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In an emotional ceremony, punctuated by several standing ovations, the U.S. Labor Department inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers whose 1968 strike for their freedom to have a union and collective bargaining was Martin Luther King's last campaign. King was killed in the midst of the strike.

This is the first time the Hall of Fame  has inducted a group of workers. U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the sanitation workers were “ordinary men who took an extraordinary stand for what is right.”

Solis related that President Obama, who met with eight of the strikers this morning (above), told them he stood on their shoulders and he never would have been president if it were not for their courageous actions.

Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, a  King aide who was in Memphis in 1968, said the men represented not only themselves, but all poor people.

Alvin Turner, one of the strikers, drew strong parallels between the problems they faced in 1968 and the attacks on public employees today in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states.  He said in times like these, it is essential workers stick together. He pointed out that not one of the 1,300 sanitation workers crossed the line in 1968.

If it hadn’t been for unity, we never would have won the strike. I see they’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of poor people. They’re staring at the top with the teachers, but they’re coming down to the little man. I go to union meetings and only 10 people are there. They’re coming after you and if you don’t start coming to union meetings, they’re gonna get you.  

Originally posted to James Parks on Fri Apr 29, 2011 at 01:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is that last paragraph... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    a quote from Mr. Turner?

    Or were you involved in the strike as well?

    Thanks for this diary on an important historical event.

  •  finally. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayBat, Larsstephens

    Those guys have long deserved some kind of significant historic recognition.  

    And let's not forget: when municipalities talk about outsourcing this and privatizing that: usually the sanitation department is the first major one to go, replaced by Waste Management Inc. or a similar nationwide hauler.  

    That's another trend we need to deal with.  Roll back the privatization of refuse collection & disposal, bring back strong municipal unions & municipally-operated sanitation services.

    A few years ago, Waste Management had a lockout that affected its workers throughout the Bay Area (California).  After a couple of weeks, parts of Oakland started to become serious public health hazards (flies, rodents: long list of communicable diseases).  

    Meanwhile, Berkeley, which has a municipal public works department, and solid union contracts, just kept going on with life as usual.  No lockouts, no disrupted service, no festering public health hazards.  

  •  They're also in the news in Kansas City... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    The story is a new Andrew Breitbart edited video which attacks unions and professors at UMKC who teach classes on labor.  One of the distortions is from a class on their strike...

    Breitbart’s version: “Violence is a tactic and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.”
    The real version: After students had watched a film on the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King, they were discussing nonviolence. I said, “One guy in the film. . . said ‘violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic.’ . . . “ The class proceeded to discuss and debate this.

    Thus Mr. Breitbart’s editing has literally put words in my mouth that were not mine, and they never were mine.

    More at my diary here:  
    Breitbart Attacks Labor, Professors With Distorted Video

  •  We stand on the shoulders of giants (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    "O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!"

    by Satya1 on Fri Apr 29, 2011 at 03:50:43 PM PDT

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