Marchers Remember: MLK Was Pro-Union
Today's national Day of Solidarity with Wisconsin's union workers comes on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s slaying. It's a fitting tribute.
In what is being hailed as a national Day of Solidarity, hundred of thousands of teachers, nurses, students, clergy, firefighters and other workers from across the nation will hold "We Are One" demonstrations to show support for Wisconsin union employees to demand a stop to overreaching policies by Republican lawmakers trying to balance budgets on the backs of public workers.
The observance comes on the 43rd anniversary of the murder of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was unceremoniously gunned down outside a Memphis, Tenn., hotel. He was in town planning a demonstration in support of sanitation workers seeking collective bargaining rights.
"Dr. King went to Memphis to stand with sanitation workers demanding their dream, the right to bargain collectively, for a voice at work and a better life," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said during a conference call with reporters last week.
"Today that fight goes on," he continued. "Remember the simple placards they wore -- 'I am a man' -- to signify that they deserved respect for the work that they did and the way they helped this country. [Today] it's for fair pay. It's a fight for dignity in retirement. And it's a fight for respect on the job. And quite frankly, this is a fight to preserve the middle-class way of life. And we want to commemorate his life and legacy while calling on working people to continue to stand together."
The period of solidarity began over the weekend, on April 1, with worship services and culminates today with the Day of Solidarity. The events come on the heels of a measure signed into law last month by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that significantly reduces collective bargaining rights for public employees and requires workers -- except police officers and firefighters -- to pay more for pension plans and health care premiums.
The Wisconsin law sent waves of shock across the nation and mobilized pro-labor forces in ways that have not been seen since the civil rights era. Protesters stormed the capital to protest the bill; Democratic lawmakers fled the state to stave off the passage of the measure that ultimately was signed into law without them. Now it is held up in an interminable court battle over its legality.
But Wisconsin is not alone. To reduce their budgets, Republican lawmakers are seeking to make changes to collective bargaining rights in Ohio, Indiana and other states.
"In Ohio, 20,000 workers came together to fight back against a bill to take away collective bargaining rights," Trumpka said. "In Indiana, working people held the largest rally in the state's history, and in events across the country, people stood up to say we're all in this together. There is an engagement and enthusiasm that has been absent for a very long time."
African Americans stand to lose the most from dwindling collective bargaining rights. As of last year, African-American employees were more likely to be public union members than whites, Asians and Hispanics, making up 15 percent of the membership, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And unionized African-American workers earn 12 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, according to the AFL-CIO.