and Senate Republicans were getting the Voting Rights Act passed. Isn't it amazing how things have changed?

      A political fanzine containing random musings about politics, music, the media and modern times: Politizine

      by politizine2 on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 06:21:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary (none)
    it helps add perspective to the union movement and moves it away from being just a 'special interest' as many like to consider it.
  •  No wonder (4.00)
    King's mentor, E. D. Nixon", was the head of the Montgomery branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. They were the inheritors of the work of A. Philip Randolph, the Sleeping Car Porters' leader whose constant threats of a massive Black march on Washington helped push Truman to abolish segreation in the armed forces and set the stage for King's 1963 rally on the Mall.

    "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

    by Septic Tank on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 08:46:23 AM PST

  •  Hooray for this diary! (4.00)
    Let's not forget his ringing condemnation of an immoral war while we're at it.

    I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

    Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam.

    And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

    As we say here of lesser pronouncements, highly recommended.

    •  America's soul IS "Totally poisoned" (4.00)
      Of course there will always be some good Americans, but seriously, this country is looking poisoned indeed, when huge numbers of us think warrantless searches, torture, and wars based on lies are OK because there's a war going on. And the one guy who stands up against the machine is shot down for screaming at a pep rally.

      MLK was right.

      The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits. - Albert Einstein

      by racerx on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:54:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Love that site (none)
      I linked to his "I have a Dream" speech there in my diary a couple of days ago.

      "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - FDR

      by SisTwo on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:55:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Best MLK diary yet...thanks. (4.00)
    "The recent transit workers' strike in New York City was a vivid reminder that unions maintain considerable leverage despite their shrinking numbers. Buried beneath the stories about tense negotiations, holiday shopping disruptions and commuters hoofing it over the Brooklyn Bridge was one of labor's past glories--the creation of Martin Luther King Day. When Transport Workers' Union president Roger Toussaint demanded recognition of the holiday, he cited the Metropolitan Transit Authority's failure to honor King's birthday as evidence of administrators' lack of respect for the mostly black, Latino and Asian-American members of his union. By doing so, he harked back to the civil rights leader's working-class activism--and the forgotten labor roots of the MLK holiday."
    ~~ William P. Jones, Working-Class Hero
    •  Thank you for this diary...it is telling the truth (4.00)
      Blacks have long seen unionizing as a way of redressing economic grievances.  Only thing was, racism usually blocked the door into the hall, and onto the picket lines.

      The amount of invective heaped on these workers during the strike was maddening.  You can't buy a clue fast enough for people to realize that people of color were not taking this kind of abuse lying down.

      It wasn't just King coming to the rescue of the sanitation workers, but to all unions, black and white, who had backed the civil rights struggle.  I don't have to talk about Walter Reuther, do I?

      An untypical Negro...since 1954.

      by blksista on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:05:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  In New York City this weekend (none)
        the home healthcare workers, members of SEIU, negotiating for a living wage, chose the holiday to hold a rally at the North End of Central Park, entrance to Harlem.
        •  I marched with SEIU President Andrew Stern today (none)
          in Miami Beach - he came to march with the South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.  No coverage on Yahoo yet but here's a press release from yesterday:    

           http://biz.yahoo.com/...
          Workers in Miami Gain Powerful Voice for Justice as More Than 30 South Florida Religious Leaders Unite With SEIU to Call for Change
          Sunday January 15, 8:49 am ET  
          "As people of faith, we prayerfully support condo workers employed by the Continental Group and other companies as they seek fair wages, health care for their families, dignity on the job, and freedom to join a union without threats or punishment." -- South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice

          MIAMI, Jan. 15 PRNewswire -- In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of economic justice for all, the Most Rev. Felipe de Jesus Estevez, Archdiocese of Miami, and religious leaders from all over South Florida will unite together in one of the largest and most significant events to ever be held in Miami on behalf of workers campaigning for decent wages, affordable healthcare and the freedom to join a union without fear.
          VISUAL: More than fifty clergy in robes, children's choir, hundreds of marchers singing

          Andrew L. Stern, President of the 1.8 million member Service Employees International Union, will speak at the service and join the religious community on a march down Lincoln Road.

          Last year, Andrew Stern launched a widely publicized debate about the fundamental change needed to reverse labor's decline, Stern led SEIU out of the AFL-CIO to focus the movement on uniting the nine out of ten American workers not yet in a union, and was the driving force behind the formation of Change to Win, a new labor federation of seven major unions representing six million members.

          Condo workers and janitors at the University of Miami are fighting to win better wages and affordable health insurance. Both have met with fierce opposition from their employers as they try to form a union. The Continental Group, which employs many of the workers in some of Miami's glitziest condominiums, has been charged by the federal government's NLRB with violating the law by firing, threatening, and spying on workers who want to form a union.

              WHAT:   Interfaith Prayer Service and March for Justice organized by the
                       South Florida Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice

              WHEN:   MONDAY, JANUARY 16, 2006
                      Prayer Service at 10 a.m.
                      March at 11 a.m.

              WHERE:  MIAMI BEACH COMMUNITY CHURCH, 1620 Drexel Ave. at Lincoln Road

              WHO:
              *  The Most Rev. Felipe de Jesus Estevez, Auxiliary Bishop,
                  Archdiocese of Miami

              *  The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis, Church of the Open Door

              *  Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, Temple Beth Or

              *  President Andrew L. Stern, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

          "This is a street fight! You can't play nice in a street fight!" R. Spano, 2003

          by kd4dean on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:43:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  thanks (4.00)
    for that great post. I think its inevitable that all American holidays evacuate all meaning from the original purpose (eg, Labor Day!), but this is one to fight to hold onto what MLK stood for.

    IT was not just a mamby-mamby "lets all get along liberalism," it was for fundamental social change towards a more equitable and democratic society.

    It was for the right of all working people, especially the hardest-working, lowest-paid and most downtrodden, to believe that they too had rights and equal opportunity: "I am a MAN!"

  •  Highly recommended! (4.00)
    People need to remember ALL of the things King stood for...
  •  Did you see the NYT Magazine cover article? (none)
    The article discusses, among other things, how increasing the minimum wage could be a winning issue for Democrates in future elections.

    Given what you just posted, it's nice to dream of such a movement taking hold.  

    Thanks for this great diary!

  •  I remember, all right (4.00)
    I like to say I was 11 yrs old and 11 miles away when he was assassinated. I'd been denied a BB-gun for Xmas 1967; as my old man headed out on his next business trip 3 months later, knowing there was likely to be trouble, he 'taught' me (while sitting on a piano...) 'how to shoot' a 16-gauge semi-automatic shotgun. I now realise the first shot would've left ME on my ass. I was only to use it "...to stop the <perjerative deleted's> running across the lawn to rape my momma. Didn't know what rape was, either, but MLKs death was my political birth. In a BIG way.

    Memphis knew how to stop the riots from spreading from downtown out east where we lived. It was 1968 in Memphis. They shut down the buses. That was all it took...

    FWIW, it's SOOO nice living in a basically gun-free society!

    - cdn

    "Men should take care of women, and if men were taking care of women today, we wouldn't have to vote." -- Kay O'Conner (R-KS)

    by grndrush on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 09:59:06 AM PST

  •  Thank you for this diary (4.00)
    As I commented in one of the diaries during the New York transit strike, ALL labor is interconnected.  

    Unfortunately, anti-labor forces have been pitting those who are in a union against those who are not by the old divide and conquer method.  Some folks who are not in a union have been fooled by class, i.e., the work they perform is middle management and white-collar, so union representation is unnecessary. However, when "Democratic Senator" Max Baucus states that outsourcing is a fact of life http://suntimes.com/... and the workforce in the U.S. ought to get over it, I am thinking that these same folks who shuddered in disdain at unions are now wishing they were in one.  It is the unions, despite the fact that membership has diminished over the past two decades, who have remained true to their mission: to bargain in good faith regarding job classifications, salary, benefits and safety on behalf of all their members.

    I'll say it again: if you work for somebody, if you go to somebody's job, if you have a boss, you are labor.  And it is better for laborers to be unified to fight against 'market forces' than not.

    / Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands. -- Marvin Gaye /

    by Sagittarius on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:04:28 AM PST

  •  We get the safe, sanitized version... (none)
    of MLK on his holiday every year.  Thanks for giving us a small slice of the real man.

    Some men see things as they are and ask why. I see things that never were and ask why not?

    by RFK Lives on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:06:14 AM PST

  •  long way to go (none)
    and in an irony of ironies, the local sanitation workers are out collecting garbage today - on King's holiday...
  •  Racial Discrimination (none)
    was and is part of a larger evil, Social Injustice, in which classes of people are pushed down, denied opportunity and subjugated for the economic benefit of the rich and powerful elite.

    Class Warfare against large segments of our people.

  •  Thanks for keeping this fact out front (4.00)
    It's also at the heart of one of Dr. King's many favorite Bible quotes (this one based on Amos 5:24) which he paraphrased:

    "No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

    here

    "...psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of...politics, law enforcement, (and) government." Dr. Robert Hare

    by RubDMC on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:11:03 AM PST

  •  I love this! (4.00)
     In today's age it is not only black people that are being assualted, but the poor. Supporting non-corrupt union movements is a wonderful thing.

      I sometimes feel like we are still fighting the civil war. There is a war on not only blacks , but the poor in general, what ever color you are.

     The plantation owners(Free Market Advocates) are still looking for slave labor to line their pockets. They couldn't find it here so they have gone over seas.

     

    inspire change...don't back down

    by missliberties on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:34:38 AM PST

  •  Excellent! (none)
    And if you are ever in Memphis, forget Graceland and go visit the Civil Rights Museum - located at the spot where Dr. King was shot.  I've been to literally 100s of museums worldwide and this one is the most moving of all.
  •  Great job. (none)
    I also really enjoy NathanNewman.org for labor issue discussion.

    I would really like to see more discussion of labor issues on DKos.

  •  In the same vein as.... (4.00)
    our media's sanitization of the memory of Rosa Parks.

    Thanks, Nathan!

    The Republican party: An alliance of madness and greed.

    by jem6x on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:03:20 AM PST

  •  Pitch perfect (4.00)
    Too often we allow the legacy of MLK to be ghetto-ized as "just" a civil rights crusader, as "just" a proponent of racial equality.  Doubtless these are hugely important.  But MLK's legacy belongs to all of us who fight for social justice.

    Dr. King understood that you cannot address racial inequality without simultaneously dealing with the other inequalities which plague our society.

    Excellent diary.  Please recommend this diary!!!

  •  So many lessons to learn from MLK (4.00)
    Rev. King revealed the power of love to change the word.  "Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies."   Perhaps we should consider adopting this philosophy when dealing with the most dreaded enemy - Republicans.  Just some food for thought.  Feel free to flame away.

    Read the entire sermon, Loving Your Enemies.

  •  Power and organizing (none)
    Thanks for writing this, Nathan.  Right after Katrina I wrote this diary reflecting on the responses to the disaster and quoting extensively from one of MLK's speeches to the sanitation workers' union (not the "Mountaintop" speech, but one delivered in March of 1968).  I'd quote it again, but it's faster to just whore my old diary.  But here's a quick excerpt:

    If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it. Now, you know what, you may have to escalate the struggle a bit. If they keep refusing, and they will not recognize the union, and will not decree further check-off for the collection of dues, I'm telling you what you ought to do, and you're together here enough to do it. In a few days you ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis.

    If you let that day come, not a Negro in this city will go to any job downtown. And no Negro in domestic service will go to anybody's house, anybody's kitchen. And black students will not go to anybody's school, and black teachers, and they will hear you then. The city of Memphis will not be able to function that day. All I'm saying is you've got to put the pressure on.

    This is why we have decided that we're going to Washington. We are going to the seat of government, starting out in April. We are going around the question of jobs or income. We aren't going to Washington to beg, we are going to Washington to demand what is ours. I read in newspapers and other places questions: "Why are you going to Washington?" My only answer is that anybody who lives in America with open eyes and open mind knows that there is something wrong in this nation. I'm going to Washington to pick up my check."

    MLK didn't get assassinated because he dreamed of integrated playgrounds.

    One of the things that linked the civil rights movement and the labor movement for MLK, I believe, was that both struggles were built on the organized power of the disenfranchised.  Even Dems today who speak of the poor often do so from a position of priviledge -- even Edwards's stump speech was a sort of "no man is an island" rap, a call to care about the poor, rather than a call from among the poor to rise up and organize and demand justice.

    When prominent American politicians start talking about the poor in the 1st person, not the 2nd or 3rd, then we now we've turned one corner, at least.

    "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

    by Pesto on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:25:32 AM PST

    •  general strike (none)
      In a few days you ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis.

      Never knew that he had advocated for a possible general strike in Memphis.

      •  General Strike (none)
        I doubt that many schools teach what Memphis was really about when they teach about Dr. King.  Can any of the kossack teachers share what their Dr. King curriculum is like?

        And I'd add that a great deal of the tragedy of Dr. King's assassination is that it transformed a potential general strike into actual riots -- and with all the "law and order"ing and tut-tutting about the riots from the American right, there's absolutely no doubt at all that if they have to choose between poor people rioting and poor people organizing, they'll take the riots every time.

        "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

        by Pesto on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:22:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not to be cynical, but (none)
          The riots make "shoot to kill" orders much more palatable.  What would happen if every Black here was erased from existence?  Who would they go after next?  Us, I suppose.

          I found out today we're going wrong/We're going wrong... Jack Bruce

          by moltar on Tue Jan 17, 2006 at 12:52:50 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Two quick quotes: (none)
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
    M.L.King, 1929-1968

    Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
    M.L.King, 1929-1968

    Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Joseph Welch, Army-McCarthy Hearings

    by captainlaser on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:42:50 AM PST

  •  Take Action... (none)
    A practical way to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr:

    On a day when speeches will be delivered and parades will pass through cities to commemorate the triumph of the civil rights movement, honor Dr. King's legacy in a practical way by helping to rekindle the "Poor People's" movement that he died for.

    One simple step - support legislation to help low wage workers organize unions:

    http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/...

    Labor creates all wealth - Organize!

    by fartofliving on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:16:31 PM PST

    •  Not just low wage workers.... (none)
      ...but all workers.  Even those workers who have been blinded by the anti-union light and do not realize that they need a union.

      / Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands. -- Marvin Gaye /

      by Sagittarius on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:44:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  absolutely... (none)
        As doctors lost their professional autonomy and their work is commodified, organizing efforts are just beginning to take hold.

        Public defenders in CA are organizing around issues that include a demand for sufficient time to provide adequate representation.

        Administrative Law Judges are organizing against requirements that they meet quotas requiring that they find for the government.

        The most effective issue around which to organize is not, contrary to intuition, wages and benefits - it's respect.

        Thanks for your comment.

        Labor creates all wealth - Organize!

        by fartofliving on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:56:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Headline (none)
    Nathan, good job on pointing out why Dr. King was in Memphis when he was killed.  But he didn't, as your headline says, die at a union picket line.  He died outside a motel.  You may want to revise the headline.

    But other than that, good piece.

    The revolution will not be televised, but we'll analyze it to death at The Next Hurrah.

    by Dana Houle on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:55:16 PM PST

    •  A little liberty (none)
      My original version said "on a picketline" but that would be more clearly inaccurate.

      But since the sanitation workers worked throughout Memphis, the whole city was a picketline.  So MLK was in that sense AT a picketline even at the motel.

      •  Then He Died in Picketline Violence? (none)
        With your union sensibilities, is that an implication you wnat people to mistakenly have?

        And I think you know people will read your headline, and they'll think something very different than what was the case.

        The revolution will not be televised, but we'll analyze it to death at The Next Hurrah.

        by Dana Houle on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 01:35:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, to be completely factual (none)
      he wasn't murdered outside a motel.  Dr. King was shot on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  Since I knew that Dr. King was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers, I did not take offense to the title.  In fact, I thought the title would attract individuals who were not aware of his reason for being in Memphis to this important and thoughtful diary.

      / Makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands. -- Marvin Gaye /

      by Sagittarius on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 01:28:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  History can teach. (none)
        MLK was pro-Union, anti-War and subjected to  continuous government surveilance.

        Why are union abuses given as reasons for union decline; but Enron and Walmart abuses are business as usual?

        Why is Vietnam accepted as a waste of blood and resources; while the war on terra gets a blank check?  Imagine what could have been done instead of babysitting arabs for the next 25 years.

        Why is tapping MLK's conversations symbolic of Hoover's excesses; while W gets to sniff around in everybody's email?

        History will judge. Neocons think the new millenium has swept away the lessons of history as quaint.  Their times are so special and unique. Arrogance and ignorance.

        MLK stood up and took a bullet. Cheney hides in his bunker, W shoots first, not a glimmer of doubt. 18 Pakistani's just killed by a RoboCop on a hunch. Dead or Alive.  
           

  •  The Northern Unions (none)
    were all white and very racist. They wanted nothing to do with black sanitation workers in Memphis.

    But once the unions (seeking to expand their presence in the south) looked into the conditions in Memphis, they were so disgusted by what they saw that they served theMayor of Memphis notice that the rule of the game were about to change.

    Much credit is given to MLK and his organization for fighting on behalf of the Memphis sanitation workers, and rightly so. But many forget that it was a previously all white union started the ball rolling.

    The decline of the Unions is directly linked to the demise of progressive politics in this country.

    "I am not a crook" - The Honorable Richard M. Nixon

    by tricky dick on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 01:55:25 PM PST

    •  What are you talking about? (none)
      Industrial unions were hardly all white and union leaders like Walter Reuther were staunch supporters of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement long before Memphis.  Not that such union leaders were always perfect, but they were not acting on noblesse oblige but the real presence of black workers in their membership as well.  
      •  Indeed Nathan (none)
        Walter Reuther reached out to Blacks before, during and after Henry Ford tried to use them to break the picket lines at Ford Motor Company in the 40's.  Reuther and his brothers Roy and Victor fought for equal rights for all people long before MLK came onto prominence. Men like King and Reuther were giants - the likes we desperately need today.    

        "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

        by fugwb on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:12:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I saw a PBS (none)
        documentary some years ago that I recalled portraying it that way.

        Maybe I'm getting senile, but that's the way I remember it.

        "I am not a crook" - The Honorable Richard M. Nixon

        by tricky dick on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:32:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  United Auto Workers Funded March on Wash (none)
      Reuther was on the stage and spoke just a few minutes before Dr. King.  And when Rosa Parks and her husband were blacklisted in Montgomery after the bus boycott, she was offered a job by the UAW, which is why she moved to Detroit.  She worked for the UAW for about 8 years, until she went to work for Conyers when he took office in 1965.

      And AFSCME, the union that was on strike in Memphis, has long had a strong emphasis on civil rights, and a large percentage of their membership has and remains African-American and Latino.

      The revolution will not be televised, but we'll analyze it to death at The Next Hurrah.

      by Dana Houle on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:55:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well then I'm in error (none)
        but that was the impression I got from the PBS special I watched about the assasination of MLK some years ago.

        Perhaps my memory is failing me in my old age.

        "I am not a crook" - The Honorable Richard M. Nixon

        by tricky dick on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:30:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  hmm... (none)
      I know that it was union money that was used to bail Dr. King out of the Birmingham jail.

      It is true that there was racism in the union ranks (the Machinests in Alabama were particularly bad.) - but, unions are democratic institutions that can reflect both the ignorance and bias as readily as the courage and determination of their membership.

      Labor creates all wealth - Organize!

      by fartofliving on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:29:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This entire diary and the responses (4.00)
    are sometimes saddening to me because some of the same people who paraded their own anti-union and crypto-racist ignorance in the New York transit strike couldn't be convinced that the Transit Workers Union was taking the bullet for every other -- much whiter -- union in New York, the teachers, fire, police. Bloomberg thought he could break the black union and kill pensions but they held the line for every other union and were called thugs for it. Not only by Bloomberg but by some of the Fox News liberals on Kos.
    •  It was a (none)
      sad day when the IAFF local in New York  supported the chimp even after the national IAFF supported Kerry.  Wonder how they feel about the chimp now?  

      "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

      by fugwb on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 05:16:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for bringing this important (none)
    connection to light.

    Among other things, our political action group is trying to put together a huge event in San Francisco this summer to reaffirm and strengthen the natural tie between Democratic Party (emphasis on progressives) and the whole labor movement.  It's all part of the same thread--civil rights, minority rights, workers' rights.  

  •  for more info (none)

     You can see the AFSCME web site.

    "There are no shortcuts to accomplishing constructive social change ... struggle is called 'struggle' for a reason." Ward Churchill

    by CAuniongirl on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 05:42:46 PM PST

  •  Great Diary (none)
    one of the current ironies is that while many whine and complain about the abuse of state health care services by illegal immigrants-- the very same people apparently think it's OK for Wal-Mart workers to be paid dirt wages with no health care benefits, thus forcing them to go to the state for health care services.

    weak.

    "Apparently, the person had been killed by a falling graveyard." Steve Coll The New Yorker

    by Superpole on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 06:10:16 PM PST

  •  If MLK were alive today (none)
    The kooks at LGF, Free Republic, Redstate... they'd all be mocking him.  Could you imagine the things they'd have to say?  

    He would criticize the Presidont on his war policy and they'd all be calling him a terrorist.  

    Bush himself would be against any policies that King would support.  He would be getting anonymous terror threats all the time.  

    These idiots would have stood fully against what King was trying for.  

    Wal-Mart!  I wonder what he'd say about them?

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