“It is certainly true that the forces that are anti-Negro are by and large anti-labor, and with the coming together of the powerful influence of labor and all people of goodwill in the struggle for freedom and human dignity, I can assure you that we have a powerful instrument.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Oct. 2, 1957
On April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the Fight for $15 and groups organizing under the Black Lives Matter banner will join forces in a day of action to fight systemic racism and poverty wages that are dragging communities of color down all across the country. The two most powerful protest movements in the country will also come together to fight back Republican efforts to curtail protest via draconian legislation from coast-to-coast.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was killed nearly 50 years ago, he was in Memphis to support black sanitation workers who were on strike against politicians intent on busting their union. King saw a deep link between the labor and civil rights movements and believed that union rights were fundamental to achieving racial justice. He died while in Memphis for a strike because he knew that when people join together they build power to make change.
In a speech to the AFL-C IO two years before his death, King said, “Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires and few Negro employers. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth. The duality of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis from which we bleed.”
Today, workers across the country, especially workers of color, still face assaults on their right to organize; black and brown people are still overrepresented in jobs that pay low wages; and they are forced to confront a deep-seated racism from the White House down to local police departments that would seem to be out of Dr. King’s era, but is, sadly, the reality today. Across the country, Republicans are cracking down on protesters, like those in the Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter movements.
On April 4, we’re fighting back, the way Dr. King would, in a call across the country to fight racism and end poverty wages. We’ll fight Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to bust his state’s public workers’ union; Republican members of Congress and state legislatures’ drive to implement so-called right-to-work laws; and local governments’ moves to suppress protest. We’ll protest the poverty wages that still persist, especially for workers of color, and the police shootings and institutional racism that black people live with every day.
As King said in 1961, “the two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy...”
His words still ring true today, and on April 4, the nation’s two leading progressive movements will join forces in the spirit of Dr. King to fight racism and raise wages and show that the push for economic and social justice remains linked today as it was when Dr. King lost his life in fighting to show that the labor of black sanitation workers in Memphis had dignity.