“Jobs, Justice and the American Dream”

8/30/2011

The following post is an excerpt from Martin Luther King III’s remarks to the AFL-CIO Symposium on “Jobs, Justice and the American Dream,” co-sponsored by the AFL-CIO and The King Center and held at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 2011. The Symposium included presentations by the AFL-CIO top-ranking leaders, President Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Davis, as well as civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson and a host of leaders and activists from diverse human rights groups.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is most well-remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as his leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement. But I must take this opportunity to affirm that he was also a steadfast champion of the American labor movement. And when the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is dedicated…we will be honoring an American leader who not only lost his life in a labor union struggle, but one who also strongly supported unions as a central part of his ongoing commitment to social and economic justice.

As my father said back in 1965, when he addressed the Illinois AFL-CIO convention, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”

And everywhere Martin Luther King, Jr. Went during his leadership of the civil rights movement, he sought the support of trade unions, because he knew that organized labor was the essential element for winning the war on poverty. He often spoke about the critical importance of job-training and job security, and he was deeply concerned about job displacement by automation and the export of American jobs to nations where workers had subsistence wages and few rights.

After he was assassinated, my mother, Coretta Scott King picked up the torch of public worker rights in Memphis and helped to lead the campaign to organize hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina. She marched with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and supported dozens of union organizing campaigns. She also served as the active national co-chair of the Full Employment Action Council, meeting with everyU.S.senator and nearly all members of congress in support of jobs legislation.

And so, calling for full employment and economic justice is a family tradition I intend to keep for the rest of my days.

Economic injustice is even more of a concern today, for we are witnessing a widening gap between the rich and poor. Making matters worse, the political guardians of the rich are not only refusing even the most modest tax increases on the wealthiest few; they are demanding even more tax benefits for the top earners – subsidized by the poor and working people. President Trumka, we can’t allow this to happen. If we have to fill the streets with nonviolent protests on an unprecedented scale like our sisters and brothers inMadison, we must not allow that to happen.

In the speech I referenced earlier, my father issued a challenge to both organized labor and the civil rights movement. It was a challenge for us to work together with an energetic spirit of unity to bring about a full employment society in which working people of all races could prosper. Here is what he said:

“The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. We have not used a fraction of it for our own good, or for the needs of society as a whole…if our two movements unite their social pioneering initiative, thirty years from now people will look back on this day and honor those who had the vision to see the full possibilities of modern society and the courage to fight for their realization. On that day, the brotherhood of man, undergirded by economic security, will be a thrilling and creative reality.”

President Trumka, we have suffered great setbacks in the years since my father marched for jobs and justice alongside the leaders of American labor. But the rising up of working people of all races inWisconsin,Indiana and Ohio signals a rebirth of the great coalition that still provides our best hope for real and lasting change.

I believe that we can adapt the great traditions that animated the union and civil rights movements in the 20th century to forge a vibrant new spirit of militancy and a culture of organizing, empowered by the latest technology.

So let us link arms as brothers and sisters, united and determined to put an end to the war against workers. Let’s join forces with an unshakeable spirit of solidarity for jobs and economic justice. Let’s reach out to one another to build a great multiracial coalition of a magnitude never before seen in this nation.

We’re not going to be discouraged by political obstructionists. We’re not going to be distracted…and we’re not going to be turned around by the ‘Citizens United’ decision.

But with our faith in each other, with our shared vision of hope and opportunity, and with our irreversible commitment to solidarity, together, we will lead America to a new era of progressive change, in which my father’s dream of the beloved community can become a luminous reality.