Just in time for Labor Day, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial opened to the public August 22 in Washington, D.C. Although Dr. King’s role as a civil rights leader is widely known his role as a labor leader is less well-known, but no less important.
In a speech to the Illinois AFL-CIO Convention in 1965 King said that, “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life.”
It is fitting to remember King’s legacy as a supporter of the rights of struggling ordinary Americans on Labor Day as well as in January.
In an April column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that King, “realized that removing legal barriers alone would not bring about equal opportunity and economic justice for African-Americans. He recognized that workers of all races – including public employees like the Memphis sanitation workers – would have to use their collective strength to win a fair deal for themselves and their families.”
King’s dream for economic and social justice is still very relevant today. As Van Roekel wrote,
The politicians behind these attacks [on public workers] are trying to stoke resentment of public employees and other union members among workers who aren’t represented by a union. But no American should resent a neighbor for earning a decent living. Instead, middle-class Americans should be concerned about the widening gulf between an ultra-wealthy elite and everyone else.
NEA leadership had planned to join tens of thousands of people this past weekend for a dedication ceremony for the national memorial. However, poor weather conditions from Hurricane Irene necessitated postponing the event.
For information about visiting the memorial go to www.mlkmemorial.org.
Labor Day teaching resources
Planning a lesson about Labor Day? Click here for a list of great resources and lesson ideas NEA has compiled from a variety of organizations and institutions.