Leaders in labor, faith, civil and immigrant rights groups held a March 29 teleconference to announce coordinated actions nationwide on April 4 to commemorate the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and stand in solidarity with public workers.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while in Memphis, Tenn., lending support to striking sanitation workers there.
Speakers on the call said they plan to honor King and stand alongside civil rights organizations, labor unions and tens of thousands of people from coast to coast under the banner "We Are One" to advocate for working families.
The actions aim to uplift the rights of teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses and caregivers, students and all working families currently under attack in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and others, they said.
Drastic cuts are being proposed in state legislatures that would seriously hit public sector employees and working families.
"This is a critical moment in the lives of working families across the country," said Jonathan Currie, national organizer with Interfaith Worker Justice. "In the face of terrible threats against public sector workers and really all workers, we intend to stand with working people until their rights are secured."
The recent wave of attacks against unions is being led by right-wing conservative lawmakers who want to turn back the clock, said the Rev. Nelson Rivers III, vice president for Stakeholder Relations with the NAACP.
The attacks are especially hard against minority communities and African Americans, said Rivers, who noted King was killed doing "what we are trying to do today" and "we must stand together."
Mario Ramirez said he escaped the civil war in his home country of Guatemala, 23 years ago, when he came to the U.S. Ramirez, a worker at a manufacturing company in Milwaukee, Wis., has been a volunteer organizer with Voces de la Frontera Worker Center for the last 10 years. "To be united is the best way to fight against unjust laws," he said.
Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, is attacking union workers and immigrant families, said Ramirez.
"We need justice and fairness and Walker wants to take away our rights."
Also on the call was Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. "We will need all of our allies in the broader people's community to win this battle and war," she said.
Gov. Walker re-ignited a huge movement of people standing up for justice and worker's rights, she added.
"This isn't about the economy. It's about pay back. They want to weaken the gains and progress made over the years and they clearly lost the fight in public opinion."
Holt Baker continued, "Working people want to be part of the solution to restore balance, create jobs and keep our communities working. And we will stand together and win because all workers deserve the right to collective bargaining!"
Faith leaders on the call said the recent state budget fights need moral leadership, rather than laws that allow worker exploitation and unfair labor practices.
We don't need less freedoms, they said, we need more freedoms.
They should also remember their roots, speakers said, adding King made a promise to workers when he was alive. Something we intend to continue today, they note.
The Rev. Troy Jackson with the University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, said workers are more vulnerable to mass exploitation if their collective bargaining rights are stripped.
Jackson, who said he represents "white evangelical Christians," said it was Black labor activist E. D. Nixon that involved King early on in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a watershed action in the civil rights movement.
King's dreams were also the dreams of Nixon and all union men and women, he said. "When workers are treated poorly, that matters to us. And it should matter to everyone."
Holt Baker said the bigger picture is about supporting federal and state budgets that are robust and bold. "They should be about creating jobs both nationally and on a state level," she said. It's not right that 15 million people are still looking for work, she said.
"They say the recession is over but we simply don't see it. Not only will we be fighting for the rights of working families on April 4, but we are also fighting for a much more bolder plan nationally to put people across the nation back to work," she said.
Photo: (Pepe Lozano/PW)