Dr. Martin Luther King: Union Man

January 20, 2014
Striking Sanitation Workers of Memphis in April 1968

Striking Sanitation Workers of Memphis in April 1968

On this day in which we honor the extraordinary and exemplary life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we do well to remember not merely his courage and brilliance, his sublime speeches and prophetic visions, but also how King was completely rooted in practical, day-to-day realities. We do well to remember where he was and what he was doing in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th 1968 where he encountered death in that peculiar American figure of the Lone Assassin. We do well to remember that this world famous Noble Peace Prize winner went to in Memphis, not once but twice, against the counsel of his advisers to support striking sanitation workers and bring attention to the brutal conditions under which the men toiled and under which one had died only days before.

We do well, that is, to remember that Martin Luther King was no mere dreamer but a visionary completely grounded in reality, completely aware and utterly appalled by what the poor of all races and creeds were up against and why. We do well to remember this for we are unlikely to hear of this aspect of King from the self congratulatory corporate media who please themselves by insinuating that the Dreamer’s Dream has been fulfilled with the election of Barack Obama, even in this time of greater and greater incarceration rates for African Americans and ever expanding and ever deepening poverty for almost all; even in this age in which 1% of the people somehow own 40% of the nation’s wealth and who literally grow richer and richer by the minute; even as these same forces use their limitless fortunes to remake our world in their image.

We do well to remember in this era of ALEC and Citizens United and an ever more naked plutocracy eradicating the remnants of our democracy, that Martin Luther King was a tireless and fearless supporter of unions. He was this because he knew that without unions, the working people who created the wealth of the nation were powerless. He knew too that there was a class of people whose notion of freedom was bound up in possessing the legal right to employ the machinery of the state to keep working people permanently powerless.

King also knew that with unions came economic justice and dignity.
King literally died attempting to bring that struggle to light.
We do well, very well to remember this today.
And every day.

MLK labor

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2 Responses to “Dr. Martin Luther King: Union Man”

  1. Michael Fiorillo Says:

    Thank you for this fine post. People need to let go of the bland and pasteurized version of martin Luther King as a “dreamer,” and instead be aware that his life and philosophy were rooted in struggle.


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