On April 4, 1968, the world lost a pinnacle in the fight for humanity when our preeminent civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was viciously murdered. Although we are all familiar with his immeasurable struggle for equality and justice, many do not realize that an essential platform for Dr. King's advocacy was a push for worker's rights and the necessity of decent livable wages. Today, as states and municipalities across the nation face devastating budget shortfalls, the labor unions and workers that provide necessary services for us all are once again under attack. The state of New Mexico is unfortunately no different, but together we can intervene and protect the ability of workers to peacefully assemble, organize and demand fair benefits.
On February 10th and 11th, I will be addressing union members, clergy, community organizers and everyday citizens from across New Mexico to discuss the integral relationship between labor movements and civil rights. Joining me at this pivotal two-day conference will be Lee Saunders, International Secretary-Treasurer for AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). The two central themes of this vital event are: 'Civil Servants: Pillars of a Civil Society' and 'Faces of Public Service: Thanking Those Who Serve Our Community'.
New Mexico, like so many states across the nation, is suffering from some of the largest budget deficits in modern times. Facing a shortfall of an estimated $400 million next year, New Mexico's legislature proposed slashing the state budget and consequentially slashing the basic benefits countless workers dedicated their lives securing. At a time when so many families are struggling to simply put food on their tables, Governor Martinez of New Mexico would like state workers to contribute even more into their own retirement plans. After decades of organizing and pushing for fair pay and decent benefits, those that provide many of the services all New Mexicans greatly rely on are once again being asked to pay for the crimes of others.
When the economic recession of 2008 struck the nation, virtually everyone agreed that Wall St. excesses and corporate greed created a dangerous scenario by which the rich continued to amass wealth, and the working-class/poor suffered increased financial hardship. And today, as unemployment remains disturbingly high, foreclosures continue at alarming rates and the average citizen has to stretch his/her dollars even further, why is the responsibility of rectifying our budgets being unfairly placed on workers? Why must unions be forced to resort back to the days when individuals had no rights and employers could systematically oppress and take advantage of whomever they pleased? And when workers were not the ones responsible for the worst financial calamity ever witnessed since the days of the Great Depression, why must they be the ones to continuously bear the brunt of sacrifice?
On the eve of the horrific murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee in '68, he addressed sanitation workers and public employees who were members of the local chapter of AFSCME. Fervently pushing for their ability, and the ability of all across the country to organize and demand livable wages, Dr. King gave his life in the struggle for human dignity for all peoples. As Lee Saunders and I gather with union workers and community organizers in New Mexico, let us keep Dr. King's vision and passion alive just as it was decades ago. When states and municipalities work to salvage their budgets, let's ensure that the burden isn't unjustly placed on those that are already suffering the most under these tumultuous times. Let us stand in unison once again.
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