Monthly Archives: January 2011


“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Martin Luther King ,jr.

On January 17th, 2011, the nation will honor the birthday of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  What will this day truly mean to us?  As union, we should remember, extol and inform the membership of the service he gave to union members. He understood that a living wage was a civil right.

During the 1960s, King had committed himself to building a bridge between the civil rights and labor movements.  He was invited to address the AFL-CIO’s annual convention in 1961, King observed that “the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

In 1968, King and the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic injustice.  This campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C. demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the  nation.  King traveled around the  country assembling a multiracial coalition of activist for the poor that would march on Washington and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created a bill of rights for poor Americans.

Many Americans today know that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, but few know why he was there.

Several major unions, including the United Auto Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers, supported the civil rights groups, their sit-ins, freedom rides and helped organize the famous 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Memphis’ civil rights and union leaders invited King to their city to help draw national attention to the garbage strike.

The strike began over the mistreatment of 22 sewer workers who reported for work on January 31, 1968, and were sent home when it began raining.  White employees were not sent home.  When the rain stopped after an hour or so, they continued to work and were paid for the full day, while the black workers lost a day’s pay.  The next day, two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning city garbage truck compressor.  The reason the workers were crushed, was because they had to ride the back of the truck.  As African-Americans, they were not allowed to sit in the truck.

These two incidents were typical representations of the workers’ long-standing grievances.  Wages averaged about $1.70 per hour.  40% of the workers also qualified for welfare to supplement their poverty-level salaries. There were no  health care benefits, pensions, or vacations.  They worked in filthy conditions, and lacked the basics, like a place to eat and shower.  They were required to haul leaky garbage cans that spilled maggots and debris on them.  White supervisors called them “boy” and arbitrarily sent them home without pay for minor violations that they overlooked when white workers did the same thing.

On February 12, 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the city recognize their union (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME) and negotiate to resolve their grievances.  They also demanded a pay increase to $2.35 an hour, overtime pay, and merit promotions without regard to race.

The city, while using non-union workers and supervisors to pick up garbage downtown, from hospitals, and in residential areas, still could not keep up with garbage pick up and it resulted in thousands of tons of backed up garbage.   The NAACP sponsored all-night vigils and pickets at City Hall.  On February 23, 1,500 people — strikers and their supporters — packed City Hall chambers, but the all-white city council voted to back the mayor’s refusal to recognize the union.

Local ministers formed a citywide group to support the strikers.  500 white labor unionists from Memphis and other Tennessee cities joined black ministers and sanitation workers in their daily march downtown.

On several occasions, the police attacked the strikers with clubs and mace.  They  even arrested strike leaders for jaywalking.  On March 5, 117 strikers and supporters were arrested for sitting in at city hall.  Six days later, hundreds of students skipped high school to participate in a march led by black ministers.  Two students were arrested.

The protest was escalating, yet the city establishment dug in its heels.  Mayor Loeb and City Attorney Frank B. Gianotti convinced a local judge to issue an injunction prohibiting the strike and picketing.  The union and its supporters  refused to end their protests.  Several union leaders — AFSCME’s international president Jerry Wurf, Local 1733 President T.O. Jones, and national staffers William Lucy and P. J. Ciampa — were cited for contempt, sentenced to 10 days in jail, fined $50, and freed pending appeal.

With tensions rising and no compromise in sight, local ministers and AFSCME invited Dr. King to Memphis to stimulate the local movement, lift the strikers’ dwindling spirits, and encourage them to remain nonviolent.  March 18, King spoke at a rally attended by 17,000 people calling for a citywide march. His speech triggered national media attention, and became the catalyst for the rest of the labor movement to expand its support for the strikers.

King returned to Memphis on Thursday, March 28, to lead the march.  The police moved into crowds with night sticks, mace, tear gas, and gunfire.  The police arrested 280 people, 60 were injured and a 16-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot to death.  The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in.  The next day, 300 sanitation workers and supporters marched peacefully and silently to City Hall — escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three large military trucks, and dozens of Guardsmen with bayonets fixed.  President Lyndon Johnson and AFL-CIO President George Meany offered their help in resolving the dispute, but Mayor Loeb turned them down.

King then went to Washington D.C. and gave a speech on March 31, 1968 at the National Cathedral **, before returning to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 rd to address a rally to pressure city officials to negotiate a compromise solution to the strike. That night, at the Mason Temple — packed with over 10,000 black workers and residents, ministers, white union members, white liberals, and students — King delivered what would turn out to be his last speech***. He emphasized the linked fate of the civil rights and labor movements:

Memphis Negroes are almost entirely a working people. Our needs are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor’s demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.



The next day, James Earl Ray assassinated King as he stood on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Hotel.

As Time magazine noted at the time: “Ironically, it was the violence of Martin Luther King’s death rather than the nonviolence of his methods that ultimately broke the city’s resistance” and led to the strike settlement.  President Johnson ordered federal troops to Memphis and instructed Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds to mediate the conflict and settle the strike.  The following week, Coretta Scott King, and dozens of national figures led a peaceful memorial march through downtown Memphis in tribute to Dr. King and in support of the strike.  Local business leaders, tired of the boycott and demonstrations, urged Loeb to settle with the strikers.  On April 16, union leaders and city officials reached an agreement.  The city council passed a resolution recognizing the union.  The contract included union dues check-off, a grievance procedure, and wage increases of 10 cents per hour, starting May 1 and another five cents in September.  Members of AFSCME Local 1733 approved the agreement and unanimously ended their strike.

Labor has now become the new Negro exiled in his own land, living  in “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift“.  But “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.  And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Labor has now been given that promissory note, that bad check that came back marked “insufficient funds”.  We are now up against a corporate controlled government who uses its’ owned media  to drip from its’ lips the words “interposition” and “nullification”.  But we must still have that hope, that faith, that dream.

Dr. King would want us to honor his memory by continuing the struggle for human dignity, workers’ rights, living wages and social justice everywhere!

Penny McQuaig


“This is our moment.  To reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth; that out of many, we are one.  That while we breathe, we hope and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.”

President Barack Obama

In order to understand solidarity and how to achieve it, we must first identify the enemy.  The enemy is that hostile unit or force that is harmful to our cohesion – THE CORPORATION.  How did we go from the labor movement, civil rights movement, economic fairness, the endeavor to achieve social justice and opportunity for all, to the supplantation of new breeds of cynical hustlers who trade in fear: color-coded fear of foreign terror; fear of losing your job, home, health insurance, fear for fear itself? What happened to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  When did it get replaced by torture, repression of dissent and the pursuit of an empire?  We need to know because it happened on our watch.

How did “We the people” become “They the corporations“? How did it happen?  How did the scaremonger-striving to impose both a right-wing and corporate agenda-convince us to listen to their scary worldview story that other people are evil strangers and are to be treated with distrust?    No more Love thy neighbor.” What is also essential to the formula is the notion of every man for himself, and everyone must grab as much as they can, as quickly as they can-while the grabbing [getting] is good.

So the plutocrats, autocrats, theocrats and kleptocrats spin the tales of aggrandized barons of free trade; the rise of dot-com, Enron and derivative billionaires, while their newspapers, radio and television stations – privately owned by only 6 corporations* – extolled the privatization of all things public; while unionists and environmentalists are trivialized and now demonized.  They have now zeroed in and ramped up the attack on Public Unions, by outright lying about their salaries and pensions, calling them greedy and robbers.   Yet they wallow steadfastly in stories of “family values,” while proselytizing against socialistic concerns for the larger human family.  This is to distract the public into believing that its okay to take from the union worker, your neighbor, your brother, your sister, your mother, your father etc., to disguise the tax breaks to the rich while union workers wages have actually been stagnate for the last decade.  So now New York Gov. Cuomo comes in and freezes the pay of the public worker for 1 year.  Yet we still haven’t stood up, so I can assure  you that Private unions  are next.

How did we sit on the side lines and watch while “The Powers That Be” and their political enablers continue to turn out carefully constructed, focus-group-tested reports that maintain fear?  It’s only aspiration is to make us think that what they want is the same as what we want. So where are our voices as the progressive story of America?  Where is the ongoing message that will lead us toward a just and hope filled society?  Barack Obama came along and re-awakened that sense of justice and hope not seen since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A dream Speech.  But once he became President Barack Obama, we again became the bewildered herd, listening again to sound bites of engineered news passed off to us as “BREAKING NEWS:” The Pres. fails to…. or  Obama angers…. or No compromise….etc.In the mist of all of this manipulation, the citizenry repeats, what has been sold to them as news, to the next unsuspecting recipient who will then defend it with vim and vigor, while passing it on as fact instead of propaganda.

The sentiment went from hope to “I think I’m going to vote for a republican this time because he didn’t keep his promise.”  While giving this administration less than 2 years to undo the damage started by President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation and system breakdown under the final onslaught of tax cuts and deregulation by Pres. Bush , 29 million of us did not bother to go to the polls to vote in the mid-term elections so that he could continue to work on what he promised.  Neither did we begin to understand that he cannot accomplish this without our involvement.  Government is not a spectator sport.  We must be involved in the process.The people at the top who are the puppeteers of Corporate America and the Republican party continue to manipulate the truth through media, in order to advance their suppressive, covetous, and anti-democratic agenda.  We have to begin to plan to take back our government from these corporations that now control them. In order to do so, I believe that we have to remove the corporate money from our U.S. Congress and Senate.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court has now given personhood to corporations, now allowing unlimited amounts of money to be spent in the corruption of our government, the only way to undo that damage would be to amend the constitution which we are not YET united enough to do.  So in the meantime we must begin to push and insist on campaign finance reform.  With this method equal amounts of our tax dollars are given to each qualified candidate and they must use that money to build a campaign. Since the airwaves belong to the commons, they should receive free air time (to be explained later) so that the public can hear their message. This way the congress and senate can be about the business that we sent them to Washington to do and not spend 5-6 hours out of each working day on the phone raising monies from these corporations as they do now in order to be re-elected.

Simultaneously, we must push for card check [The Employee Free Choice Act]  to be passed.  Our membership is dwindling by the day, and there are millions of workers who want to establish a union.  This bill would allow a union to be certified as the official union to bargain with the employer if they get a majority of signatures from the workers.  This would take away the right of the employer to demand additional, separate ballots from over half the employees who had already signed the petition.  It would also require employers and unions to enter binding arbitration to produce a collective agreement at least 120 days after a union has been recognized.  And lastly, the bill would increase penalties for employers who discriminate against an employee for union involvement.

These two must be at the TOP of OUR agenda because you cannot get anything done when Corporate money controls the people who you send to represent your needs.

On January 5, 2011 the 112th congress will be in session.  New rules will be voted on by the Republican majority.  Among those new rules: each new piece of legislation will now have to include a statement regarding its constitutionality – (it would behoove us to get a copy of the constitution*) – while the Democrats previous rule known as PAYGO requiring all new legislation to be paid for by cuts to other programs – will be dismantled to exclude tax cuts for rich people having to be paid for.  But the most brazen new rule created by the Republican majority is one that gives the new Republicans Chairman of the Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, “stunning and unprecedented” powers, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Under this new rule – if there is a disagreement between the House and Senate Budget Resolutions – which is likely this year in a divided Congress – then Chairman Ryan will have the power to set spending levels completely on his own – without debate. Ryan has already made his intentions clear – he published a memo entitled “Roadmap for America’s Future” in which he calls for the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, handing both over to Wall Street who helped fund his election campaign.  If these new rules pass – Paul Ryan will become one of the most powerful men in congress.  He will be able to carry out his corporate agenda with just the stroke of the pen and without debate.


These are the things we must pay attention to.  These are the need to know things.  We need to know how the corporation -[the enemy] – works in confluence with our government to get legislation written to favor their dominance through deregulation and union destruction.  I will be showing a documentary that explains the inner workings of a corporation and is ironically called  “The Corporation”.  When you see this film you will get an unprecedented inside view of the purpose, functionality and morality of the corporation.  You will then begin to understand what we are up against and then become part of the planning to WIN.  So lets hear your opinion on these issues.  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you have ideas?  We are in this together and we must learn together.  WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?


** Our entire media (newspaper, radio and  television/cable/satellite) is owned by these 6 corporations: Disney Corp., CBS Corp.(old Viacom/CBS), GE(General Electric Corp.), Time Warner Inc., News Corp. (Rupert Murdoch/Fox Broadcasting Co.) and National Amusements (new Viacom).

If we don’t stop this control over our information, we can soon add the internet to the list!


What are you thinking? Lets hear it!


Penny McQuaig