Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Remembering MLK and the rights of labor"

Leonard Pitts, writing in the Miami Herald, reminds us that, while Martin Luther King, Jr. is a giant of the struggles for civil right, in a sanitized MLK his fierce call for for the rights of labor is often forgotten (on purpose?). In fact, on the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a speech in support of striking workers.
"...he warned that if America did not use its vast wealth to ensure its people “the basic necessities of life,” America was going to hell.

The Baptist preacher in him reared up then, and his voice sang thunder. For all the nation’s achievements, he roared, for all its mighty airplanes, submarines and bridges, ‘‘It seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, ‘Even though you have done all that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and you clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security and you didn’t provide it for them.’ ”

"It will come as a surprise to some that the civil rights leader was also a labor leader, but he was. He had this in common with Asa Philip Randolph, who suffered long years of privation to establish the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. And with Walter Reuther, brutally beaten when he organized sitdown strikes that helped solidify the United Automobile Workers. And with Crystal Lee Sutton, inspiration for the movie Norma Rae, who lost her job for trying to unionize a textile plant in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

"These people and many others fought to win the rights now being taken away.

"Granted, those rights have sometimes been abused — used to shelter the incompetent or reward the greedy.

"But to whatever degree our workplaces are not filled with children working adult hours, to whatever degree an employer is required to provide a clean and safe workplace, break time, sick time or fair wages, that also reflects organized labor’s legacy."

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