by Joye Barksdale | April 04, 2012
Forty-four years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he’d gone to stand with the 1,300 sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733. The sanitation workers went on strike for higher wages, better benefits, improved safety conditions, and to force the city to recognize their union.
In today’s Commercial Appeal, AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders and AFSCME Local 1733 Exec. Dir. Chad Johnson pen a guest column about Dr. King’s legacy and his belief that workers’ rights are civil rights.
“For the members of AFSCME in Memphis and across the country, today holds special significance. It represents both a high water mark in our fight to ensure that all workers have a voice, and a violent end for a truth-telling, eloquent leader who was simultaneously one of our nation’s greatest champions and fiercest critics.
This year also marks AFSCME’s 75th anniversary. The state workers of Wisconsin who formed our union at the height of the Great Depression wanted the basics: better pay and better working conditions. But, just like the sanitation workers who went on strike here in 1968, they also wanted respect.
Decades later, it was that same desire to be treated with dignity and respect that compelled the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 to stand their ground. They could have gone along with the status quo, complaining only to each other about unsafe working conditions, awful pay and nearly non-existent benefits – especially given the daunting twin evils of racism and poverty they faced. It is always our choice whether to accept what we are given or demand what we deserve. The sanitation workers of Local 1733 chose to make a demand.”