Jan. 15, 2018 // Honoring Dr. King and His Fierce Advocacy for Unions and Workers’ Rights
Brothers and Sisters,
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. On this day, many Americans honor Dr. King’s tireless advocacy for the civil rights movement by doing some form of volunteer community service. As a result, a lot of the communications about the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday relate to civil rights and volunteerism. Many people may not realize that Dr. King also was a fierce advocate for unions and the rights of American workers.
Dr. King fought for workers’ right to organize and believed that unions and fair labor practices were crucial to economic equality as the next step in the civil rights movement. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. He had been there on behalf of sanitation workers who were on strike for the right to unionize after two of their co-workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck.
“We know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters,” Dr. King told the crowd in Memphis at Mason Temple in March 1968. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter, if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
Labor unions were important allies of the African-American civil rights struggle in the 1960s. Like Dr. King, many union members believed that the fate of workers of color was inseparable from that of white workers. He worked with and continued to build on the legacy of A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first majority African American affiliate of the American Federation of Labor. Labor and civil rights advocacy worked jointly in seeking economic security, including the fair treatment of employees, safe working conditions, and fair wages and hours. As a result, American labor unions were among the earliest advocates for a national holiday honoring Dr. King.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, let’s pause to understand the weight of responsibility we hold on our shoulders as proud union members. Our brothers and sisters fought tirelessly to establish the rights we enjoy today into our workforce. Like Dr. King, some even paid the ultimate sacrifice, fighting for the belief that working Americans should be treated with respect, paid fair wages, and operate in safe working conditions.
NATCA members are brothers and sisters in this fight. Together, we are stronger. Together, our collective voice is louder. We share in the progress they helped secure and will continue to fight for their legacy.
In addition to commemorating Dr. King’s life and work, American labor organizations are joining together to recommit to his larger civil rights legacy. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is organizing a national moment of silence on Feb. 1 to remember the 50th anniversary of the death of the sanitation workers, the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ strike that followed, and the assassination of Dr. King. This moment of silence will launch the “I AM” Campaign, organized by AFSCME and The Church of God in Christ to advance racial and economic justice. It is modeled after the “I AM A MAN!” campaign associated with the 1968 strike in Memphis and the civil rights movement.
At the recent convention of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), affiliated unions unanimously voted to support this national moment of silence. NATCA is joining this movement. The NATCA National Office employees’ union has organized a moment of silence to take place in Washington, D.C. Where possible, NATCA leaders are encouraging our locals to organize moments of silence with their members on that day.
You can learn more about the “I AM” Campaign here. NATCA invites participating locals to share news about members participating in this moment of silence on NATCA’s social media. NATCA members also may share their participation news on the “I AM” website here.
In proud solidarity,
Paul Rinaldi, NATCA President
Trish Gilbert, NATCA Executive Vice President
History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. 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.