Capitol Report – Is Labor the New Civil Rights Struggle?

By State Representative Leon D. Young

Leon D. Young

Leon D. Young

Make no mistakes about it, America is far from being a colorblind, classless society.

Contrary to the erroneous notion held by too many in our midst, the election of Barack Obama (as the first Black president) definitely doesn’t substantiate the case that America has achieved racial equality.

Truth be told, there are any number of impediments that still marginalize people of color and others in general today, limiting their ability to partake fully in the American Dream.

Case in point, the current struggle surrounding labor unions and workers’ rights.

Wisconsin is no stranger to the extreme right-wing agenda of a Republican-dominated state legislature.

One of Scott Walker’s initial policy directives, as governor, was to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights.

Regrettably, this same misguided policy decision has been played out in other states across the nation, causing unnecessary hardships for countless working-class families.

Workers are collectively fighting back by launching various labor-oriented campaigns (“Moral Monday” or “Truthful Tuesday”) to dramatize the perilous plight of workers.

On its face, the issues that now confront the vast majority of workers may appear to be the unique consequence of current times: terminating collective bargaining rights; usurping the ability to unionize; lack of jobs; deplorable working conditions; inadequate pay, etc.

But, in truth, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Let’s not forget that this struggle for workers’ rights is nothing new.

In April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers – members of AFSCME Local 1733.

The strike was in many ways more than a dispute over workplace issues – it was struggle for dignity for predominately African American workers joining together in a union to create a voice on the job and in their community.

It was while supporting these striking union members that Dr. king was assassinated by a sniper on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Hotel.

Workers, and people in general, deserve to be treated with both dignity and respect.

Moreover, they’re entitled to a sustainable wage for their manual toil.

This was the very principle that Dr. King sacrificed his life for.