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National Labor News: Monday, April 4th - From Coast To Coast: We Are One! & Why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Would Have Supported Today’s Public Worker Protests

Published Monday, April 4, 2011 1:00 pm
by National AFL-CIO News & WNYLaborToday Staff

National AFL-CIO News Now Blog

Across the Nation and around the world today – Monday, April 4th and throughout the week –Working People are saying: “We Are One!” with workers whose Rights and Middle-Class Jobs are under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere by Republican governors and legislators.

Workers are also honoring the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.  Dr. King was gunned down fighting for the same rights for Memphis, Tennessee Sanitation Workers.

National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says: “What started in Wisconsin has spread to every state across the country as Working People stand together to say, ‘Enough.’”

The immense activity this week is a direct result of the backlash provoked by overreaching governors and state legislatures.  Working People’s energy and commitment to coming together will continue until the priorities of many of our politicians are realigned.

Here are just a few of the events on tap for today and this week:

  • College students and professors are hosting more than 175 teach-ins across the country.
  • International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Members in all California and Pacific Northwest ports are flying the Wisconsin flag in their ports.  On the East Coast, Longshoremen (ILA) on the ports of Charleston, Savannah, Fort Lauderdale, Mobile, Philadelphia and Bayonne are also flying the Wisconsin flag.
  • In Syracuse, New York, people will stand at 40 intersections to talk to people in their cars about what’s happening at a state level.
  • On Saturday, April 9th, thousands of Union Members and community members will rally in Downtown Chicago and in Manhattan’s Times Square.



Why Martin Luther King Jr. Would Support the Public Worker Protests Editor’s Note: This guest column comes from the National AFL-CIO News Now BlogIt is authored by Martin Luther King III, president and chief executive officer of The King Center, who explains why his father would be on the front lines today supporting Public Employees:


Forty-three years ago my father, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated while he was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting a strike of Municipal Sanitation Workers.  It was, in his eyes, more than a quest for a few more dollars in a paycheck.  He saw the strike as part of the great struggle of his time - a struggle for Democracy, for truth, for justice and for human dignity.

These are the same basic reasons that my father would be joining with millions of other Americans today in supporting Public Employees in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, where Collective Bargaining is now under attack.

Martin Luther King Jr. Would Be Marching For Democracy: During the 2010 Election Campaigns in Wisconsin, the Republican candidate for governor did not honestly present his plan to effectively eliminate Collective Bargaining, he waited until after the election.  As a result, the voters never had the chance to examine the plan in detail or to hear an open debate on the issue.  When they entered the voting booth, the citizens could not know what they were voting for.  When voters are deceived about the actual policies a candidate plans to enact, Democracy is undermined just as surely as if they are physically prevented from casting their ballot.  The abuse of Democracy was compounded when newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker introduced massive corporate tax reductions that vastly increased the state deficit and then presented the increased deficits as the “emergency” which justified measures to permanently eviscerate Unions.  A candidate can openly advocate that corporations should not pay taxes or that Unions should be abolished in all but name as a matter of basic social policy, but he cannot truthfully present the second measure as being caused by an emergency beyond his control when it is largely a direct result of his actions.

Martin Luther King Jr. Would Be Marching For Truth: The most famous Public Employee in Wisconsin today is a bus driver who earned $160,000, an example presented as the “smoking gun” proof of overgenerous Union Contracts.  Yet the actual starting salary for bus drivers in Madison is $17 per hour and after 36 years, this driver was making $26 hourly.  His “high” pay was the result of more than 2,000 hours of overtime on nights and weekends at time and a half.  His straight-time salary was not even $50,000 a year.  To present this atypical case as proof of exorbitant Union Pay recalls memories of false stereotypes, such as the “welfare queens driving Cadillacs” of previous decades, a reprehensible distortion designed to whip up animosity toward both African-Americans and Social Programs.  The example of the $160,000 bus driver is a very similar distortion, though targeted more to build resentment against Public Employees and government spending. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Would Be Marching For Justice: In the debate over the Bush Tax Cuts last fall, conservatives vehemently argued that it was grossly unfair to impose 90s era tax rates on people with incomes above $200,000 because such people were not really affluent.  Yet today, bus drivers who make $50,000 and teachers who make even less are vilified as social parasites who are outrageously overpaid.  Wall Street traders are said to be morally entitled to large six-figure bonuses because of the sanctity of their contracts, but the contracts of Teachers and Bus Drivers are described as empty pieces of paper that should be voided at will.  Behind this cynical double standard lies the condescending contempt of a privileged elite toward people who work hard and punch time clocks.

Martin Luther King Jr. Would Be Marching For Dignity: The fundamental purpose of Unions has always been job security and protection from arbitrary firing, not simply larger paychecks.  Before Unions, workers would “shape up” before factory gates and beg to be chosen for a days’ labor.  In the past some state governments that were unable to offer wage increases in negotiations offered in their place long-term fringe benefits that later proved fiscally unsustainable.  In recent years, municipal unions have again and again negotiated “give-backs” through Collective Bargaining that substantially reduce these benefits but preserve Workers’ Rights to representation and basic human dignity. I n Wisconsin, the unions conceded to all of Governor Walker’s financial demands in the earliest days of the conflict, only to find that his covert agenda was not fiscal prudence but their complete evisceration.

Today - on April 4th - the anniversary of the assassination of my father - I’ll be joining the with thousands of Americans of all races in the Nationwide “We Are One” demonstrations supporting America’s Public Employees, Trade Unions and Working People in a common quest for jobs, justice and decency for all citizens.  In this endeavor, we seek the support of all Americans of good will.


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