LaborNet - Internet Board
Global online communication since 1991 for a democratic, independent labor movement
Home | Current Blog | News Archive | Video | Resources | Back Links | About LaborNet

image image

Martin Luther King on labor
Source Dave Anderson
Date 10/01/24/02:45

Russell P. Bannan to Facebook friends of Denver Local 105 of SEIU
(Service Employees International Union)

Subject: Remembering Dr. King

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery
and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles,
economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance,
old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all,
new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The
captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted
it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union
organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not
only itself but the whole society."
—Speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965

"Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it
mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces
telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who
profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our
will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail
and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action
organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming
our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union
organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely
existed on both sides of the table.

"We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. Indeed, we
have brought forward the method of nonviolence to give an example of
unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet
felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously
organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we
do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and
economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hope.
In this way, labor's historic tradition of moving forward to create
vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition,
and for the same reasons."
—Speaking to the AFL-CIO on Dec. 11, 1961

"We know of no more crucial civil rights issue facing Congress today
than the need to increase the federal minimum wage and extend its

"We believe it is imperative that farm laborers, among the most abused
and neglected of all American workers, be included at last among those
who benefit from the Fair Labor Standards Act. We want coverage
extended to include those millions in retail trades, laundries,
hospitals and nursing homes, restaurants, hotels, small logging
operations and cotton gins who still work for starvation wages.

"While we are mindful of the shocking fact that less than one-half of
all non-white workers are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, we
do not speak for Negro workers only. A living wage should be the right
of all working Americans, and this is what we wish to urge upon our
Congressmen and Senators as they now prepare to deal with this
—Statement on minimum wage legislation, March 18, 1966

"Today Negroes want above all else to abolish poverty in their lives
and in the lives of the white poor. This is the heart of their
program. To end the humiliation was a start, but to end poverty is a
bigger task. It is natural for Negroes to turn to the labor movement
because it was the first and pioneer anti-poverty program….

"Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice
as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against
poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but
with elementary economic justice….

"Now most serious thinkers acknowledge that dislocations in the market
operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust
people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent
unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed
from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and
incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy
develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.

"To a degree, we have been attacking the problem by increasing
purchasing power through higher wage scales and increased Social
Security benefits. But these measures are exercised with restraint and
come only as a consequence of organized struggles…Those at the lowest
economic level, the poor white, the Negro, the aged, are traditionally
unorganized and have little or no ability to force a growth in their
consumer potential. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to
the larger society."
—Speaking to shop stewards of Local 815, Teamsters and the Allied
Trades Council, May 2, 1967

"Less than a century ago the laborer had no rights, little or no
respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and
barren….American industry organized misery into sweatshops and
proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without
conscience. The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing
existence was economic organization through trade unions. The worker
became determined not to wait for charitable impulses to grow in his
employer. He constructed the means by which fairer sharing of the
fruits of his toil had to be given to him or the wheels of industry,
which he alone turned, would halt and wealth for no one would be

"History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor
movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it.
By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously
created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed
of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple
truths, but history remembers them.

"Negroes are almost entirely a working people…. Our needs are
identical with labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions,
livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures,
conditions in which families can grow, have education for their
children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support
labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the
labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed
creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor
propaganda from the other mouth."
—Speaking to the AFL-CIO on Dec. 11, 1961

"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being
fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob
us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern
segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil
rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to
destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which
unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever
these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are
fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do
this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote."
—Speaking on right-to-work laws in 1961

"With the settlement of many of these early strikes, there was little
or nothing added to the pay envelope, little or nothing for job
security and a mountain of debts to pay and harsh memories to forget.
Yet there was one thing that was won, one thing that was fought for as
indispensable, one thing for which all the pain and sacrifice was
justified--union recognition. It seemed so miniscule a victory that
people outside the labor movement scorned it as in fact just a defeat.
But to those who understood, union recognition meant the employer's
acknowledgement of that strength, and the two meant the opportunity to
fight again for further gains with united and multiplied power. As
contract followed contract, the pay envelope fattened and fringe
benefits and job rights grew to the mature work standards of today.
All of these started with winning first union recognition."
—Speaking to shop stewards of Local 815, Teamsters and the Allied
Trades Council on May 2, 1967

[View the list]