On MLK Day, Remember: Workers’ Rights Are Civil Rights

Your Take: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on King’s legacy.

Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington
Martin Luther King Jr., Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington AFP/Getty Images

The third action is putting an end to mass incarceration, also known as the new Jim Crow. Mass incarceration is a betrayal of the American promise. It’s robbing too many of our youth—especially African Americans and Latinos—of a future. The for-profit prison pipeline hurts families and communities, it keeps wages low and it suppresses democracy, and we can’t afford to imprison so many people.

The fourth is to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and combat the income inequality that millions of Americans are facing. Let’s also stand with tipped employees, who only make $2.13 per hour and experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of the workforce as a whole.

These low wages disproportionately affect women, young workers and people of color.

Women make 77 cents on the dollar, as compared to men. People of color are still unemployed at higher rates than their white counterparts and younger workers are still unemployed or underemployed, with many facing the burden of student-loan debt. We must go beyond the minimum wage and ensure that no one who works for a living is struggling to support his or her family.

This is why we in the labor movement are calling for the restoration of collective bargaining among millions of workers in the United States. Allowing workers to organize and bargain together can address growing income inequality in this country, by raising wages not just for union workers, but for all workers.

Dr. King understood this.

As we observe this holiday, let’s reflect on King’s vision for a better tomorrow. Let’s recognize the tremendous progress this country has made and the great future this nation has if we continue to work side by side. We must continue to fight for his dream of racial and economic justice.

It’s the only way we can achieve equality and shared prosperity for all.

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Richard Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation, representing 12.5 million workers. Follow the AFL-CIO on Twitter.