Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Worker's Champion

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, we would like to share with you the following article reprinted from February 20, 1991, Vol 52, No. 2 Edition of Electrical Union World:


History is written by the winners and revised by the survivors. So don’t be surprised if you ask anyone under 40 years of age about Dr. Martin Luther King’s connection with labor and they come up blank.

Since U.S. school teach little if anything about labor history, nearly two generations of Americans have never learned that civil rights for black and white American Workers was high on King’s agenda.

“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief to the destitute and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life.”

And here is another quote our children will never hear from politicians or educators:

The captains of industry did not lead the transformation to social progress; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shore not only itself but the whole society.”

Dr. King was quick to see through the “right-to-work” scam. Here’s how he described it:

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as “right-to-work”. It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. …Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are few and there are no civil rights”

Did Dr. King think union representation was a valuable commodity? Listen to this:

“Union meant strength and union recognition mean the employer’s acknowledgement of that strength, and the two meant the opportunity to fight again for further gains with united and multiplied power. As contract followed contract, the pay envelope fattened and fringe benefits and job rights grew to the mature work standards of today. All of these started with winning first union recognition”

And finally, unionism was still on his mind just hours before his death in Memphis in April, 1968, when he declared:

“Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We have got to see it through. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

MLK Letter
This letter was written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. on October 6, 1960 thanking him for his assistance and support. Also mentioned in the letter is renowned poet and important figure in the American Civil Rights movement, Maya Angelou who at the time was Dr. King's Co-ordinator of his New York Office.