Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's not forget MLK was a champion of justice and jobs

The new Martin Luther King monument on the National Mall. It's three stories tall.

News coverage of the new Martin Luther King monument in Washington is already focusing on his struggle for racial equality. We hope at least a few journalists report that King also led the fight for decent jobs -- not as an afterthought or add-on, but as a fundamental goal.

The monument will be ceremonially unveiled on Sunday, Aug. 28, the anniversary of King's March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As Algernon Austin from the Economic Policy Institute so eloquently wrote,

...the National Mall will house a memorial to a man who never held the nation’s highest office but brought it closer to its highest ideals.

Together with the national celebration of his birthday, the commemoration of the march and the quotation of his speeches, the new memorial ensures that Dr. King will be remembered. But will he be remembered rightly, not only as the subject of a monument but also as the leader of a movement for “jobs and freedom”?

Dr. King’s commitment to jobs and justice lasted a lifetime and cost him his life. During his last year on earth, Dr. King organized a “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic opportunity for all Americans. And he was assassinated while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
This is a history lesson that Teamsters know well. In fact the Teamsters National Black Caucus was reminded of it just recently by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat. Conyers told the latest TNBC gathering that labor rights and civil rights go hand in hand.

Rep. John Conyers
Conyers was born into a union family, is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and was the only congressman present at King’s funeral. (James R. Hoffa was there too.) Perhaps Conyers’ greatest contribution to history, though, is the legislation he introduced to make King’s birthday a national holiday.

Conyers, referring to the photos of King hanging on the meeting room walls, said,
When I see Martin’s picture here, I know that you understand the struggle goes on. It has just taken a different form. Governors across the country are working in what I call an unholy conspiracy. You cannot take working people out of the political equation. We need workers and we need unions.