Apr 4, 2011
The AFL-CIO called for a Day of Action to oppose the attacks on collective bargaining rights for public workers on April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
Pushed by an ever more angry black population, King had come to the point of taking a clear public stand against the war in Vietnam. He proposed a Poor People’s Campaign including a march on Washington to occupy the nation’s capital. And he went to Memphis in support of the strike by municipal sanitation workers.
The sanitation workers had gone on strike after two of their co-workers were killed when the compactor on a truck, which was known to be defective, started up with them inside.
Memphis sanitation, water, and sewer workers responded to the deaths in anger, refusing to go back to work without union recognition and having their demands met. They took up the slogan, “I Am a Man” and insisted they would live in dignity. Through their strike, they won their union, despite opposition from the Democrats who ran Memphis, the Republicans who outright opposed the Black Movement and the capitalists, who did not want to see unions extended in the South.
The real tribute that could be made to that fight by Memphis public workers would be a renewal today of the struggle they carried out – through demonstrations, strikes, and a new occupation of Washington, D.C. and state capitols.