“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared these inspiring words in Memphis on April 3rd, 1968, while standing in support of striking sanitations workers — workers who were fighting for the same basic rights that are under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and dozens of other states across the nation. The next day, April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed.
Although Dr. King is gone, his dream for fairness and justice for all workers lives on. In honor of the principles he fought and died for, yesterday, on the 43rd anniversary of MLK’s death, working people came out en masse at more than 1,000 events across the nation, to honor the legacy of MLK by standing up for workers’ rights and speaking out against the right-wing attacks on the middle class. Those attacks have taken many different forms, from the attempt to strip workers of collective bargaining in Wisconsin to the right-wing city council in Costa Mesa proposing to lay off city workers and privatize their jobs to Republicans in our state legislature demanding deep cuts to schools, public safety and other programs while blocking a vote of the people on the state budget.
Upwards of 10,000 California workers and supporters participated in dozens of actions across the state, from Eureka to San Diego and just about everywhere in between.
In the Bay Area alone, unions and allies hosted more than a dozen rallies, marches, demonstrations and worksite actions. In San Francisco, more than 3,000 marched through the Financial District to ‘Stop the Corporate Greed’ and highlight the fact that working families are being scapegoated and forced to pay the price for the financial crisis that Wall Street caused. As one protest sign aptly read, “My union never sold anyone a sub-prime mortgage.”
More than 500 gathered outside of City Hall in Oakland, where Mayor Jean Quan (herself a former union organizer) led the crowd in a rousing chant, “Hey Hey look around, Oakland is a UNION town!”
National AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler and Wisconsin AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale joined the actions in San Francisco and Oakland. Bloomingdale revved up the crowd by announcing that Wisconsin workers have already succeeded in recalling one of the Wisconsin Senate Republicans who voted in favor of stripping public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.
No politician has the right to take away our unions! If they don't want to stand for middle class, we don't want them sitting in the capitol in Madison!
On the northern side of the Bay, more than 1,000 workers and supporters from Contra Costa, Napa, Solano and the North Bay marched from both sides of the Alfred Zampa (Carquinez) Bridge – the only bridge in the U.S. named for a blue-collar construction worker. On the southern side of the Bay, 1,200 rallied in San Jose, and hundreds more joined the action in Redwood City.
In Sacramento, more than 1,200 attended a screening of Martin Luther King’s “I Am A Man” speech, followed by an energetic rally at the Federal Building. Upwards of 500 workers rallied in Santa Cruz, and hundreds more hit the streets in Salinas, Watsonville, Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield and San Bernardino. In Fresno, 250 marched from City Hall to the County Building in support of public sector workers. And in Visalia, more than 200 joined the ‘March for the Middle Class.’
In downtown LA, on the heels of last week’s massive march that brought out more than 20,000 supporters, the LA County Federation of Labor this week hosted a different kind of event — a unique interfaith service commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. at First A.M.E. Church. More than 2,500 union members, faith leaders, community and civil rights activists and allies were in attendance.
In Orange County, union members attended a special breakfast in honor of Dr. King. That evening, they participated in a candle-light vigil. More than 600 attended a similar vigil in San Diego where attendees honored Dr. King and gathered around the theme of “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Workers not only committed to beating back the current attacks on middle-class families, but to act with common purpose to rebuild the middle class.
Although the events themselves varied, the underlying message remains the same – We Are One. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and we must stand together to defend our rights. Whether that attack is in Wisconsin, Costa Mesa or in the chambers of our state legislature in Sacramento, workers sent a clear message yesterday that we will stand together to defeat the corporate interests and politicians they bankroll who are attempting to destroy the middle class.