Workers unite in honor of Dr. King

On the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, Los Angeles area union members gathered to honor him and to continue his legacy of fighting for workers’ rights. Held at F.A.M.E. Church in South L.A. Monday evening, thousands were in attendance including Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel.

The unity rally began with moving clips of Dr. King marching and speaking of the labor injustices faced in his time. One clip in particular brought loud applause from the audience when Dr. King said, “We are tired of working full-time jobs for part-time wages.” Intertwined were clips of workers protesting this year in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Maria Elena Durazo, of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, was the mistress of ceremony and she reminded everyone that Dr. King was in Memphis on behalf of sanitation workers when he was killed. She introduced the program’s theme: “War has been declared on working class Americans and we must unite.” Stressing that neither race nor location should be a factor in this new labor movement, she praised California workers who went to Wisconsin to join labor protests as well as the nearly 20,000 workers who gathered in Pershing Square last week.

Laphonza Butler, SEIU United Long Term Care Workers’ President, chastised groups like the Tea Party, claiming they are trying to change America’s values to that of greed and selfishness, ignoring the pleas of the working class. She said that Republicans are holding America hostage with the threat of a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t agree to cut funding for programs that are sorely needed. She pointed out that almost five million people are in poverty in California and children in the state are last, ranking 50th in the nation in standardized testing. Butler emphasized that now is not the time to be silent about the challenges ahead and that the fight of the 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis must be continued.

Also in attendance were Rev James Lawson and William Lucy, both of whom were instrumental in the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, working alongside Dr. King. Workers like Oscar Montelongo of the Department of Water and Power and Jackie Brown from the Lynwood School District were given an opportunity to speak. Brown is a school cafeteria worker at Rosa Parks Elementary School, a name she said makes her feel proud because of Parks’ heroism. She was concerned with students’ well-being if she and other workers lost their jobs due to cut-backs.

Though the day marked the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, it was not a somber event; it was a celebration of what King had accomplished, an opportunity for laborers to be re-energized for the work ahead and a call-to-action for American workers.