It's 1968 All Over Again, and King's Fight For Unions Is Still Essential
by Michael Honey
February 23 2011
In light of the clash of wills in
remember the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of
King's slogans that we rarely hear is this one
King spoke these words in
midst of a strike of 1,200 black sanitation workers that had
lasted over a month. After rousing them to a fever pitch,
King called for a general strike by all workers to shut the
city down on behalf of the sanitation workers.
What was the demand of these workers? Improved wages and
benefits, yes, but their key demand was that the City of
collection of union dues, without which they knew they could
not maintain their union.
These are the very two items that Wisconsin's Gov. Scott
as did Mayor Henry Loeb in
union bargaining rights and dues collection, you can kill the union.
Also like Loeb,
taxes for business he raises costs for workers and says
ending union power will benefit the fiscal health of the
bargain collectively, even though the workers have accepted
a tripling of their health-care costs and a wage cut to help
offset the state's fiscal crisis.
right to join a union for 14,000 state-financed child-care
and home-care workers, among the most overworked and
underpaid of public servants. In other states, Republicans
want to adopt "right to work" (for less) laws that would
take away the requirement that workers in unionized jobs pay
union dues. This would undermine the unions while, in King's
words, providing "no rights and no work."
Republicans now have public-employee unions in their cross-
hairs. This is the latest and potentially most deadly phase
of government assault on unions. Ever since the Reagan
counterrevolution, government policies joined with private
sector profiteers have vastly worsened racial-economic
inequalities, created a gambling casino on Wall Street and
paved the way for the current economic crisis.
Conservatives rationalize their attacks on unions by saying
unionized public workers are unfairly privileged. But they
only look privileged by comparison to the rest of the
working class, which is suffering economic catastrophe and
has almost entirely lost the benefits of unionization. Yet
class envy is an easy means to divide and rule.
Racism is another part of the Republican arsenal of divide
and rule. Thanks to the destruction of manufacturing jobs
and unions, black and Latino workers in manual occupations
have disproportionately suffered high rates of poverty and
incarceration as many of their families disintegrate. The
one toe-hold many black and minority workers (and especially
women among them) still have in the economy is in unionized
public employment. Now, the Republicans want to take that away.
In one stroke, by eliminating both bargaining rights and
union dues, Republicans can insure that organized, dues-
paying workers and particularly minorities and women will no
longer provide a potent base for the Democratic Party. There
will be few grassroots organizations left to counter the
huge infusion of money into politics by the rich.
state government out of its budgetary hole. But it would be
a huge mistake for anyone to go beyond that and buy into
attacks on public employee unions. Loss of unions will
further decimate the spending power of working people,
thereby intensifying the economic crisis while further
removing the voice of workers from politics. That's a
Republicans most especially wants to undermine the American
Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
(AFSCME). Founded in Wisconsin, AFSCME flowered after King
died in the fight for union rights in
AFSCME became one of the largest unions in the country, with
King regarded as an honorary member and practically a
founder of the union.
In King's framework, killing public employees unions today
would be immoral as well as foolish. He said the three evils
facing humankind are war, racism and economic injustice, and
that the purpose of a union is to overcome the latter evil.
King said the civil-rights movement from 1954 to 1965 was
"phase one," to be followed by a second phase-the struggle
for economic advancement. We are not doing very well in
phase two, and unions remain essential to carry it out.
I've recently finished a new collection of King's remarkable
speeches, titled "All Labor Has Dignity," which shows that
throughout his life, King stood up for union rights. There
is no more important time than the present for us all to
follow his lead.
Michael Honey is a historian and Haley Professor of Humanities at the University of Washington,
editor of "All Labor Has Dignity" (Beacon Press, 2011) and author of "
Martin Luther King's Last Campaign" (W.W. Norton, 2007).
Assault on Unions Is Attack on Civil Rights By Jesse Jackson
23 February 11
RSN Special Coverage
It looks like "
In 1965, the drive for basic voting rights was stalled in the
introduced the Voting Rights Act. Five months later it was signed into law.
Today, the assault on basic rights is accelerating. The economic collapse caused by the gambols of Wall Street destabilizes public budgets at every level, as tax receipts plummet and expenses caused by unemployment rise.
Yet Wall Street gets bailed out, and working and poor people are squeezed to pay to clean up their mess.
In states across the country, conservatives have used this occasion to assail public workers and their unions. They demand not only rollback of pay and benefits, but push laws to cripple - if not ban - public employee unions, destroying the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
Gov. Scott Walker of
- dramatic hikes in what they pay for pensions and health care - but crippling limits on their right to negotiate, limits on any pay increases and an annual vote to see if the union survives. As if to flaunt his power grab, he exempted the unions - police and firefighters - that endorsed him in the election.
The right to organize, to bargain collectively and to strike are basic human rights enshrined in international law. To this day, the
The effort by the governor and his right-wing allies to divide private sector workers from public sector workers is an old trick. In the South, race was used to divide.
The tricks perfected in the South - right-to-work laws, barriers to unions - are now coming north.
Madison, like Selma, is not a major city. It isn't