The 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (#MLK50) is fast approaching and with it, America will once again rehash his legacy. In recent years, his estate has made some controversial decisions, such as allowing King's words to be used in advertisements like this year's Dodge Ram Superbowl commercial. The speech they used was King's "The Drum Major Instinct" (1968), which ironically degrades the practice of advertising as immoral and promotes the vision of freedom from consumerism. This 50th Anniversary, let us remember that King saw race and Labor as part of the same movement.

In the words of King:

All labor has dignity

In the last campaign before his murder, King was fighting for the garbage workers of Memphis, Tennessee. The men on the back of the trucks were trying to unionize against the troubles of discrimination from their superiors, low wages, and workplace safety. This was not the beginning of his career as a labor activist. In 1961, King addressed the AFL-CIO saying "Our needs are identical with labor’s needs..." (Common Dreams) and from there he praised the work of the unions of America as raising the standard of living for the common man. King knew that a new America would not only be free of racial injustice but also the injustice of capital-oriented systems.

King was not a socialist. He believed that to bring sustainable justice to the world you had to acknowledge every center of power, whether it be political, economic, or social. A man is a man when he is free from injustice in all aspects of his life so that he can have a choice of how to live. King's rhetoric on race was directly related to the labor movement's rhetoric, as King said in that same speech "negroes are almost entirely a working people — and I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness." (AFSCME)

King's ties to labor

Beyond his broad vision for America, King was close with labor movement across the country on the ground level.

It was the leader of the United Auto Workers union who paid the bail after King was jailed in Birmingham. The famous "I Have A Dream" speech delivered at the capitol over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was the main act of the 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," where activists wanted not only a civil rights act, but a national minimum wage of $2.00, equivalent to around $15 per hour by today's standards.

Rev. King saw that race-baiting was not the only vector of control on blacks in America, but that economic inequality kept them down as well. His rallies were being held at the same time the government was "red-lining" black neighborhoods for federally backed mortgage loans. This dual practice of economic and social injustice could only be fixed by cross-promoting the goals of labor and civil rights. King believed the common man was getting left behind, black, white, and brown. Years before inequality would become the major focus on leftist protests he proclaimed the United States needed “better distribution of wealth.”

Continuing the legacy

As our nation continues to struggle with the injustices of the criminal justice system, we must come together.

The poor are the most afflicted population and remain disproportionately minority. Reagan destroyed our labor unions and now the working class has no voice in the American power struggle. To continue the legacy, we must work to continue the balancing of power between races, incomes, and institutions. The capital class has no right to control a disproportionate amount of the lives of labor. A unity among all those who work for a better life must come about.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated leading a labor protest and the fight of the new labor movement honors his name.