“Right to Work” Laws and the Legacy of Segregation

‘Right-to-Work’ and the Jim Crow Legacy That Affronts King’s Memory

By John Nichols

When the Congress of Industrial Organizations launched “Operation Dixie” in the aftermath of World War II, with the goal not just of organizing unions in the states of the old Confederacy but of ending Jim Crow discrimination, Southern segregationists moved immediately to establish deceptively named “right-to-work” laws.

These measures were designed to make it dramatically harder for workers to organize unions and for labor organizations to advocate for workers on the job site or for social change in their communities and states.

In short order, all the states that had seceded from the Union in order to maintain slavery had laws designed to prevent unions from fighting against segregation. The strategy worked. Southern states have far weaker unions than Northern states, and labor struggles have been far more bitter and violent in the South than in other parts of the country. It was in a right-to-work state, Tennessee, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while supporting the struggle of African-American sanitation workers to organize a union and have it recognized by the city of Memphis.

Continue reading “Right to Work” Laws and the Legacy of Segregation

Honor the Message, Honor the Man

Occupy: Resurrecting

Rev. King’s Final Dream

By Leo Gerard
United Steel Workers

In public squares across the country, Occupy protesters honor Rev. Martin Luther King’s memory on this holiday devoted to him. Their tribute is more meaningful and enduring than the granite monument that President Obama dedicated to Rev. King in Washington, D.C. last year.

That’s because the Occupiers are pressing for a cause — economic justice — that Rev. King had embraced in the months before his assassination in 1968. And they’re pursuing it with the technique he advocated – nonviolent protest.

Rev. King’s final crusade, his Poor People’s Campaign, and the Occupiers’ championing the nation’s 99 percent are remarkable in their similarities. It’s tragic that in the 44 years since Rev. King launched his campaign for an economic Bill of Rights that the nation’s poor and middle class have lurched backward instead of forward. It’s hopeful, however, that a whole new generation of idealists has taken up the dream of economic justice.

In the year before Rev. King was gunned down, he persuaded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to join him in a movement devoted to securing for all citizens the basic needs that would enable them to pursue the American Dream, to pursue happiness. He believed every able-bodied person should have access to a job with a living wage. And he believed every American should have decent housing and affordable health care. Without economic security, he said, no man is free.

Continue reading Honor the Message, Honor the Man