1968 Memphis Sanitation Strikers Inducted Into Labor Hall Of Fame

Monday, May 2, 2011

(Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO)

In an emotional ceremony, punctuated by several standing ovations, the U.S. Labor Department inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers last Friday whose 1968 strike over the right to join a union and collective bargaining was Martin Luther King’s last campaign. King was killed in the midst of the strike. This is the first time the Hall of Fame  has inducted a group of workers. U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (below) said the sanitation workers were “ordinary men who took an extraordinary stand for what is right.” The 1,300 workers walked out in 1968 after two of their co-workers were crushed on the job. They withstood beatings, harassment and firings to gain a raise and win recognition of their union, AFSCME Local 1733. Their simple slogan ”I Am A Man” has become a labor history icon. Solis related that President Obama, who met with eight of the strikers Friday morning, told them he stood on their shoulders and he never would have been president if it were not for their courageous actions. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, a King aide who was in Memphis in 1968, said the men represented not only themselves, but all poor people. Alvin Turner (above, 2nd from left), one of the strikers, drew strong parallels between the problems they faced in 1968 and the attacks on public employees today in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states.  He said in times like these, it is essential workers stick together. He pointed out that not one of the 1,300 sanitation workers crossed the line in 1968. “If it hadn’t been for unity, we never would have won the strike,” he said. “I see they’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of poor people. They’re staring at the top with the teachers, but they’re coming down to the little man. I go to union meetings and only 10 people are there. They’re coming after you and if you don’t start coming to union meetings, they’re gonna get you.” – report by James Parks/AFL-CIO Now Blog; photos by Adam Wright  


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