Today, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the fight he led for racial equality and civil rights, which helped move our nation further along what he called “the moral arc of the universe [in its bending] towards justice.”
Even as we celebrate what Dr. King stood for, however, we should recognize that he would also have been the first to acknowledge how much more work needs to be done. For those of us in the labor movement, especially in the post-Janus, “right-to-work” (for less) world we now live in, it is particularly important to remember that Dr. King saw the struggle for civil rights and the labor movement’s struggle for socioeconomic justice as the same fight. Indeed, 60 years ago, back in 1961, Dr. King spoke out against precisely the same right-to-work (for less) laws that the Supreme Court enshrined through the Janus decision as the law of our land. This is what he said:
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. 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.
The Janus decision was neither the opening salvo nor the final battle in the war that is being waged against us by the anti-union forces in this country. Today especially, therefore, it’s important to remember that the values unions fight for—fair wages, just working conditions—are social justice values and that they are inextricably linked to the values of equity, equality, diversity, and inclusiveness, which were the core values of the Civil Rights Movement that Dr. King led.
Music played an important role in the civil rights movement. Please enjoy this brief playlist of songs that continue to resonate today:
Thanks for this eloquent and direct assessment of our fight, referring to Dr Kings words of 60 years ago. Janus and, nearly 40 years earlier, Yeshiva, represent the raw, vicious greed, the insatiable power/hunger of the ruling class, which may change its tactics but not its goal. Unfortunately we were all treated to a taste of its ultimate tactic — direct fascist seizure of power/- two weeks ago this coming Wednesday. And the Wednesday criminals, racists all, missed the benefit of Dr Kings warning: be wary of the words of the liars.
Keep advancing, brothers and sisters! Let us March on till victory is won!
“Strange Fruit” was written by Abel Meeropol, a young NYC high school English teacher. He later set it to music with his friend Earl Robinson specifically for Billie Holiday. Abel, as “Lewis Allan,” went on to write “The house I live in” and other iconic songs of the 40s. In the 50s he adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple unjustly murdered by the State of New York at the order of the USA for their alleged spying for the USSR. In the mid fifties my cousin Judith (now my wife) befriended Michael and Robert and studied drama with Abel at a Worker’s Circle folk school in Mt Vernon NY. “Strange Fruit” should be played every year on MLK Day. Thank you NCCFT!