With the exception of Labor Day, there is no more important celebration of the fight for justice for all working people than Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Some people may only see Dr. King as a civil rights leader, a critical leader in the fight for equality for African Americans. That struggle was monumental – but Dr. King saw it as part of a larger vision.

His goal, as shown by the quotes below, was justice and respect for all working people. He saw labor unions as allies in the civil rights movement and crucial in the fight for a better world.

As Union workers, our honoring of Dr. King is a fitting tribute, and an appropriate response to his sacrifice. If you can, take a vacation day or an excused day. Most important, talk with your kids about what Dr. King really stands for. Let them know that you and the labor movement – not Big Business – are the ones carrying on his work.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his own words

“Negroes are almost entirely a working people. … Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

AFL-CIO Convention,
December 1961

“It is in this area (politics) of American life that labor and the Negro have identical interests. Labor has grave problems today of employment, shorter hours, old age security, housing and retraining against the impact of automation. The Congress and the administration are almost as indifferent to labor’s program as they are toward that of the Negro. Toward both they offer vastly less than adequate remedies for the problems which are a torment to us day after day.”

UAW District 65
Convention, September 1962

“Today Negroes want above all else to abolish poverty in their lives, and in the lives of the white poor. This is the heart of their program. To end humiliation was a start, but to end poverty is a bigger task. It is natural for Negroes to turn to the Labor movement because it was the first and pioneer anti-poverty program.”

Teamsters and Allied Trade Councils, New York City,
May 1967

“We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you’re getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they’ve brought it up … that isn’t menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages.”

Local 1199 Salute
to Freedom, March 1968

“I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality. That is the dream .…”

AFL-CIO Convention,
December 1961

John Harrity is an organizer for Machinists District 26.
This is an excerpt from an e-mail he sent to his fellow unionists in Connecticut.
We reprint it here with his permission. The author can be reached at jharrity@aol.com.