Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis, Tennessee, to march with the city’s striking black sanitation workers. Wages were bad, and conditions were so unsafe that workers were seriously injured or even killed while using the trash compactors of their trucks. The city of Memphis, their employer, refused to do better; city officials refused to act to improve their wages or safety. So they took matters into their own hands and went on strike, demanding basic dignity and civil rights on the job.
In the final years of his life, King shifted his work to focus on improving work and pay conditions for people regardless of the color of their skin. Half a century after he was assassinated in Memphis following his march with those sanitation workers, the fight for civil rights continues to intersect with the struggle for workers’ rights.
Organizing a union is still one of the most powerful ways for workers of color to win respect at work. I know this because I am organizing a union, and it’s for the same reason the workers in Memphis did: I Am A Man.
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