by Clyde Weiss | April 28, 2011
Memphis sanitation workers went on strike in 1968 for workplace rights, a living wage, dignity and respect. (Copyrighted photo by Richard L. Copley, used with permission.)
The U.S. Department of Labor this Friday will hold a ‘Labor Hall of Fame’ ceremony for 1,300 Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers – members of AFSCME Local 1733 – who participated in the famous 1968 strike for workplace rights, a living wage, dignity and respect.
The ceremony begins the process of inducting the workers into the Labor Hall of Fame, founded in 1988 to honor those “whose distinctive contributions to the field of labor have enhanced the quality of life of America's workers.”
The sanitation workers’ two-month strike was emblazoned on the American conscience by the signs they carried, bearing the simple but powerful words, “Collective bargaining is the American Way,” and “I Am A Man.” The strike was also burned into American history by the participation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who traveled to Memphis to lead a march to city hall to support the sanitation workers’ campaign. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis just 12 days before the strike was settled.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis will officiate at Friday’s Labor Hall of Fame ceremony. Several sanitation workers who participated in the strike will attend: Robert Hobson, Ben Jones, Baxter Leach, Herbert Parson, Cleo Smith, Alvin Turner, Ozell Ueal, Russell Walton and Joe Warren.
The sanitation workers, as a group, will join 41 individuals and 403 911 rescue workers in the Labor Hall of Fame. The rescue workers (many of whom were AFSCME members) and the Memphis sanitation workers are the only living Labor Hall of Fame honorees. Prominent individuals include United Farm Workers of America leader Cesar E. Chavez, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and Helen Keller, an advocate for the deaf and blind.
Read more about the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike here. Also, learn more about Dr. King’s participation in their struggle – including his famous speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” – at this site. View a list of all past Labor Hall of Fame honorees here.