Law and Politics

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Labor Movement

January 26, 2015
By Council Member I. Daneek Miller

In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I would like to use this opportunity, the first of a regular column I will be publishing with LaborPress, to address an often overlooked facet of Dr. King’s legacy: his crusade for economic justice.

United States Secretary of Labor Tom Perez recently suggested that the celebration of Dr. King’s birth might well be considered “the other Labor Day”. And the Secretary is correct.

Throughout his life Dr. King emphasized the rights of working men and women. He emphasized them as a vital part of the Civil Rights movement, teaching us that “all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be taken with painstaking excellence”.

Yet the fine nuances of his legacy are, at times, lost within his extraordinary body of work. Dr. King urged workers across America, until his very last day as he stood with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, urging them to “rise up with a greater readiness”, to “stand with a greater determination” and “to make America what it aught to be – a better nation”.

It was a message given as a part of his Poor People’s Campaign—to end poverty and give dignity to all Americans. It was a campaign for fair pay, decent benefits and economic security.

And his message is as relevant today as it was then. For the truth is that without economic justice, social justice cannot exist.

“What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?” asked Dr. King in the aftermath of the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins.

In the shadow of what would have been Dr. King’s 86th birthday, let us remember his message and as men, women, and a movement work to realize the entirety of his dream.

*** I. Daneek Miller represents District 27 in the New York City Council and serves as Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. Prior to his election in 2013, Miller served as President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056.

January 23, 2015

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