Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, TN, the day prior to a planned march through downtown in support of Memphis public employees who were seeking to create a union. He understood that civil rights and union rights were both required to have human rights.
The march proceeded when Coretta King arrived to take her husband’s place. The Memphis public employees marched through the streets with signs that read, “I AM A MAN.” These signs conveyed the thought that these workers were not being treated as human beings and that by birth they were entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
In the words of our founders, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal … ”
Dr. King understood that economic power when concentrated in the hands of corporations was corrosive to democracy. That was one reason he planned to launch a series of boycotts against major Memphis companies to force them to demand that the City of Memphis allow its workers to form a union to obtain decent hours, wages, and working conditions.
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola…. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy…Wonder Bread. Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank—we want a “bank-in” movement … You have six or seven black insurance companies…. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Michael Harrington’s 1962 book The Other America was credited for framing the social issues that enabled LBJ to launch his war on poverty, backed by the fear of whites around the country following the riots (police-induced and otherwise).
Dr. King, 50 years before Bernie Sanders announced he was a “democratic socialist,” recognized that political power was derived from economic power and that capitalism as a system of economic exchange was as much responsible for the plight of African-Americans as the cultural racism that underpinned it.
We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.
[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
Fast forward to 2018 and the SCOTUS is on the verge of denying workers their right to unionize by attacking their member’s ability to democratically decide how to fund their own unions. This happens as prior rulings essentially have outlawed strikes, empowered employers to interfere in internal union representation elections in direct contravention of the ILO core labor standards established by the ILO in the 1940’s by a delegation lead by US Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins and endorsed by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.
It is no accident that every fascist regime that has taken control since the 1930s has attacked organized labor first. New Dealers understood this, JFK and LBJ understood this, and Dr. King understood this.
If you want to make America great again, if you want to rebuild the middle class, then empower workers to form unions of their own choosing. Stop all employer interference into the internal union election process, and take a page from German industrial policy and require all large corporations to have at least one union member on their board of directors.
In Clackamas County there are things we could do. These include:
- Pressuring state government to fund the public utility clause (Article 11-D) of the Oregon Constitution and expand public control over our power grid.
- Provide a preference for all doing business with any government in county who pay a living wage, provide a pension, and full paid sick leave while barring any employer from doing business with the county who has violated labor law in the past year.
- Form a public, county-owned bank to provide low cost borrowing for all government and special districts in the county and loan money to those who are denied banking services in the county, especially those who can’t afford a down payment for a house, and our agricultural sector in need of banking services.
Dr. King saw the roots of discrimination in large corporations. He understood the connections. It is time for us to remember his dream and take actions to make it real.
(The remainder of the quotations in the quiz from the prior article are from Malcolm X.)