This morning, I interviewed Martin Luther King III after he spoke to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting here today in Washington, D.C
Question: What issues did you discuss with the Executive Council this morning?
King: I never thought that in 2011, 43 years after my father’s passing, that we would have to be engaged in a serious campaign to protect and preserve the rights of workers, to make sure collective bargaining is maintained. It’s a sad day in America, but that sad day also creates a unique opportunity for labor and civil rights organizations to work together like we’ve never worked before. Some of that began on April 4, when over 1,500 demonstrations occurred in America and across the world.
Question: You say in your guest column on the AFL-CIO website that your father would be marching in Wisconsin today. Why is that?
King: We have economic challenges in this country and we blame the folks who are working and placing no blame on the corporations that have farmed out jobs around the world and these CEOs who have runaway paychecks. The elected leaders are putting the responsibility on the people who are making this country work. My father always stood up for justice and righteousness. So he would certainly be in the forefront of those saying collective bargaining is a right, that workers should not be mistreated.
Question: The middle class has been hurt badly, especially the black middle class, by home foreclosures and the offshoring of manufacturing jobs. What can we do to restore the middle class?
King: The plan has to include something I call creating opportunities for people. One thing is that we need a moratorium on foreclosures. We also have to use our creative juices and develop some entrepreneurship among small and developing businesses where the majority of people work.
Finally, I think this situation has created a unique opportunity for labor to reframe the discussion. For the first time since Ronald Reagan [mistreated] the air traffic controllers, labor has an opportunity to rise again and be so strong that it can never be torn down. At some point those who have opposed what labor was trying to do will realize that what’s happening [to the economy and democracy] was not what they wanted. But they were so ferocious in the dismantling of people’s lives that it is going to backfire.
Question: At the time of his death, your father was building a multi-racial coalition of poor people, labor, students, clergy, peace advocates and civil rights activists to fight for the soul of America. Is it necessary and/or possible to build such a coalition today?
King: It will take that kind of coalition [to change the country.] You’ve got to engage young people because they are graduating from our colleges and universities and there are no jobs. You need clergy; you need those who promote peace. You need small businesses that understand we need workers. It takes a coalition to bring about change. Sometimes you only need a few good women and men who are determined, dedicated and dependable