As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must remember that Dr. King was martyred while fighting for the rights of sanitation workers in Memphis.
Dr. King understood and preached the deep connection between civil rights and workers’ rights. He fought for both, and it’s clear we have so much more to do to carry on his fight.
He said to AFSCME workers on strike in 1968: “Whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth…All labor has dignity.”
But for far too many people in this country today, hard work isn’t paying off like it should.
And as we work to change that, we must acknowledge that it’s even worse for workers of color – they face the same economic challenges at even higher rates, and they face those challenges while also dealing with racism that makes it even harder to get ahead, no matter how hard they work.
Our efforts to carry on Dr. King’s legacy must encompass fighting all the injustices of racism, both blatant and systemic.
And our efforts must include fighting demagogues who seek to divide working people. They divide to distract from the powerful and the privileged taking more and more of the fruits of workers’ labor for themselves.
Instead, we fight for all people.
We fight for higher wages for all workers – not just Wall Street CEOs.
We fight for quality public schools for all children and we fight for health care for all Americans, not just the healthy and the wealthy.
We fight for sentencing reforms and other reforms that result in justice for all people – not just those with the privilege that lets them navigate a rigged system.
We know how much work we still must do to close the yawning gap between our ideals, and the realities of our justice system.
And fixing that must also mean fighting for the right of every single American to vote. We can’t have justice for all workers in a system that excludes voices of color.
Dr. King understood the importance of uniting all working people – black and white, middle-class and working-class, urban and rural. He told those workers in Memphis, “you are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Let us heed Dr. King’s words.
We are all created equal, and all workers deserve to share in the great wealth and prosperity they create for this country. No exceptions.
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) represents the state in the U.S. Senate.