Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed 43 years ago today. The assassination occurred as he was supporting a strike of municipal sanitation workers, standing up for the principle that “every working American should earn enough to live a decent life” in the words of his son Martin Luther King III.
In memory of his father, King III made the following statement in support of New York City’s Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which he sees as part of “a national roadmap for continuing my father’s unfinished work of economic justice.”
Every year, on the anniversary of my father’s death, people pay tribute to his life and legacy—to the ideals and principles he worked so hard to achieve, not simply for the people of his time but ultimately for the many generations that would come after him.
But exactly what he was doing the day he was killed is often forgotten. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for the creation of living wage jobs. In his view, it was both a moral necessity and a civil right that every working American should earn enough to live a decent life and not worry about basic survival. More than forty years later, we continue to fall woefully short of his vision. Far too many working people in our communities and neighborhoods across this great country still earn poverty wages instead of living wages. This is a collective failure, and we must address it together as one nation.
New York City offers a national roadmap for continuing my father’s unfinished work of economic justice. Tonight elected officials, religious leaders, labor leaders, and local community members are gathering in Brooklyn and Bronx churches for mass meetings to build the next phase of the largest citywide living wage movement in the country. In recent months, the Living Wage NYC Coalition has quickly organized and mobilized thousands of residents to push for passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. A majority of City Council members back the legislation. Now I urge the rest to embrace it.
People see something very wrong happening: Corporations getting richer from tax subsidies offered in the name of economic development yet making people poorer with low-wage jobs. This extreme income disparity is the result of misguided public policy, and that’s why a movement has come together around getting better policy implemented: the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would ensure that tax dollars create living wage jobs.
We need the living wage movement to succeed and spread to other parts of the country. Countless stories of the working poor today are about people making impossible choices: food or rent, clothing or electricity. When we pause over those stories, and understand their painful significance, we grasp something fundamental about a country as wealthy as ours: no working person should have to settle for surviving over living. It’s that simple.
Read the whole statement here.
Martin Luther King III is a Board Member at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, an organization founded in 1961 by Harry Wachtel, lawyer and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The organization was relaunched by Harry's son Bill Wachtel and Martin Luther King III in 1999. The Drum Major Institute has championed New York's living wage campaign as well as the growing nationwide fight for dignity for public employees, which King has also spoken out to support. In addition, King III serves as President and CEO of the King Center.