Thursday, January 17, 2008

Celebrating the Dream of Dignity

The AFL-CIO will hold its 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observance on January 17–21 in Memphis, Tennessee, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike. This strike involved hundreds of men who dared to take a stand for dignity and respect on the job by seeking a voice at work with AFSCME Local 1733. The strike also marked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final campaign. He was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 while supporting these striking AFSCME workers.

Wages and working conditions for Memphis sanitation workers were atrocious. The average pay was $1.80 an hour, so low that forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare and many worked second jobs. They lifted leaky garbage tubs into decrepit trucks and were treated unfairly. During foul weather, black workers were sent home without pay while the white workers were paid a full day. There were neither benefits, vacation, nor pension. Martin Luther King, Jr.came to Memphis to support our AFSCME brothers and sisters and to plead the justice of their cause.

In Memphis, the labor movement will come together to remember Dr. King and the sanitation workers strike. We will join with our allies at the observance to advance the agenda for civil and workers’ rights and to carry on Dr. King's legacy through a program of education and community service.

The AFL-CIO Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance weekend will begin on Thursday, January 17 at noon and will end on Monday, January 21 following the morning MLK parade. Friday, January 18 will be a day of commemoration and reflection on the Memphis Sanitation Workers courageous strike. On that day we will also engage in political training to prepare ourselves for the important 2008 elections. Saturday will be dedicated to community service.

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