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Episode 4 of I AM STORY looks at the strike’s impact to this day

Photo: Luís Gomez
Episode 4 of I AM STORY looks at the strike’s impact to this day
By AFSCME Staff ·

The fourth episode of the I AM STORY podcast, which AFSCME released today, looks at the impact the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike had on the lives of the people involved and the challenges workers have faced in the years since.

The agreement that the sanitation workers made with the city 55 years ago provided the workers with a variety of new benefits and a 15-cents-an-hour raise. However, it didn’t pull them out of poverty.

This episode describes how, in the wake of the strike, there was an explosion of public sector organizing. With President Jerry Wurf leading the charge, AFSCME would expand to include almost 1.5 million members.

But in recent years, labor laws have become more restrictive. In Memphis itself, sanitation workers are still fighting some of the same battles as in 1968. Anti-labor politicians and their corporate allies have tried to bust unions using so-called “right to work” laws. Labor leaders learned have learned how to run national campaigns to push back against such laws.

What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Memphis strikers made clear is that there can be no economic justice without racial justice and vice versa. Unions exist to fight for that economic justice for workers and their families.

This episode features AFSCME President Lee Saunders; AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus Bill Lucy, Memphis striker Cleo Smith; photographer Richard Copley; AFSCME Local 1733 staff representative Maurice Spivey; Memphis sanitation worker O’Shawn Smith; civil rights leaders Martin Luther King III and the Rev. James Lawson; archival audio footage of former president Wurf, Dr. King, the Rev. Gerald Patterson; and interviews with several survivors of the strikers.

For more information, click here.

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