Martin Luther King Jr.—A Friend to Unions and Workers

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Repeated calls for a federal plan to put Americans back to work rung out throughout the “Jobs, Justice and the American Dream,” symposium sponsored by the AFL-CIO and the King Center on Aug. 26.

With President Obama poised to lay out his jobs plan in early September, symposium speakers and panelists agreed that few things were more important to the nation’s economic security than a robust jobs program.

Martin Luther King III, who serves as president and CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, reminded the audience that his father stood with organized labor for the right to decent jobs with decent pay. “Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of the American labor movement and strongly supported unions.”

Noting that economic inequality is worse now than it was when King was alive, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said: “Rising [economic] inequality is making it harder to hear Dr. King’s message of economic justice.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was often by King’s side during the struggle for civil rights, urged symposium participants to “demand that our president and Congress spend the money it takes to put people back to work.”

Kathleen Hofman 

Lewis pointed out that the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, was the late union leader and AFL-CIO vice president A. Philip Randolph. Organized labor and the civil rights movement are like a glove on a hand, Lewis said. “We go together.”

The symposium’s opening panel included Cincinnati Federation of Teachers member Kathleen Hofmann (pictured at left). An elementary school music teacher, Hofmann has been on the frontlines of the battle to defeat the anti-union agenda of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Noting that labor and its allies were able to collect 1.3 million signatures in support of a ballot referendum that would give Ohioans an opportunity to repeal the anti-worker collective bargaining law signed by the governor, Hofmann said people throughout the state are outraged by Kasich’s actions—“not just union members.”

She joined others on the panel, including out-of-work painter Davon Lomax and Bruce Western, director of the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard, in supporting a national jobs program. “Putting people back to work and everybody paying their fair share of taxes” are essential to addressing the nation’s economic woes, Hofmann said.

Held at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., the symposium was presented in conjunction with the unveiling of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, which had to be postponed due to the threat of Hurricane Irene. [Roger Glass/photo by Kaveh Sadari/Page One]

August 26, 2011