Category Archives: Labor History

Five Lessons from the History of Public Sector Unions

Source: Priscilla Murolo, Labor Notes, June 11, 2018

As public sector unions contemplate losing key rights under the law, it’s worth remembering that for much of their history, such unions organized with no rights at all.

It wasn’t till 1958 that New York became the first city to authorize collective bargaining for city employees. Wisconsin did the same for state employees in 1959, and federal workers got bargaining rights in 1962.

Yet as early as 1940, a book titled One Thousand Strikes of Government Employees described strikes dating back to the 1830s, when workers at U.S. Navy shipyards stopped work multiple times to press demands for better wages and conditions. ….

Why Do Workers Strike?

Source: Martin Glaberman, Jacobin, May 30, 2018

Think conservative workers won’t strike? Think again. History shows it’s not workers’ ideas that count, it’s the conditions they face on the job.

…. Here, we reproduce the concluding chapter of Wartime Strikes. The historical backdrop of wartime strikes and those that have taken place today are obviously different, and Glaberman’s analysis of why auto workers took the actions they did can’t be directly transposed onto today’s events.

But his insistence that working people can be transformed when they’re forced to deal with the reality in front of them is an essential reminder for anyone trying to understand where and how the next working-class upsurge might continue to spread today. ….

The Promised Land Is Still Not Here

Source: Robert Greene II, Jacobin, April 4, 2018

Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Left struggles to speak with the kind of moral clarity King exemplified — but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Related:
Dr. King Knew That Labor Rights Are Human Rights
Source: John Nichols, The Nation, April 3, 2018

The civil-rights leader was proud to rally with public workers and to connect their struggle with the struggle for a fair and equitable economy.

Martin Luther King and the battles that outlived him
Source: David A Love, Al Jazeera, April 4, 2018
50 years on, the three evils MLK talked about -racism, militarism and economic exploitation – still plagues the US.

50 Years On, King’s Fight Against Racism and Poverty Remains Our Fight
Source: Brittany Alston, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, April 3, 2018

On April 4th, 1968, 50 years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated amidst the struggle for workers’ rights in Memphis, Tennessee. After longstanding tensions mounted between Black sanitation workers and the City of Memphis, workers refused to report to work. The men used nonviolent tactics in protest of low wages and dangerous working conditions. They etched their cause in the minds of millions with signs that read “I Am A Man”. Organizers called on clergy, including Martin Luther King Jr., to amplify the voices of the workers. King told workers that they were “reminding, not only Memphis, but [they were] reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”…

50 years since his death, Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophical work is all but forgotten
Source: Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, April 4, 2018

In the 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the memory of the transformative civil rights leader has undergone a “Disneyfication.” Textbooks, movies, and TV shows often suggest that King’s quest for racial and economic equality was ultimately successful. Yet half a century since his assassination, King would be dismayed by the ongoing inequality and racism in the US. And the complexities of his ideas are often overlooked.

King was not simply a compelling speaker, but a deeply philosophical intellectual. The syllabus from his social and political philosophy course while he was a visiting professor at Morehouse College includes works by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill. King’s own writing engages with Nietzsche and Marx extensively; Hegel was one of his favorite thinkers…..

Commemorations in Memphis Show That How We Remember Martin Luther King Jr. Is Changing
Source: Simon Balto, Time, April 4, 2018

….On the day he was killed, King was writing a Sunday sermon entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.” “America is going to hell,” he wrote, “if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.” As historian Vincent Harding (King’s friend and sometime speechwriter) put it, King died in Memphis “in the consciously chosen company of the poor.” That is also how he spent much of his final years.

This is the King — capacious in his critiques, radical in his politics, and who suggested that America was quite possibly hell-bound over its militarism, materialism and failures to care for “the least of these” — that animates many of the most significant commemorations unfolding in Memphis this week surrounding the anniversary of his death…..

Martin Luther King Jr.’s final, lesser-known campaign is more relevant than ever

Source: A.T. McWilliams, Quartz, April 4, 2018

In the weeks leading up to his assassination 50 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was preparing for his greatest demonstration yet. The Poor People’s Campaign—King’s coalition across racial groups, united in their fight to end poverty— aimed to recruit over 1 million people to occupy the National Mall. From Latino farmers’ rights activists to white Appalachian coal miners, King’s lesser-known dream sought to bring disparate communities together in the name of economic justice.

In planning the Poor People’s Campaign, King didn’t just set the stage for a new chapter of the civil rights movement. He provided a playbook for modern progressive politics, centered on the power of multicultural movements. Now, as the American working class includes more and more people of color—and Donald Trump tempts white voters with false promises—progressives can best honor King’s legacy by taking a page from the book he left behind….

KING: Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his legacy is still being written

Source: The Atlantic, Special Issue, 2018

Articles Include:

The Chasm Between Racial Optimism and Reality
JEFFREY GOLDBERG
Five decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., equality, for many, remains a distant dream.

I. THE MAN
My Father Chose Nonviolence
BERNICE A. KING
During another polarizing period in America’s history, Bernice A. King lays out three actions that she thinks her father would offer today.

The Young Man Who Became a Civil-Rights Icon
PATRICK PARR
Before he led the Montgomery bus boycott or marched on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. was a chain-smoking, pool-playing student at Crozer Theological College just discovering his passion for social justice.

The Arc of a Life
ELI LEE
A timeline

How Martin Luther King Jr. Recruited John Lewis
VANN R. NEWKIRK II
The Georgia congressman on what it was like to know the iconic activist

Coretta Scott King and the Civil-Rights Movement’s Hidden Women
JEANNE THEOHARIS
She was far more than her husband’s helpmate, but along with many other leaders of the era, her leadership was hidden in plain sight.

‘Martin Luther King Jr.’s Unfinished Work on Earth Must Truly Be Our Own’
BENJAMIN E. MAYS
Five days after King was assassinated, his “spiritual mentor” Benjamin Mays delivered a eulogy for his former student.

Martin Luther King Jr. Saw Three Evils in the World
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Racism was only the first.

II. RACISM
On Equality
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
In 1967, the civil-rights leader foresaw that white resistance to racial equality would stiffen as activists’ economic agenda grew more ambitious.

Racism Is ‘Built into the Very Bones’ of Mississippi
JESMYN WARD
Jesmyn Ward reflects on choosing to raise her children in her home state.

The Whitewashing of King’s Assassination
VANN R. NEWKIRK II
The death of Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a galvanizing event, but the premature end of a movement that had only just begun.

‘Let My People Vote’
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
In June 1965, the Voting Rights Act languished in the House Rules Committee after passage in the Senate. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote this letter to the New York Amsterdam News urging its passage as the first step in ensuring access to the ballot.

Jesse Williams and John Legend Talk Race in America
ADRIENNE GREEN
“America is cool because of black people. Our music is black. Our aesthetic is black … We are as American as you can be, and what do we get for it?”

III. POVERTY
The Crisis in America’s Cities
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Martin Luther King Jr. on what sparked the violent urban riots of the “long hot summer” of 1967

Where Have All the Rioters Gone?
MATTHEW DESMOND
Good jobs in black communities have disappeared, evictions are the norm, and extreme poverty is rising. Cities should be exploding—but they aren’t.

The Geography of Oppression
LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER
Shooting from a helicopter, the artist LaToya Ruby Frazier documented how King’s assassination affected the physical structures of cities.

How Much Had Schools Really Been Desegregated by 1964?
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King Jr. condemned how little had changed in the nation’s classrooms.

Still Separate and Unequal
EVE L. EWING
The civil-rights activist’s vision for education was far grander than integration alone. How disappointed he would be.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Call For a Poor People’s Campaign
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
In early 1968, the activist planned a massive protest in the nation’s capital.

America’s Moral Malady
WILLIAM J. BARBER II
The nation’s problem isn’t that we don’t have enough money. It’s that we don’t have the moral capacity to face what ails society.

How the Civil-Rights Movement Aimed to End Poverty
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH AND BAYARD RUSTIN
“A Freedom Budget for All Americans” proposed spending billions of federal dollars to provide jobs and basic welfare to all citizens.

IV. MILITARISM
Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
“We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.”

Freedom Ain’t Free
CLINT SMITH
Martin Luther King Jr. was bailed out of Birmingham Jail by a millionaire. Incarcerated people today aren’t so lucky.

The Civil-Rights Movement’s Generation Gap
BREE NEWSOME
Activist Bree Newsome on bridging the divided perspectives of the young and old.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Protest Against a Racist Court System
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
On Easter Sunday in 1958, the civil-rights leader led a “prayer pilgrimage” in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the inequality of a young man’s death sentence.

How Kara Walker Recasts Racism’s Bitter Legacy
ADRIENNE GREEN
The artist’s works turn the brutality of history inside out.

Martin Luther King Jr. on the Vietnam War
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
“The greatest irony and tragedy of all is that our nation, which initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world, is now cast in the mold of being an arch anti-revolutionary.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Mourns Trayvon Martin
LAUREN K. ALLEYNE
A poem

Related:
Nonviolence and Social Change
Source: Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr delivered a lecture calling on the “dispossessed of this nation” to revolt in nonviolent struggle. We reprint it here in full.

MLK’s vision matters today for the 43 million Americans living in poverty

Source: Joshua F.J. Inwood, The Conversation, April 2, 2018

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, while fighting for a 10-cent wage increase for garbage workers. These efforts by King were part of a broader and more sustained initiative known as the Poor People’s Campaign.

King was working to broaden the scope of the civil rights movement to include poverty and the end of the war in Vietnam. King and his leadership team planned to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., where they would camp out on the National Mall until Congress passed legislation to eradicate poverty.

King was convinced that for the civil rights movement to achieve its goals, poverty needed to become a central focus of the movement. He believed the poor could lead a movement that would revolutionize society and end poverty. As King noted, “The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have little, or nothing to lose.”

With over 43 million people living in poverty in the United States today, King’s ideas still hold much power.

Related:
Martin Luther King Jr. had a much more radical message than a dream of racial brotherhood
Source: Paul Harvey, The Conversation, March 30, 2018

Economic justice was always part of MLK Jr.’s message

Source: Peter Kelley, Futurity, March 28, 2018

As the 50th anniversary of the murder of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, historian Michael Honey reminds us in a new book that labor rights and economic justice were always part of his progressive message.

The book, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice, (W.W. Norton, 2018) comes out on April 3—the day before the 50-year anniversary of King’s assassination….

The Radical Roots of Janus

Source: Joseph A. McCartin, American Prospect, February 27, 2018

The attorney whose arguments were heard in the Supreme Court yesterday—a decade after his death—actually wanted all unions outlawed. …. As the Supreme Court heard the pivotal union case, Janus v. AFSCME, on Monday, an unacknowledged presence haunted its chambers: that of Sylvester Petro, who conceived the argument on which the case turns. Although he died in 2007, this ideologically driven, anti-union law professor originated the legal strategy behind this case. His radical vision illuminates Janus’s profound implications. 

Petro was the first to contend that public-sector collective bargaining was simply a form of politics, and that therefore, any effort to require government workers to pay “agency fees” to a union in return for its representational work amounted to compelled political speech that infringed on their First Amendment rights—the argument that Illinois public employee Mark Janus embraced in this case. Petro tried unsuccessfully to get the court to endorse that argument in the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the precedent Janus seeks to overturn.

Yet despite Petro’s seminal role in shaping their argument, Janus and his supporters seem intent on erasing any memory of Petro. His name is not mentioned among the voluminous citations of some two-dozen briefs supporting Janus. 

Petro’s invisibility is intentional. Those who seek to advance his vision today know that any reference to his radically anti-union views would expose their equally radical aims. ….