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Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today is not just inauguration day, it's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And that makes it time for a reminder that, just as Rosa Parks refused to get out of her bus seat not because she was tired but because she wanted to fight injustice, King was not the figure today's Republicans—and for that matter, your high school history textbooks—want you to believe he was. We're asked to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. only in the parts of his struggle that are no longer seen as controversial, unless you're a raging racist. And that legacy is a great one. It's just not all there was of King, and for much of our political establishment, it's uncomfortable to both revere King and remember his fierce advocacy for rights and people being trampled every day.

As Meteor Blades describes, for King, the fight for civil rights didn't end with black people being allowed to eat at lunch counters without being attacked. It didn't end with the right to vote (not that voting is by any means an uncontested right today). Time and time again, he made clear that civil rights and labor rights were tightly linked, saying, for instance, to strikers in Memphis, Tennessee, in March 1968:

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
And the way to earning the money to buy a hamburger, go on a vacation, buy school clothes, would not, will not, be obtained without struggle. King saw that then in the lives of black people working hard and living in poverty, and we see it now in the fact that more than 10 percent of working families are poor—an injustice that once again falls heavily on people of color. No, Martin Luther King, Jr. did not use collective action to such great effect in the Civil Rights Movement and then forget about it or foresake it as an answer to economic injustice:
We can all get more together than we can apart. This is the way to gain power. Power is the ability to achieve purpose. Power is the ability to effect change. We need power…

Now the other thing is that nothing is gained without pressure. Don't let anybody tell you to go back on your job and paternalistically say, now, "You're my man, and I'm going to do the right thing for you if you'll just come back on the job." Don't go back on the job until the demands are met. Never forget that freedom is not something that must be demanded by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces imparted with making positions will voluntarily hand down on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite.

If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it.

That struggle continues today, among the public sector workers, co-unionists with the striking Memphis garbage collectors, today under attack for having benefits and pensions; among fast food workers selling hamburgers and Walmart workers selling back-to-school clothes, themselves often short of money to feed and clothe their own families. Republicans and those bound to a vision of progress without struggle from below want us to forget that this was what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for. It's our job to remember and honor that struggle.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 10:21 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Unfortunately, "equality" does not (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Blair, TAH from SLC

    equate with high quality. We can all be equally economically deprived via the simple mechanism of allocating all our natural resources to a handful of lords and/or corporations who then have to be petitioned for access to our daily bread.

    Private property without concomittant obligations to share the fruits thereof is a recipe for near universal deprivation.

    Which is not to say individuals should be denied exclusive use. They shouldn't. But that exclusive use has to be for the benefit of the whole community. And, if sharing directly is inconvenient, then the profits derived from selling the resources in the market need to be fairly taxed.

    It was argued in "The Tragedy of the Commons" that the ownership of property privately would assure that the property would be well managed and cared for. That argument has been proven false.  If ownership guaranteed virtue we wouldn't have hazardous wasteland abandoned all over the place. The commons isn't destroyed by mutiple users; it's destroyed by people who don't know how to share and how to take turns.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 10:33:30 AM PST

  •  n/t. (8+ / 0-)
    ‎"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them."

    Martin Luther King Jr.


    We are not broke, we are being robbed.

    by Glen The Plumber on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:22:09 AM PST

    •  and we find ourselves deep off in the trick bag... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JayRaye

      of society...  if we think about what necessitated them,  think that greed by any other name will be the word.  Business did not seriously take up safety at any level until unions sprang up and used the issue to endear the worker to them.

      our biggest issue is jobs, the ability to make a living...  the government can not create jobs.  Business does that.  The philosophy of business is to bump up the money for investors.

      The stock holders and management do not have a concern for labor.  Taking jobs overseas or robotizing when ever there are profits to be made against wages and benefits for workers come way down the list.  

      The prime enjoyment for the 3% is to look at their stocks and calculate how much more is being piled ontop of what they already have.  No sacrifice for them.

      As late as 1968 there were people who were set to kill MLK because he was 'agitating'.  Can you imgine Bull Conner, Lester Maddox, George Wallace and all the others who believed the Lies of Slavery to the point of going all out to try and stop the natural progression of bondage.  The main "Lie of Lies" said that we were animals or subhuman.  This game an excuse to the imagination of such people.

      The problem was that the negro began to walk erect and look white people in the eye.  This was very unsettling for these men who had grown up watching black people put in their place more or less by "The Look"...  

      Now we see the 3%'ers basking in the lie that everyone but them are lazy and dumb and want their wealth.  The majority want to make a living.  

      I would not feel at ease with over 75% of the population not able to meet their basic needs especially eating.  

      We are being robbed and tricked...  it is a game

      I may not be deep, but I am very wide... Honree Balzac

      by meknow on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 07:49:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That second quote (5+ / 0-)
    Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces imparted with making positions will voluntarily hand down on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite.
    That's a highly potent re-statement of the Frederick Douglass line:
    Power concedes nothing without a demand.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:37:31 PM PST

    •  And Rose Schneiderman, 1905 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Simplify, TAH from SLC
      So we [working women of all nationalities] must stand together to resist, for we will get what we can take - just that and no more.
           -Rose Schneiderman, 1905

      WE NEVER FORGET Our Labor Martyrs: a project to honor the men, women and children who lost their lives in Freedom's Cause. For Jan: USW Local Mourns Fallen Brother

      by JayRaye on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 07:06:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Economic equality (5+ / 0-)

    So does that mean Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ayn Rand had completely opposite economic views?  Would it be correct to point out to Ron Paul fans that if they say they like Ayn Rand's philosophy, then they stand for everything against what Dr. King preached about, so that when they pay lip service to him today, I can call bullshit on them?

  •  And economic equality (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Blair, JayRaye, midwesterner

    economic and educational equality... are what we need to solve so many of our problems. It really all stems from there.

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:41:00 PM PST

  •  It makes so much sense. (5+ / 0-)

    What I learned as a child in school never included this

    Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?
    which of course, it should have.

    Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong. — @RBReich via web

    by BentLiberal on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:49:25 PM PST

  •  I literally can't believe (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Blair, howabout, JayRaye

    that they're trying to turn him into some NRA spokesman. Sickening.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 06:51:09 PM PST

  •  UAW founder Walther Ruther was (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    howabout, JayRaye, midwesterner

    right there with Dr. King, and while it to years longer then it should have, all members of the Union had equal pay.

    "We can not Forget, Nor can We relent on Gun control". Bill Moyers

    by vzfk3s on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 07:00:10 PM PST

  •  president Obama has funneled (0+ / 0-)

    a lot of money into the SBA and streamlined the agency because he knows what most of us don't want to admit.  If we keep trying to overhaul corporations hoping they 'll provide American jobs in huge numbers we 're volunteering to be China's call center in the 21st Century.  Low wages, no benefits, endless numbers of desperate people looking to take your job if you pee during your shift.  

    Corporations don't need us for profits, or labor.  They have enormous markets opening in places where unions don't exist and "benefits" means they pay you what they promised.   No clean air act, no OSHA, no PCA, no regulations.  

    The future of America is small businesses, small manufacturers, small communities, small schools, small farms, local food sources.  

    The corporations will relocate and many will be seized by the governments that suckered them into relocating. This is good.  

    If you're young enough to work hard, find a niche a start a business.  Don't ever believe we'll return to the '50's and '60's.  Don't ever believe that bigger is better.  Corporate CEOs are like guys with big dicks, so impressed with the size they forgot to learn how to use them well.  

    I'm not looking for a love that will lift me up and carry me away. A love that will stroll alongside and make a few amusing comments will suffice.

    by I love OCD on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 07:04:22 PM PST

  •  I would daresay (0+ / 0-)

    that if he were alive today, he would be a champion of JOB CREATION, not just "labor". We don't even cover the economic fundamentals anymore in this country, and like tax cuts, labor rights cannot resonate with enough people because we have so many not working.

    Sadly enough the jobs of all the union workers you mention would gladly be taken by others who are hungry for employment and economic self sufficiency in this class stratified society we now live in. And I don't think it would be fair to call those people scabs anymore, there are not other jobs elsewhere to go find. We have all become "negroes" now, and it IS that desperate out in the real world.

    We need to support those who will support more jobs for more people, when we have more full employment then we can have more union representation, its not going to work the other way.

    MLK would not have let us bask in the comfort of "the lesser of two evils" while what we had worked for during his time (for ALL people) was dismantled piece by piece.

    We have to have workers before worker rights can be changed effectively, and more employment before the ability to be able to discern between good and bad employment situations can exist.

  •  It's Totally Unfortunate Dr. King (0+ / 0-)

    is not here to see, fifty years later, just how far we have to go.

    Impressive we're finally getting to some sort of gender parity in the senate, except how may black female senators do we have? Hispanic? Asian?

    I know, I know.. "these things" take time.. perhaps after another fifty years we'll have real parity, real representation in congress-- problem is, many of us WON'T BE HERE in fifty years.

    regarding economic parity for blacks in our nation: pathetic. Dr. King was known to take to his bed for 2-3 days with depression. if he were alive now, he'd never get out of bed.

    Even prior to the Great Recession, the black male UNemployment rate in NYC was fifty percent.

    http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/...

    "A civilization which does not provide young people with a way to earn a living is pretty poor". Eleanor Roosevelt

    by Superpole on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 07:12:23 PM PST

  •   No chained CPI, no increase in retirement age (0+ / 0-)

    If the President wants to be true to King's goal of economic equality then he has to take cuts to the social safety net off the table permanently.

    "The real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of its people and nature." -- Rianne Eisler

    by noofsh on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 04:00:20 AM PST

  •  Um, not to be a spoil sport but.... (0+ / 0-)

    The founders were on the same page as Dr. King: they understood economic opportunity to be part-and-parcel with political opportunity.  Without a secure means to earn a living, they understood that no man is truly free. It's why their descendants fought the introduction of industrial capitalism using the cry "wage slavery."  Lincoln well understood this aspect of America's heritage, and it persisted until the industrialists won their final victories in the latter 19th century and first part of the 20th.  Today, Americans believe that the chance to work as a wage slave - a job -- is the be-all and end-all of economic life.  The notion that any of us is owed -- as humans -- economic security seems "communist," lazy, self-indulgent and ultimately destructive to all We Hold Dear.  The founders and generations of Americans thought this was nuts.

    Me too.

    •  There are some of those words... (0+ / 0-)

      lazy, communist...  I doubt if you know much about how anyone feels about slave wage...  What I am seeing is lots of people working two jobs to sustain their families.  

      You can excuse the fact that people are struggling and your callousness about it anyway you want.  Fixed in the spirit of economics is low over head first and foremost.  I believe that it must be a fair assumption for the individual to expect to have some way of making a living.  And I believe that those who control the resources and finances are stewarts of this.  If the perceived gentry of this nation does not soon begin development of an economy that will give opportunity to it's citizens there will be issues.  

      People like you promote this like of black people and whom ever else you have noted as such are wrong.  Just like the stupid woman who screamed into the camera that obama gave her a phone.  That lady and the stupid blacks who say such stupid things are just that stupid.  But they don't represent the black population in this country.  

      Should I be counting you with the mindset of George Wallace or Richard Butler?  

      The majority of black people want to survive.  We don't care for rap music, having to go get food stamps or section 8 housing.  There are blacks who see this as their station in life but millions of others of us do not.

      Those of us black, white, yellow or what ever color our skin are owed a means to an end.  These wage slave jobs are very supportive of the economic system.  They are a part of the base that they economical structure sits on.  Destroy the foundation, destroy the house...

      I may not be deep, but I am very wide... Honree Balzac

      by meknow on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 09:41:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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