Four decades ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led what would be his last campaign--a strike in Memphis, Tenn., involving hundreds of working people who dared to take a stand for dignity and respect on the job and a voice at work with AFSCME.
During the strike, King spoke to the workers and reminded them of the dignity of their labor:
"So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth."
Tragically, King never witnessed the success the Memphis sanitation workers achieved. The 64-day strike ended with a union contract for 1,300 members of AFSCME Local 1733. The strike is credited with reviving a dormant union movement in Memphis and initiating a wave of public employee union organizing in other parts of the South.
In honor of the strike's 40th anniversary, the AFL-CIO is holding its 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observance this weekend in Memphis. More than 900 union and civil rights activists are gathering to reaffirm their commitment to making King's dream a reality.
The weekend is devoted to community service projects serving the community that King worked to help - the poor and disadvantaged.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney will present a computer lab paid for by union members to a local elementary school, and AFSCME and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) will make contributions to schools and the Head Start program.
"Working people across the country know that civil and worker rights go hand in hand, and that without the tools for a proper education, students can never go on to attain the kind of economic equality in which King and other leaders believed," Sweeney said.
A few years before the Memphis strike, King spoke of the importance of a strong labor movement in our country's history.
"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress," he said.
This year, 40 years after Dr. King's death, we ask ourselves, "How will things be for our children 40 years from NOW?" We owe it to him to keep up this fight--and that's exactly what we're planning to do.
Working Families e-Activist Network
P.S. If you're interested in learning more about the Memphis strike, pick up Michael K. Honey's book, "Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign" at the Union Shop Online.