Honoring the legacy of MLK, Jr. and the labor movement

Posted Jan. 11, 2024 by

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., October 1965

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday next week, OCSEA and AFSCME, our national union, continue to reiterate a lesser known but equally important strand of Dr. King’s legacy: his unwavering belief in the dignity of labor and the vital difference made by labor unions in the lives of working people.

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress," said MLK, Jr. speaking at the Illinois AFL-CIO Convention in 1965. And that sentiment rings true nearly 60 years later as workers continue to fight for dignity and demand that their voices be heard on the job. The fact that labor and civil rights histories are so intertwined is an important labor lesson afforded by this important holiday.

One way OCSEA members can learn more about our labor history is by listening to AFSCME's I AM Story podcast. The award-winning podcast details the history and legacy of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, examining the origins of the AFSCME Local 1733 strike and the events leading up to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was assassinated while in Memphis supporting the strikers. The podcast is one every OCSEA/AFSCME member should listen to as it provides a front-row seat to the events that shook the nation, featuring AFSCME strikers who were there and firsthand accounts of some of today’s leading civil rights icons. Together, these powerful voices guide listeners through this moment in AFSCME history while also connecting the struggles of the past to the challenges facing working people now.

"Despite the progress of the last 60 years, much remains to be done. That’s why our union is committed to protecting and expanding labor rights, civil rights and voting rights, and to fighting for racial and economic justice for all," said AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

Read “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” the speech MLK, Jr. gave in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968—the day before he was assassinated.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday is an official day of service and celebrates the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. Find a National Day of Service event near you.