Media Center

Apr 4

Fifty years after Memphis, organized labor reclaims its central role in the struggle for human rights

“Today people in America and around the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he supported striking Memphis sanitation workers who were denied union recognition, fair wages, and safe equipment on the job.

“In what would be his final speech, Dr. King called on Americans to ‘develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.’ He related the story of the Good Samaritan and noted that we are all bound up in the fates of 1,300 poor workers in Memphis. ‘The question is not,’ he said, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’.’

“That simple question echoes even louder today than it did in 1968. If we do not stop to help the teachers on strike, if we do not stop to help the students demanding safer schools and neighborhoods, if we do not stop to help the transit worker stripped of her retirement, if we do not stop to help the healthcare or restaurant worker demanding a livable wage, what will happen to them? What will happen to all of us who rely on them? What will happen to America?

“Cities across North America are shaking loose from years of divestment and decay, but the new wealth is being horded along economic and racial divides. The avenues to political power hard-won by Dr. King and his allies in the Civil Rights struggle are being systematically closed to poor people. Gerrymandering, voter ID legislation, new Census rules, and right-to-work laws are meant to erase the gains made by people of color and working class Americans not just since Dr. King, but since the zenith of organized labor in the 1930s and 1940s.

“The Mayor Loeb’s of 2018 are more powerful and better-resourced than ever. While we still face state violence and mass arrest, we also face more subtle and sophisticated campaigns of disinformation and manipulation.”

“Despite these setbacks, we cannot sit back. We must keep working toward a society that prioritizes justice for all no matter their color, faith, citizen status, gender orientation, country of origin, or economic class.”

“In that final speech, Dr. King famously said “I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.’

“As we prepare for the next phase of the billionaire-led campaign to bust the back of labor nationwide, we share King’s confidence. We see a new generation embracing the cause and tactics of organized labor. We see public servants shouting ‘enough’ and taking to the streets.

“Our resolve is strengthened by these developments. We believe that we will win, because Dr. King taught us that, ‘when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory’.”