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What Would Martin Luther King, Jr. Say About What’s Going On In Wisconsin?

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As many people know, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while supporting workers who were striking in Memphis, Tennessee. He was a strong supporter of organized labor. Here is one of his statements that I think indicate clearly what his position would be on what is happening in Wisconsin today:

“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

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. A comparison to MLK? Please. Blacks in this country were systematically discriminated against, beaten up, lynched, and on and on. Workers in jobs that precipitated the need for private-sector unions worked ungodly long hours for a pittance in often unsafe and unsantiary conditions.

    Those protesting in Wisconsin currently have health benefits and pensions at a minimal cost to themselves and have their rights protected by state laws. They are asking people (taxpayers) who pay a larger percentage of their own benefits to continue to chip in for this great deal. Do they understand why they are not getting too much sympathy? The governor of Wisconsin was elected on exactly this platform (like Chris Christie before him), and thus knows that his position enjoys public support.

    Larry, I am a schoolteacher like you are. The difference is that I teach in a private school which has to raise almost every dollar. My benefits pale in comparison to yours and those of every other public school teacher. I would love to have a dialogue with you (offline) so either I can understand why I have to pay moer for someone to do the same job I do with better benefits, or you can understand why that idea bothers me.

    • Aaron,

      Just to be clear, I was not comparing teachers to Martin Luther King. I was quoting Martin Luther King’s words, who regularly and consistently showed his support for organized labor. Based on that history, I think it’s a very safe bet to say he would be in Madison if he was alive today.

      In fact, teachers and public sector workers are getting a huge amount of support in Wisconsin, as polls show. Many voters and organizations who voted for Gov. Walker are saying publicly that he is making a major mistake.

      Larry

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