Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Remembering a Poor People’s Champion

Martin Luther King, Jr. quote

By Matte Kane, Union Representative


We all are aware of the Martin Luther King, Jr. in history books, who championed Civil Rights in 1960s, but we often overlook the Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the champion of the poor in America.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, while fighting for a $10 wage increase for garbage workers. These efforts by Dr. King were part of a broader and more sustained initiative known as the Poor Peoples Campaign. King was working to broaden the scope of the Civil Rights Movement, and his leadership team planned to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., where they would camp out on the National Mall until Congress passed legislation to eradicate poverty.

In his own words:

“The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have little, or nothing to lose.”

With over 43 million people living in poverty in the United States today, King’s ideas still hold much power and are still a political focus of organized labor in America. Last year, multiple labor unions led by the CWA and UFCW spent a good portion of 2018 breathing life into the 50th anniversary re-boot of Dr. King’s Poor Peoples Campaign, with weekly protests at State Capitals and culminating with the huge March on Washington that MLK had envisioned prior to his murder.

King was assassinated before he could lead the campaign. While the effort continues, the campaign hopes to meet King’s goals of poverty elimination, universal access to health care and education, and a guaranteed income that would keep all Americans above the poverty line.

As we move forward tackling the challenges of underemployment and wage disparities, there is a new wrinkle in our war on poverty: immigration reform. In the rhetoric-charged war on immigrants in our country, organized labor has become one of the true safety nets for the migrant working towards citizenship in the bureaucratic maze that is “legal immigration.” In the North Atlantic region of the country, it is estimated that almost one third of organized workers are currently on the path to citizenship. We sometimes forget that our struggle isn’t really about longer rest periods, shorter shifts or a variety of other contractual matters, but rather about remembering and energizing the war on poverty.

Keep his dream alive, come out …. volunteer!


Read more articles by Union Representative Matte Kane.