‘All Labor That Uplifts Humanity Has Dignity and Importance’: MLK Jr. on Justice and Work

Jeremy Gantz

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[Black Americans’] needs are identical with labor’s needs: Decent wages, fair working conditions, liveable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community…. The coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the blacks and forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined.”

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it is called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it is called a Depression.”

—Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, March 1968

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.”

The South is labor’s other deep menace. Lower wage rates and improved transportation have magnetically attracted industry. The wide-spread, deeply-rooted Negro poverty in the South weakens the wage scale there for the white as well as the Negro. Beyond that, a low wage structure in the South becomes a heavy pressure on higher wages in the North.”

Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965

We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages. People are always talking about menial labor. But if you’re getting a good (wage) as I know that through some unions they’ve brought it up…that isn’t menial labor. What makes it menial is the income, the wages.

Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, March 1968

It is in this area (politics) of American life that labor and the Negro have identical interests. Labor has grave problems today of employment, shorter hours, old age security, housing and retraining against the impact of automation. The Congress and the Administration are almost as indifferent to labor’s program as they are toward that of the Negro. Toward both they offer vastly less than adequate remedies for the problems which are a torment to us day after day.”

UAW District 65 Convention, September 1962

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Jeremy Gantz is an In These Times contributing editor working at Time magazine.

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