Date: Thu, 15 Jan 98 10:27:36 CST
Workers World <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: What Would Dr. King Say Now?
Police continue to shoot down young African Americans on city streets. The prison population swells to 1.6 million from a 1968 level under 250,000. Welfare has been replaced by workfare.
There’s plenty of evidence that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could see what was happening today, he might be reluctant to celebrate his own birthday.
But there was one development in the past year he would be pleased with: the AFL-CIO leadership’s decision to organize and fight for the lowest-paid workers, those with the fewest rights and benefits, those working only part-time and those- -people of color or women, immigrants or gays—who suffer discrimination in the workplace.
Dr. King was known for his great contribution to the struggle for civil rights. At the time he was assassinated he had taken the lead in another arena as well. He was standing in solidarity with the sanitation workers of Memphis, Tenn., who were on strike. Nearly all these workers were Black. They were horribly mistreated and exploited by the racist bosses. And they were workers. This was a workers’ battle for workers’ rights—union rights. It was a natural for Dr. King. Lending his weight to the Memphis strike brought the promise of uniting the struggles against racism and for workers’ rights.
Surely one of the reasons he was assassinated was to block this promise.
In the almost three decades since he was murdered, there have been changes in the working class in this country that make it even more likely someone with King’s goals would support labor’s current push toward more organizing and more struggle. The majority of the work force is now people of color and women. Immigrants are central to the economy—and a central target of the bosses’ attacks. Gay workers are coming out. White men, no longer the majority in the work force, have common interests with oppressed workers as wages are driven down and good jobs disappear. There is great potential to unite all the workers to fight together for the same goals.
What did the UPS workers discover last summer with their victorious strike? The strongest battle is one that unites all the workers while focusing on winning the most for those who have the least.
Dr. King would likely feel comfortable with such a struggle. If anything, he would probably push the union leadership even harder to live up to their promises to organize the unorganized and to reach out to the most oppressed members of the class. And considering his own organizing tactics, he would urge them to take on the political issues—the fight for rights for immigrants, the fight against racist cops—and make them part of the labor movement.