MLK: Workers Advocate

This week we celebrate two important dates significant to all Americans.    On August 28th, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.    On September 2nd, we will celebrate Labor Day.    These two events, however, share more than their close proximity in dates.

Many of us forget that Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong and vocal advocate for worker rights. On April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination, Dr. King addressed a rally in support of striking Memphis sanitation workers, delivering his famous, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.    Three weeks earlier, he had shown similar support for the striking Memphis laborers at a rally with 17,000 supporters.   During that March 18, 1968 speech, he reminded participants, “If you will judge anything here in this struggle, you’re commanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor.”   Unfortunately for those workers, the strike was prolonged by a defiant Memphis mayor who used the legal system and courts to issue injunctions, citations and have participants arrested.

A half century ago, Dr. King and many other brave Americans reminded us that civil rights and workers’ rights walk hand in hand down the same path to equality.   As Dr. King stated, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

Does the civil rights struggle continue today?

Texans live in a so-called “right to work” state, yet workers basically have no right to work.  What we do have are low wages, no job security, limited or no health or retirement benefits, forced arbitrations, oppositions to collective bargaining and unions, and a pro-business Texas Supreme Court which has chipped away at employee protections and have shielded corporations from jury verdicts.

Makes you wonder if we have progressed as much as we thought in the past 50 years.    Happy Labor Day.


“Never forgot that freedom is not something that must be demanded by the oppressor.  It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed.”

–         Martin Luther King, Jr.


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John Wenke is an Employment Law Attorney practicing in the area of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. Mr. Wenke represents employees in Texas and New Mexico, including but not limited to El Paso,  Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Pecos, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Del Rio.