1:16 PM Eastern - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The 99% Must Remember: The Issue is Injustice #default

They were 1,300 African American men employed as sanitation workers for the Memphis (Tenn.) Department of Public Works and they said enough is enough.

They were forced to work late nights without overtime pay. Many were paid so little that they relied on food stamps to feed their families. They endured working conditions so hazardous that two workers were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck.

In an atmosphere of sanctioned racial discrimination and economic injustice, these men unanimously decided to strike for job safety and overtime pay. On the night before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last speech - "I've Been to the Mountaintop" - to the workers offering his full support, strategy and words of encouragement.

"The issue is injustice," said Dr. King. He went on to say: "The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to keep attention on that."

The 99% must remember these words and these ideas.

Today, extremist Republicans, powerful corporations and the wealthiest 1% are dominating our economy and our politics. Meanwhile, the 99% are still struggling through a slow economic recovery and constant attacks on workers' rights, voting rights, immigrants' rights and even the freedom to protect individual healthcare.

The influence of the 1% was clearly reflected in the House Republican budget, which passed along party lines last week. It gives the wealthiest 1% more than $3 trillion in tax handouts, and cuts more than $1 trillion from programs on which hardworking families rely. The Republican budget severely cuts Medicare and Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and also repeals the Affordable Care Act. 

Instead of focusing on ways to rebuild America's middle class and reward hard work, the Republican budget significantly lowers tax rates for the ultra-rich and giant, profitable corporations such as General Electric. It also preserves subsidies to oil and gas companies such as Pepco that consistently raise rates and turn off the lights of its customers. 

But equal justice for all is knocking on the door. 

Workers such as Margueritte Johnson, a homecare worker and SEIU member who grew up in Memphis during some of America's darkest hours, understand Republicans want to turn back the clock. Last month, she marched with thousands from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., when she found out how the state government has legitimized racial profiling against immigrants and is suppressing voting rights with new restrictive voter I.D. laws. 

In Cleveland, janitors who clean the offices of major financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase, US Bank and Wells Fargo, are calling on banks and corporate executives to do their part to fix our economy--to create good jobs, raise wages and pay their fair share in taxes. 

Extremist Republicans across the country will continue to push misdirected priorities. They will continue to lead our nation down the wrong path and do nothing to address income equality. They will continue their attempts to reverse the economic justice and the civil rights gains the Memphis sanitation workers and so many others fought to achieve and that Dr. King gave his life for.

Like the Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968, hundreds of thousands of workers like Margueritte and the Cleveland janitors believe in the dignity and worth of workers, their families and their communities. As we remember Dr. King's determination to achieve economic justice for African American workers, we must also remember the importance of standing together and uniting under one shared purpose. Like Dr. King said, "The issue is injustice."

Learn more about Dr. King's support for collective bargaining

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