Workers say King's dream not yet realized


WASHINGTON - A panhandler in New York's subways had worked for years as a union painter and carpenter before he was reduced, by job cuts, to begging for a living.

Some of the children at a public school in Cincinnati show up for class hungry every single day. Teachers at the school, who have not had a pay raise in five years, pool their own money to feed these kids.

Some 300 people at a national symposium on Jobs, Justice and the American Dream heard these stories here this morning while tens of thousands watched it live, over the Internet. The event, sponsored by the AFL-CIO and the King Center, took place just two days before the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall [now postponed due to hurricane Irene].

Devon Lomax, a member of the Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 in New York told the gathering about how he hasn't had a job for more than a year and how his co-worker had lost his home and ended up begging in the subways.

Katie Hofman, one of the Ohio teachers chipping in to buy food for hungry kids, told the gathering also about widespread homelessness among her students.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said King's vision was more than ending racism. He said that King saw that goal as part of a larger struggle for human dignity, "a larger struggle centered on economic justice.

"The tragedy of American history in our lifetime, while we have defeated legal segregation and driven open racism from our public life," said Trumka, "is that we live in a country less economically equal than in Dr. King's time. Jobs are scarcer, it's harder to go to college and the right to a voice on the job has been largely taken away from America's workers."

All the speakers agreed that 48 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the famous "I have a Dream" speech, at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the nation is still far from having achieved the slain civil rights leader's vision of a nation where everyone who wants to work has a good job, and the freedom to achieve to the best of his or her abilities.

"We're here to do the work that must be done to represent what Martin Luther King stood for," said Martin Luther King III, president of the King Center.

Rep. John Lewis, D, Ga., the last living person who spoke at the 1963 rally, said, "To get Americans back to work will require people to join together, make some noise, and get in trouble again, by taking to the streets and demanding that Congress approve the money for a massive national jobs program."

Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, said organizing and mobilizing were critical to the building of a movement that will realize King's dream.

Hofman said she was encouraged because she sees "real passion for change." She talked about a teacher who ran the 100 miles between Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio to deliver petitions in the referendum fight to overturn Republican Gov. John Kasich's law that killed collective bargaining rights.

Bruce Western, a public policy professor at Harvard, said unions were the key to creating the kinds of jobs needed to restore the nation's economy. "The decline [in the number] of unions coincides with the decline in good-paying jobs and the increase in job insecurity," he said.

In her call for creation of good jobs, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker mentioned the earthquake that rattled Washington, "Just as our nation's capital literally shook this week, we hope that discussions like the one we are having today will shake our elected officials to move with boldness and a fierce urgency of now."

Photo: Rep. John Lewis brings bottled water to those waiting in line during a job fair, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, Aug. 18, on the campus of Atlanta Technical College. (Bob Andres /Atlanta Journal & Constitution/AP)


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  • Reverend MLK's (Jr.) fight to organize the unorganized and to stop all imperialist wars are indeed unrealized.
    Reverend Paul White, no minuscule sacrifice of government officials, or our admirable teachers, officials, or even saints can answer the needed call.
    We need jobs and freedom now.
    Imperialist wars, the vestiges of colonialism, the ravages of the poor by the rich for the last 40 yrs, especially the fascistic Nixon and Reagan, have to be reversed.
    Cable television carried this event, but thanks to brother John Wojcik for this coverage.
    We need massive, direct action to stop the runaway poverty and destruction that imperialist wars are bringing to our economy, in two ways:

    1. Congress and the president, in keeping with the Dream of King, have to act with a multi-trillion dollar jobs bill with trade union protection for all new workers, retrained workers, unemployed workers and underemployed workers. This bill should come with a strengthened Wagner Act, Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.

    2. People's organizations need to protest, march, picket, rally, and redress the grievance of the modern slavery of unemployment and underemployment and how it leads to the destruction of the youth, the elderly, all workers and retirees, and the ecology of humanity's earth itself, and how militarism, anti-communism, racism, war, and its violence, perpetrated and perpetuated by these United States of America, to enslave not only the United States, but the world's peoples.

    Posted by , 08/30/2011 3:04am (4 years ago)

  • Public school teachers in the United States spent more than $1.33 billion out of pocket on school supplies and instructional materials in the 2009-2010 school year, according to new research released by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. When my wife was teaching in an inner city school in Memphis, in addition to out of pocket expenses for school supplies, every year we bought at least one winter coat for a kid that did not have one. Most of the other teachers in her school did the same.

    Teabaggers and Rethuglicans keep talking about "sharing the sacrifice." Teachers have been doing that for decades already. Instead of cutting teachers' salaries and benefits, maybe it's time to cut the salaries and benefits of our elected officials. It's way past time for them to share the sacrifice.

    Posted by Rev. Paul White, 08/29/2011 9:08pm (4 years ago)

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