Category Archives: Labor History

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. ….

The Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike

Source: Stuff You Missed in History Class, Podcast, February 7, 2018 (audio)

Memphis sanitation workers stayed off the job starting January 12, 1968 in a strike that lasted for nine weeks. This was the strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, Tennessee, where he was assassinated on April 4 of that year.

Here’s the “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech.
Here’s a link to The Root’s series of videos on the strike.

Tracy’s Research: ….

1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ‘68

Source: The Root and Striking Voices, 2018

….The Root partnered with Striking Voices, a Memphis-based multimedia journalism project, created by journalist and author Emily Yellin, to produce 1,300 Men: Memphis Strike ‘68, an 11-part video series that brings the sanitation strikers’ stories to the forefront where they belong. Yellin, who has written about the South extensively for the New York Times, first interviewed Memphis sanitation strikers 20 years ago. Striking Voices builds on the visionary work of Yellin’s parents, David and Carol Lynn Yellin, journalists who began chronicling the 1968 strike in real time, resulting in a six-year, multimedia, oral, written and visual history archival project, now housed at the library of the University of Memphis. Most of the vivid film footage featured in 1,300 Men was collected by her parents in 1968 as a cornerstone of their pioneering work…..

Reconstructing resistance and renewal in public service unionism in the twenty-first century: lessons from a century of war and peace

Source: Whyeda Gill-McLure & Christer Thörnqvist, Labor History, Volume 59, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This special issue uses the occasion of the centenary of the Whitley Commission Reports to illuminate the contemporary crisis in public service industrial relations from a historical perspective. In all six countries studied—Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the USA—public service employment is labour intensive and quantitatively significant in the overall economy. Public services have also been major targets of neoliberal reforms, starting in the UK and the USA at the turn of the 1980s and in the other countries about a decade later. In addition, the relatively high union density and the political dimension of public services and public union strategies have been major targets of new public management and more latterly austerity. However, the regressive period has had a differential impact in different countries. In the liberal market economies of the UK and the USA, the neoliberal turn has destabilised traditional patterns of public sector industrial relations to greatest effect. While in the more coordinated market economies, traditional arrangements and values have been more resistant to austerity and neoliberal reforms. We attempt to shed light on these differential impacts through a critical analysis of the historical evolution of public sector industrial relations in each country.

Related:
100 years of Whitleyism: a century of public service industrial relations in Europe and the US
Source: Guest Editors – Whyeda Gill-McLure and Christer Thörnqvist, Labor History, Volume 59, 2018
(subscription required)

How So-Called “Right to Work” Laws Aim to Silence Working People

Source: Amy Traub, Dēmos, 2017

From the introduction:
In America, working people have the freedom to band together with their co-workers to negotiate for a fair return on our work. We have the freedom to act together so can we speak with a more powerful voice. We have the freedom to join and form unions. Yet today, powerful interests want to take away that freedom. Corporate lobbyists have pushed federal and state-level policies deceptively named “Right to Work” laws that strip away the freedom to negotiate for a fair return on our work. These laws are designed to drain workers’ collective resources by requiring unions to provide representation to people who make no contribution to sustain the union. In essence, so-called “right to work” laws aim to silence working Americans, which causes their wages and working conditions to deteriorate, making it more difficult to sustain a family. Economists find that in states that have adopted these laws, the typical full-time worker is paid $1,500 a year less than their counterpart in a state that has not undermined workers’ rights.

This Demos Explainer clarifies what misleadingly named “right to work” laws do, how they silence workers’ collective voice, and what their impact has been in states that adopt them. We also explore the roots of this anti-worker policy in efforts to cut wages and solidify racial divisions among workers in the Jim Crow South. Today, as “right to work” laws are promoted in a growing number of states and in the U.S. Congress, Demos aims to ensure that elected leaders, the media, and ordinary Americans understand the true nature of this policy.