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PORTSIDELABOR  January 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDELABOR January 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Two Pieces for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 23:59:04 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (255 lines)

Two Pieces for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

(1) King Would Have Stood by the Workers
(2) We Twisted King's Dream, So We Live With His Nightmare

(1) 

King Would Have Stood by the Workers
By Harold Eisenstein
Albany Times-Union
January 17, 2011

http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/King-would-have-stood-by-the-workers-961327.php

As we observe the 25th anniversary of the Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. holiday today, public employees and
their unions are being charged with responsibility for
the recession and massive state and federal deficits.
The claim is that their salaries, benefits and pensions
have resulted in taxpayers being forced to pay higher
and higher taxes.

In April 1968, King went to Memphis, Tenn., to support
striking city sanitation workers. On April 4, he was
assassinated. Why did he feel it was important to go to
Memphis and support those public employees struggling
for respect and decent working conditions?

The answer can be found in a speech he gave to the
Illinois AFL-CIO convention in October 1965.

He stated:

"The labor movement was the principal force that
transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.
Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform
gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions,
government relief for the destitute, and above all new
wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a
tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead
this transformation; they resisted it until they were
overcome."

King recognized that labor's struggles for a more
tolerable and just life benefitted not only the workers
in those unions, "but the whole society."

His truth explains why Wall Street and its allies want
to weaken or even eliminate unions. It is the unions
that lead the fight to reduce income inequality and
that are fighting for a better and more just America.
Wall Street, its arrogance inflated with the recent
trillion dollar bailout and the continuance of the
Bush-era tax cuts, wants no interference with its plans
to continue to transfer more and more of our nation's
wealth to the wealthiest few.

[For the rest of the article please see the link above]

Harold Eisenstein is a longtime union activist and
attorney.

(2)

We Twisted King's Dream, So We Live With His Nightmare
by Tim Wise
Colorlines
January 17, 2011

http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/01/tim_wise_kings_legacy_took_a_beating_in_2010.html

It's been a rough year for Martin Luther King, Jr., and
for his legacy.

First, as has become an annual ritual, politicians went
to church or some other civic gathering for last year's
King Day celebration, even as they continued to support
public policies that he found abhorrent. Whether
continuing to prosecute a seemingly endless and most
definitely murderous war, or by supporting cuts to
vital social programs, there is no shortage of
hypocrisy when it comes to proclaiming fealty to King's
vision in words, while besmirching it in deeds, all at
once.

Then of course came the venal cooptation of King's
crowning public moment-the 1963 March on Washington-by
Glenn Beck, this past August. Insisting that it was
time to "reclaim the civil rights movement," because
conservatives were the ones who "did it in the first
place"-an inversion of history so grotesque as to
confound the imagination-Beck inspired a gathering of
tens of thousands of disaffected (mostly white)
reactionaries, likely none of whom had been involved
with the civil rights movement, but who now would be
encouraged to see themselves as the inheritors of
King's "dream." This, even as they clamored for more
tax cuts for wealthy folks and the repeal of health
care reform, all at the behest of a guy who once said
he would like to kill Rep. Charlie Rangel with a
shovel. I will leave it to others far more creative
than myself to determine how one might square any of
that with the teachings or beliefs of Dr. King. Then
again, given the recent statement by a Defense
Department spokesperson who asserted that King would
have supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,
anything is possible.

And this is especially true in a nation that has so
thoroughly sanitized and compartmentalized King's
message, and King himself, within the pantheon of
national heroes. We have turned King into a milquetoast
moderate whose agenda went little beyond the ability to
sit next to white people on a bus. We've stripped away
from the public remembrance of this man his calls for
income redistribution, his insistence that the United
States has become the "greatest purveyor of violence in
the world today," and his proclamation that poverty,
racism and militarism are the "triple evils" that
America's rulers have not the courage to confront.

When conservatives can effectively twist King's
singular line about judging people on the "content of
their character" rather than the color of their skin
into a reason to oppose affirmative action, even though
he openly supported such efforts in his writings and
interviews in 1961, 1963, 1965 and again in 1967, it
ought not surprise us that folks are a bit confused
about who King was, and about the principles for which
he stood.

The way in which we have forgotten or been misled about
King's legacy is never more apparent than when asking
children what they know about his message. Sadly, when
I have done so, the most typical answer given is that
King stood for not "hitting people," or "not hitting
back if they hit you first," or that his message would
be, were he alive today, "don't join a gang." While all
these things are true I suppose, they rather miss the
point.

After all, King's commitment to non-violence had a
purpose larger than non-violence itself. Non-violence
was, for King and the movement, a means to a larger end
of social, political and economic justice. Non-violence
was a tactic meant to topple racism and economic
exploitation, and lead the world away from cataclysmic
warfare. That so many young people seem not to get that
part, because teachers are apparently loathe to give it
to them, renders King's non-violent message no more
particularly important than the banal parental reminder
that we should "use our words" to resolve conflicts,
rather than our fists. Thanks, but if that message were
all it took to get a national holiday named for you, my
mother would have had her own years ago.

So we compartmentalize the non-violence message, much
as we compartmentalize books about King and the
movement in that section of the bookstore established
for African-American history; much as we have
compartmentalized those streets named for the man,
locating them only in the blackest and often poorest
parts of town.

Were this tendency to render King divisible on multiple
levels-abstracting non-violence from justice,
colorblindness from racial equity, and public service
from radical social transformation-merely an academic
matter, it would hardly merit our concern. But its
impact is greater than that. Our only hope as a society
is to see the connections between the issues King was
addressing and our current predicament, to see that
what affects part of the whole affects the greater
body, to understand that racism and racial inequity
must be of concern to us all, because they pose risks
to us all.

For instance, were it not for the indifference to black
and brown suffering that animated much of the early
non-response to the subprime mortgage crisis (which
manifested initially in the mid '90s, but received
little attention and even less government action),
perhaps steps would have been taken to prevent what has
become, now, a full-blown housing collapse. But rather
than seeing the exploitation of low income folks of
color as a national emergency, most politicians and
media ignored it, or blamed the victims of predatory
lending for being too stupid to read the fine print on
their loan documents. As such, the lenders branched
out, unregulated for the most part, into whiter and
middle-class communities, where they took advantage of
folks there, too. Now, millions of middle class white
folks find themselves on the verge of economic
catastrophe, precisely because the suffering of the
other was ignored for so long, and eventually, as
suffering is wont to do, metastasized.

Likewise, if double-digit unemployment had been viewed
as the emergency it is, when only people of color were
experiencing it (as they typically have been, in good
times or bad, year after year throughout this century),
perhaps lawmakers might have seen fit to address the
problem. But it wasn't, and so they didn't. And now
whites are experiencing double-digit joblessness as
well, for the first time in over three generations.

And if we had not long ago racialized the "have-nots"
as undeserving people of color, thereby allowing racial
bias to block government actions that might have been
taken on their behalf-like universal health care or
massive investment in job creation-perhaps we would not
today have tens of millions of people, including
millions of white folks, lacking access to medical
treatment or job security. But we did, and so we do.
And now we can witness white folks running around,
speaking against health care reforms from which they
would personally gain, all because of a fear that some
of the benefits might go to "undeserving" immigrants of
color, or lazy folks (typically perceived as black and
brown) who don't want to pay for their own care.

In short, by not understanding the fundamental truth of
King's message that an injustice anywhere is a threat
to justice everywhere, we have created a society, 43
years since his death, where injustice and suffering
are rampant. And one in which the dreams of the civil
rights movement appear the fantastical products of some
Ambien-induced haze. Only by putting away, forever, the
safe and sanitized version of this man and his
compatriots, might we ever awaken from the stupor and
become worthy of that which we celebrate this week.

Tim Wise is the author of five books on racism,
including his latest, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-
Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San
Francisco: City Lights, 2010).

____________________________________________

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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