Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rochester progressive community rallies on the anniversary of MLK’s assassination

By Ove Overmyer

Rochester, N.Y. — On April 3, 1968, a tired man faced an audience of AFSCME public workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The workers were on a wildcat strike, demanding the right to bargain collectively and to have the city for which they worked automatically deduct union dues from their paychecks. The city’s conservative mayor had flatly refused these demands.

“You are doing many things here in this struggle,” the tired man assured them. “You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor.” Too often, he said, folks looked down on people like them, people who did menial or unglamorous work. But he encouraged them not to bemoan their humble state. “All labor has dignity,” he said.

On Monday, April 4, 2011, it was 43 years since that man was shot in the head and killed outside his motel room in Memphis. Despite the attempts of anti-labor forces and FOX talking heads, there is no spinning this fact — Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) last public actions were in defense of labor and union rights.

What would MLK say about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?

One wonders, then, what he would say of Wisconsin. Or Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Florida or any of the other places where, like a virus, the move to weaken or effectively outlaw unions has spread. One wonders what he would make of a conservative governing ethos that now defines public employees — teachers, librarians, police officers, firefighters– as the enemy.

Actually, we need not wonder what King would have said, because he already said it. In the speech noted above, he warned that if America did not use its vast wealth to ensure its people “the basic necessities of life,” America was going to hell.

Exactly 43 years after King’s assassination, union members on April 4 marched from Aenon Baptist Church to Wilson Magnet High School in Rochester’s southwest quadrant for a workers’ rights rally to commemorate the life and work of, perhaps, the greatest American hero. There were over 1,000 events planned throughout the nation yesterday, rallying under the call of “WE ARE ONE!”

Rochester rally draws hundreds

Here in Rochester on April 4, nearly 200 people representing public and private sector labor unions and their coalition partners, including members of Pride At Work, AFL-CIO, carried signs and shouted, “WE ARE ONE! WE ARE ONE! WE ARE ONE!” as they marched south on Genesee St.

Many rally participants stayed for the speakout forum inside Wilson’s auditorium after the march. During the forum, Jim Bertolone, president of Rochester Labor Council, AFL-CIO, said that in the 1960s, labor unionists had an epiphany when King and labor leader Cesar Chavez stood up for workers rights.

“We realized the struggle for civil rights and labor rights and women’s rights was all the same struggle — for human rights,” Bertolone said. “In this city alone, we are looking at hundreds of public employees being laid off. That’s not the answer to this recession. Historically, it hasn’t been the answer. The answer is to put people to work, not take their jobs away.

Photo: Bess Watts

No comments: