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Why Do Labor Leaders Honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

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Because…you get a three day weekend!

Wait, don’t shoot—uh, I mean, pass the freedom fries. Can the world tolerate my bad jokes? Can I?

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Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, marched with UAW President Walter P. Reuther, left, and other civil rights leaders in Detroit in 1963. He previewed his famous "I Have a Dream" speech before delivering it in Washington two months later.

Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, marched with UAW President Walter P. Reuther, left, and other civil rights leaders in Detroit in 1963. He previewed his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before delivering it in Washington two months later.

Ronald Reagan signed the MLK holiday into law in 1983, and it came into effect in 1986. That always seemed strange to me, that Ronald Reagan would do that. Because at the time I thought he was the devil incarnate.

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For the record, I don’t presume to be a labor leader. I am an assistant to a labor leader at the local 6 office. Why do I honor MLK? Because he was a great man and catalyst for changing the unjust, racist American system. He fought for the dignity, freedom and happiness of all people—what better cause is there than that?

On the labor angle, MLK worked with many unions. He was actually supporting the union sanitation workers in Memphis as part of the Poor Peoples Campaign on the day he was assassinated. Here is a quote from the speech he gave to sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18, 1968:

“If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity, and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive. For the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician. All labor has worth.

mlk-2You are doing another thing. You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. I need not remind you that this is the plight of our people all over America. The vast majority of Negroes in our country are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. My friends, we are living as a people in a literal depression. Now you know when there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the black community, they call it a social problem. When there is vast unemployment and underemployment in the white community they call it a depression. But we find ourselves living in a literal depression all over this country as a people.

Now the problem isn’t only unemployment. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”

Here are more MLK labor quotes from speeches MLK gave to different labor groups.

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MLK-3For me, it’s really a no-brainer why Labor leaders honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and why everyone should, in my opinion). He believed in the vision of a country and world where everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, where no one is oppressed by racism or economic injustice. He fought tirelessly to make that dream a reality and was willing to die for it.