03/23/2011 12:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Martin Luther King Stood With Workers in Fight for Civil Rights

CORE spokesman Niger Innis should not find it absurd or insulting that workers and community allies around this country will stand up on April 4, 2011, on the 43rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, to show support for workers in states around this country -- like Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan -- whose rights to bargain are under attack by anti-worker governors and legislators. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent the last day of his life speaking out against those who would deny workers the right to collectively bargain. Yes, it was African American sanitation workers in Memphis on April 4, 1968, but Dr. King never left any doubt that he was a proponent of worker rights, not black worker rights, or white worker rights, but worker rights.

Professor Michael K. Honey reminds us in his book All Labor Has Dignity that during the last year of his life, King put justice for poor and working-class people at the center of his agenda. He challenged the country to create an economy of full employment or, lacking that, a tax system that ensured a decent level of income for every American. In Memphis, he renewed his faith in people's movements and found a powerful constituency of the working poor organized into a union-community alliance. In going to Memphis, King returned to an issue he had fought for all of his life: the right of working people to organize unions of their own choosing, free of employer harassment and police intimidation. Unions, he underscored, were the "first anti-poverty program," and they should be accessible to all who work for wages.

So on April 4, 2011, when progressives, community allies and union members engage in social activism around this country in support of workers in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana who are struggling to hold on to their right to bargain, we do so guided by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke to the AFL-CIO Convention in Miami Beach, Fla., on Dec. 11, 1961: "The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy."

On April 4 at the King Center in Atlanta, standing in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, will be Martin Luther King III -- a man who, like his father, doesn't find it insulting or absurd to stand on the side of workers and their right to collectively bargain.

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