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Trumka in Memphis: We’re Reaching for that Mountaintop

IAM 2018
AFL-CIO

At the 1961 AFL-CIO Convention, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature. He spews racism from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other.

When the rich and powerful oppress others, they rarely go after just one community. They attack whatever unity they can find among working people. They know that united we rise and divided we fall.

It was 50 years ago that I first tasted the power of collective action in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania. Standing together, we made those jobs safer. We demanded good pay, decent benefits and a better life. And we refused to let the bosses divide us.

That same year, we saw the resilience of working people right here in Memphis. Black workers had been deemed less than human. They were treated no better than the garbage they picked up every day. They were robbed of their economic security, their human dignity, and in the case of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, their lives.

And then the workers turned tragedy into triumph. They showed their power. They went on strike and marched and raised their fists in the air. They said loudly and proudly for all of us to hear, “I am a man.” With Dr. King at their side, they changed the course of history.

Half a century later, too many working people are still being treated as less than. The woman grabbed without her consent. The immigrant forced to live and work in the shadows. The African-American still waiting to be judged by the content of their character. The transgender person denied the dignity of a safe bathroom.

Their fight is OUR fight.

So on this day, we are pledging to finish what the sanitation workers started. We are making a promise to our nation and each other to win the dream Dr. King died for.

To the labor-hater and the race-baiter, the union-buster and the corporate hustler, we say this:

We are men.

We are women.

We are teachers and steelworkers.

We are nurses and coal miners.

We are firefighters and sanitation workers.

We are the American labor movement, the people who built this country into the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. And we ain’t done yet.

We’re marching forward. We’re fighting back. We’re reaching for that mountaintop. And if we stick together, no one has a chance in hell of stopping us.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was at AFSCME's "I AM 2018" opening rally today to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.