MLK advocated economic opportunity, trade unions

January 11, 2012

By Calvin Studivant
Alternate Vice President, Bus Department

As we follow the demonstrations of the 99 percent against the greed and wealth of America’s
top one percent, I am reminded of a 1967 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which Dr. King advocated a transformation “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

Each day jobs are exported from our shores, layoffs are announced, health care insurance is cancelled or scaled back, and pension plans are eliminated, I feel the pain of the millions of fellow Americans who are fit, willing and able to work, yet unable to find jobs — or, if they do, cannot earn enough to support a family, much less afford adequate medical care. They, and we, are rightfully angry when corporate profits become the most important objective.

Unemployment numbers hardly reflect the full pain in America, because unemployment numbers do not reflect the millions more who, after years of searching for a job, simply gave up looking, or the millions more in part-time employment without benefits because they are unable to find full-time jobs.

How much more painful it is to realize that employers, emboldened by the worker pain of our times, are using economic hardship to frighten those with jobs against voting “union, yes” in the workplace.

In Congress, we see lawmakers more interested in protecting tax breaks for the very wealthy than passing stimulus measures to put Americans back to work; and proposing legislation making it more difficult to join labor unions.

It is unconscionable that Congress eliminated funding for high-speed rail construction that could relieve the intolerable congestion at airports and on highways and create thousands of new jobs.

It is equally unconscionable that Congress resists requests for more flexible transit funding to allow a shift in budgets from buying new equipment to using some of those funds to retain and expand existing service that would end transit system layoffs.

As we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy this month, let us realize that he advocated not only racial harmony, but economic opportunity and trade unionism.

In response to anti-union politicians and employers, Dr. King preached: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining. We demand this fraud be stopped.”

As we approach Election Day this November, let us unite in support of labor-friendly candidates. Let us support our UTU Collective Bargaining Defense Fund and our UTU PAC. Let us do this in the non-violent but aggressive spirit of Dr. King.

The strength of working families today is at the ballot box. There is so much at stake, for ourselves, for our families and for the millions of Americans seeking a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. United in solidarity we can make a difference with our votes. There is  no better, more productive and more effective way to honor Dr. King’s legacy.