Bonds of Memory and the Fight for Economic Justice

Portside, February 12, 2018, by Michael Honey

"On Feb. 1, 1968, Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death while riding out a cold, driving rainstorm in the back of an outmoded “packer” garbage truck in Memphis. Unsafe working conditions, racism and abuse had long been intolerable for the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers. On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Monday, February 12, they refused to go to work. Later attacked by the police, the news media, and the city government, their fight under the banner “I Am A Man” for union rights and a living wage marked a turning point for the movements of the 1960s from civil rights to economic justice.

In a remarkable speech at Bishop Mason Temple on March 18, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told the workers, “You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. And I need not remind you that this is our plight as a people all over America.” King made Memphis the first stop in his projected Poor People’s Campaign to shift America’s priorities from funding war and the accumulation of private wealth to providing housing, health care, education, and jobs or sustainable income for all. ...

The bonds of memory and today’s vast disparities in wealth and well-being tell us that we must continue the struggle launched by workers and by King in the spring of 1968. Today, more people live in poverty in America than in 1968. Now as then, the majority of the poor are “white” but poverty’s heaviest concentration is among people of color, especially young people and women. Poverty exists in part because most of the new jobs in Memphis, as in America, do not pay a living wage. ..."

https://portside.org/2018-02-12/bonds-memory-and-fight-economic-justice

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