How Do We Treat Our Workers? – The Issue To Remember On This Anniversary Of Dr. King’s Death

Like magic, my trash is whisked away week after week.  It is picked up from behind our house, in the alley.  I have seen the men who pick it up only rarely, but I am glad to wave and nod my thanks.  They do wonderful work.  Hard, physical work.

In Memphis in 1968, if you were a sanitation worker and you were African American, your job was harder just because you were black, and you were absolutely treated unfairly. Black workers were paid less than white workers for doing the exact same work.  And, if the workers were sent home for bad weather (I write this the morning after some very devastating weather in the DFW area), the black workers were paid for two hours of work, but the white workers were paid for a full eight hour shift.  And, all the overtime hours went first to the white workers, even if an available black worker had worked for a much longer time at the same job.

And so, the black sanitation workers were on strike.  And it was getting ugly…

In other words, the work of Dr. King was far from over.

It still is.

Just this morning, I read about changes in China at factories like Foxcon, due to inhumane working conditions.  And, there are growing numbers of stories about the working conditions at “fulfillment centers,” like the ones owned by Amazon.  But in all of these current stories, as bad as conditions might be, there is not the unequal treatment based on race that there was in the 1960s and before.  (At least, not overtly).  Martin Luther King, Jr. made a difference with his life.

On this morning that we remember Dr. King’s death, let’s remember that he cared about the working conditions, and the opportunities, of all people.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote.

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968

And on the night before he died, he said these words, in Memphis, in support of the striking workers, (read the full text of the speech here), worth remembering again:

We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through…

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

One thought on “How Do We Treat Our Workers? – The Issue To Remember On This Anniversary Of Dr. King’s Death

  1. Randy Mayeux Post author

    I fully agree — the best piece to read by Dr. King is his Letter from Birmingham Jail. That document includes: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” quoted in the post above.
    I certainly agree — the value of each human life, in all areas of society — that is the underlying value that leads us to care about workers, students, and/or everyone else.


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