Alvin Turner and Baxter Leach were among the striking Memphis sanitation workers who received the support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1968.Not only are we fighting the same fights, but if Martin Luther King, Jr. hadn't been assassinated while he was in Memphis with those striking sanitation workers, few people would remember that strike or King's labor legacy. If King had been killed somewhere else, his fierce advocacy of unions and workers would have been stuffed down the memory hole even more fully than it has been, and Alvin Turner and Baxter Leach would still be veterans of an important labor and civil rights struggle, but their ongoing participation in the same struggles decades later wouldn't draw even the tiny amount of coverage it did this week.
"We're still fighting for justice. Still now," Leach told the crowd on Monday.
Turner and Leach are supporting attempts by DeKalb County sanitation workers to get the county commission to recognize them as members of Teamsters Local 728 They're hoping the march will make their voices heard.
We have to fight to remember the American legacy of worker struggle—sometimes we have to fight to remember that it even exists, never mind what it is. We have to fight to remember the line that connects Memphis in 1968 and Atlanta sanitation workers or New York City fast food workers in 2013. Because the struggle is so far from over. In 1965, King said:
"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. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society."The captains of industry, though, kept resisting. They've come close to turning back that wave entirely, pulling the whole society, or all but the top one or two percent of it, away from those secure shores. The fight now is to reach them again.