An unprecedented and timely collection of Dr. King’s speeches on labor rights and economic justice
People forget that Dr. King was every bit as committed to economic justice as he was to ending racial segregation. He fought throughout his life to connect the labor and civil rights movements, envisioning them as twin pillars for social reform. As we struggle with massive unemployment, a staggering racial wealth gap, and the near collapse of a financial system that puts profits before people, King’s prophetic writings and speeches underscore his relevance for today. They help us imagine King anew: as a human rights leader whose commitment to unions and an end to poverty was a crucial part of his civil rights agenda.
Covering all the civil rights movement highlights—Montgomery, Albany, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and Memphis—award-winning historian Michael K. Honey introduces and traces King’s dream of economic equality. Gathered in one volume for the first time, the majority of these speeches will be new to most readers. The collection begins with King’s lectures to unions in the 1960s and includes his addresses during his Poor People’s Campaign, culminating with his momentous “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in support of striking black sanitation workers in Memphis. Unprecedented and timely, “All Labor Has Dignity” will more fully restore our understanding of King’s lasting vision of economic justice, bringing his demand for equality right into the present.
National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 1967
Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, my brothers and sisters of the labor movement, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this afternoon and to be some little part of this extremely significant assembly. . . . I don’t feel that I come among strangers today for I feel that I’m an honorary member of many labor unions all across the country. (Applause) In fact, I think Cleve Robinson and Dave Livingston of District 65 in New York made me an honorary member a long time ago and I’ve been a 65er a long time. . . . I want to try to talk very honestly and frankly about this great problem, this great issue that we face as a result of the war in Vietnam. Some of my words may appear to be rather harsh, but they will be as harsh as truth and as gentle as a nonviolent devotee would be. (Laughter)
I want to use as a subject “The Domestic Impact of the War in America.” This question is historic because it is an authentic expression of the conscience of the labor movement. As has been said already this afternoon, tens of millions of Americans oppose the war in Vietnam. Never in our history has there been such a passionate, popular resistance to a current war. In addition to the millions upon millions of ordinary people, eminent scholars, distinguished senators, journalists, businessmen, professionals, students, and political leaders at all levels have protested the war and offered alternatives with an amazing tenacity and boldness.
voice was missing—the loud, clear voice of labor. The absence of that one voice was all the more tragic because it may be the decisive one for tipping the balance toward peace. Labor has been missing. For too long the moral appeal has been flickering, not shining as it did in its dynamic days of growth. This conference, a united expression of varied branches of labor, reaffirms that the trade union movement is part of forward-looking America. (Applause) That no matter what the formal resolutions of higher bodies may be, the troubled conscience of the working people cannot be stilled. This conference speaks for millions. You here today will long be remembered as those who had the courage to speak out and the wisdom to be right.
It is noteworthy that the Labor Party of Great Britain, which, of course, has no responsibility for our actions, nonetheless went on record on October 4 in a formal national resolution calling upon its Labor government to dissociate itself completely from U.S. policy in Vietnam. (Applause) It urged its government to persuade the United States to end the bombing of North Vietnam immediately, permanently, and unconditionally.
Now what are some of the domestic consequences of the war in Vietnam? It has made the Great Society a myth and replaced it with a troubled and confused society. The war has strengthened domestic reaction. It has given the extreme right, the anti-labor, anti-Negro, and antihumanistic forces a weapon of spurious patriotism to galvanize its supporters into reaching for power, right up to the White House. It hopes to use national frustration to take control and restore the America of social insecurity and power for the privileged. When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor [Ronald Reagan], can become a leading war-hawk candidate for the presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events. (Applause)
The war in Vietnam has produced a shameful order of priorities in which the decay, squalor, and pollution of the cities are neglected. And even though 70 percent of our population now lives in them, the war has smothered and nearly extinguished the beginnings of progress toward racial justice. The war has created the bizarre spectacle of armed forces of the United States fighting in ghetto streets in America while they are fighting in jungles in Asia. The war has so increased Negro frustration and despair that urban outbreaks are now an ugly feature of the American scene. How can the administration, with quivering anger, denounce the violence of ghetto Negroes when it has given an example of violence in Asia that shocks the world? (Applause) From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from "All Labor Has Dignity" by Martin Luther King, Jr., Edited and Introduced by Michael K. Honey. Copyright © 2011 by Martin Luther King, Jr. Estate. Excerpted by permission of Beacon Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Forging a Civil Rights–Labor Alliance in the Shadow of the Cold War
“ A look to the future”
—Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Highlander Folk School, Monteagle, Tennessee, September 2, 1957
“ It is a dark day indeed when men cannot work to implement the ideal of brotherhood without being labeled communist.”
— Statement of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in defense of the United Packinghouse Workers Union of America, Atlanta, Georgia, June 11, 1959
“ We, the Negro people and labor . . . inevitably will sow the seeds of liberalism.”
— Twenty-fifth Anniversary Dinner, United Automobile Workers Union, Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan, April 27, 1961
If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins
— AFL-CIO Fourth Constitutional Convention, Americana Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida, December 11, 1961
“I am in one of those houses of labor to which I come not to criticize, but to praise.”
— Thirteenth Convention, United Packinghouse Workers Union of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 21, 1962
“There are three major social evils . . . the evil of war, the evil of economic injustice, and the evil of racial injustice.”
— District 65 Convention, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Laurels Country Club, Monticello, New York, September 8, 1962
“Industry knows only two types of workers who, in years past, were brought frequently to their jobs in chains.”
— Twenty-fifth Anniversary Dinner, National Maritime Union, Americana Hotel, New York City, October 23, 1962
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
— Detroit March for Civil Rights, Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan, June 23, 1963
“The unresolved race question”
— Thirtieth Anniversary of District 65, RWDSU, Madison Square Garden, New York City, October 23, 1963
Standing at the Crossroads: Race, Labor, War, and Poverty
“The explosion in Watts reminded us all that the northern ghettos are the prisons of forgotten men.”
— District 65, RWDSU, New York City, September 18, 1965
“Labor cannot stand still long or it will slip backward.”
— Illinois State Convention AFL-CIO, Springfield, Illinois, October 7, 1965
Civil Rights at the Crossroads
— Shop Stewards of Local 815, Teamsters, and the Allied Trades Council, Americana Hotel, New York City, May 2, 1967
Domestic Impact of the War in Vietnam
— National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace, Chicago, Illinois, November 11, 1967
Down Jericho Road: The Poor People’s Campaign and Memphis Strike
“The other America”
— Local 1199 Salute to Freedom, Hunter College, New York City, March 10, 1968
“All labor has dignity.”
— American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) mass meeting, Memphis Sanitation Strike, Bishop Charles Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ, Memphis, Tennessee, March 18, 1968
To the Mountaintop: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
— AFSCME mass meeting, Memphis Sanitation Strike, Bishop Charles Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ, Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968
Epilogue: king and labor
Appendix: a note on the speeches