“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
BY DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Dr. Martin Luther King engaged in struggle to move America towards its better self, to will a people to become united, and use its power, spirit and economic ability to realize its potential more fully, to eradicate poverty and to end injustice.
Had King lived he would have been 90 years old Jan. 15. As an architect of the civil rights movement, King urged all Americans to work for the greater good for all. He said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
ASFCME and District Council 37 remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was martyred in Memphis while fighting for Sanitation workers. King aligned himself with labor’s struggle for human dignity, economic justice and against unfair labor practices.
King saw the struggles of the labor movement mirrored in those of the civil rights movement. “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs,” King said. “The identity of interest of Labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis in which we bleed.”
As King led the struggle to end Jim Crow and American apartheid, he admitted that integrating dime store lunch counters, bus lines and public schools and dismantling disenfranchisement, while noble accomplishments, were stepping stones on the path to equality.
King insisted on nonviolent protest in the progression toward civil rights and equanimity, no matter one’s race, gender or age. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
At the 1963 March on Washington, a quarter million Americans joined King in the nation’s capital to “cash a check the American government owed” its black citizenry. This was indeed a call for reparations for the descendants of slaves who as chattel provided the free labor that built the economic foundation on which America became the richest, most powerful world power.
King held government accountable for its failure to guarantee basic inalienable rights held forth in the U.S. Constitution. His focus extended beyond race and encompassed the masses of America’s poor people. He also developed a deeper understanding of the connection between racism, poverty, imperialism and war.
King embraced broader coalitions to organize around common interests that would right economic wrongs and so “bend the arc of the moral universe…,” he said, “towards justice.”
The DC 37 Blog is an official online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 121,000 public service workers in New York City and surrounding areas.