“I AM A MAN” — Celebrate the Life & Fight of Martin Luther King Jr.


From the desk of Teamsters Local 1932 Secretary-Treasurer/General Manager Randy Korgan:

On the evening of April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in support of Memphis sanitation workers that were on strike. Dr. King was shot and killed the next day.


Prompted by the poverty wages they received from the City of Memphis, and the dangerous conditions of their work, which led to the death of two workers in February 1968, Memphis sanitation workers went on protest that Spring for their right to form a union. Their picket line signs reading “I AM A MAN” became iconic for its truth. Despite being maligned as un-American by a wide swath of the population for his commitment to progress, Dr. King supported the truth championed by these workers and the truth championed by all people fighting for freedom and dignity because he wanted the most powerful country in the world to live up to its stated values.


“I’ve seen the promised land,” Dr. King told a packed audience in Memphis on the eve of his death. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


As this season marks the 50th anniversary of his death, we choose to honor Dr. King’s life and the world he wished for all Americans yet to come. In this spirit, we push on in 2018 as a union of working people ready for our home region to live up to its full potential. If our region’s elected leaders continue to let the Inland Empire go down a road dotted with bad development deals that do nothing but siphon money out of our public funds, we say without hesitation that it must end now —working people should be put first, and they should be allowed the freedom to join together in union for a better Inland Empire.


In 2018, the same type of big money groups that fueled the low-wage job growth here in the region is also seeking to do damage to the rest of the country. As you have heard from our union before, anti-union organizations in the United States are mostly funded by the upper echelons of the nation’s top 1% of income earners. Over the past 40 years, the income share of working people has fallen due to attacks on organized labor by this 1%. Now, their decades of heavy-spending to increase anti-union sentiment and legislation have lined up another possible victory as the U.S Supreme Court is set to rule on Janus v. AFSCME in June. A victory here would impose so-called “Right-to-Work” on the public sector nationwide.


In places where “Right-to-Work” is the law now, working people have uniformly suffered from decreased quality of life because labor organizations there must deal with strained finances. The origins of “Right-to-Work,” as you have also heard from us before, go back to the days of the Jim Crow South, where it was used to fear-monger and splinter solidarity among working people and keep the wheels of income inequality turning. The Civil Rights Movement won its cause and ended Jim Crow, but the racist roots of “Right to Work” have thrived, as it’s deep-pocketed champions have moderated its initial overtly racist messaging.


Now, anti-union groups staple words like “freedom” and “liberty” to their anti-union legislation. But we are not these groups born from the top 1%. As a union of working people, we know that true freedom comes from dignity at work and a fair return on the labor we provide to keep our home regions running. Currently, that’s possible because we do stand together in union, and it’s that cause that led Dr. Martin Luther King to Memphis as his life came to end on April 4, 1968.


Our fight and Dr. King’s fight in Memphis, one for all Americans to live free and prosper, is the same. This season, remember our fight, and what Dr. King did on the eve of his death. So long as we all stay involved as a union and stay Teamster proud, we will not fail.