Monday, August 12, 2013

The 1963 March on Washington was about jobs -- and freedom

Teamsters head toward Washington in 1963.
As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, we should all remember that 300,000 people didn't just want equality. They wanted jobs, and good wages, and economic justice.

They wanted the same things that low-wage workers are still fighting for today.

Algernon Austin at the Economic Policy Institute recently chronicled how far we still have to go to realize the dream of the March on Washington:
March organizers demanded a minimum wage that could realistically be expected to lift a family out of poverty. Specifically, they demanded a minimum wage of $2.00 an hour (up from $1.15 an hour). We are nowhere near that goal today. Adjusting for inflation, that wage would be more than $13.00 an hour today, close to twice the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. In fact, the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage today is about $2.00 less than it was at its peak value in 1968 (Cooper and Hall 2013).
Mark Vorpahl writing in truthout notes the 1963 marchers also demanded a federal jobs program -- something not even contemplated today, though the unemployment rate is higher now than it was then.
The ten demands of the march included both calls for the "Withholding of Federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists" and "Desegregation of all school districts in 1963." These were combined with "A massive federal program to train and place unemployed workers — Negro and white — on meaningful dignified jobs at decent wages" and "A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living."
Often overlooked is the fact that the 1963 March on Washington was organized by unions and by people close to the labor movement. A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was in charge of the organizing effort.

Labor unions, including the Teamsters, are again supporting a March on Washington on August 24. The Labor Fightback Network urges you to participate:
Join the March on Washington August 24, 2013, to demand jobs and freedom for all; defend and expand Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; respect and protect workers’ rights; and restore and expand voting rights!
 Find out more here.