AFL-CIO calls for a truthful remembering of the words of Dr. King
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, passengers for charter buses walk along a service roadway on the Mall in Washington, August 28, 1963, to find their transportation home after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech. | AP

WASHINGTON – Every year when the holiday remembering the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes around, opponents of civil rights and voting rights twist King’s calls for judging people “by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin” into support for their opposition to raising the need to fight systemic racism. Everyone from GOP leaders in Congress to the racist Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, did this over the holiday weekend.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, called them out on it after their annual event celebrating this year what would have been Dr. King’s 94th birthday. On Sunday, at the end of their gathering, they issued a powerful statement recalling for the nation that King spoke the truth about racism in white America and about the related poverty and struggles of working people.

“We must remember his words truthfully – far beyond the often-repeated and misused line about skin color and character,” the labor federation declared. “Most people know Dr. King only as a civil rights leader. But we must remember him as a labor leader who was assassinated while supporting 1,300 Black men in their fight against neglect and abuse at the sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee.

“Dr. King is associated with peaceful protest. But we must remember his sermon ‘When Peace Becomes Obnoxious’.”

In that speech, King said, “If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.”

Today, Dr. King’s words about skin color and race are twisted by right-wing lawmakers like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida into doing everything up to and including banning books to avoid talking about race.

Racial justice, of course, involves much more than just the absence of talk about race. King made this point many times during his life and he spoke about many different matters including the oppression of Black people, the suffering of and the attacks on the people of Vietnam, and the effects of poverty on poor white and working-class people.

Not mentioned in the AFL-CIO statement were other points that King made during his life including statements that capitalism was, in his view, not up to the task of solving the problems of the world and that he believed socialism was better equipped to do that. And, as he inveighed against the U.S. war on the Vietnamese people King warned about the dangers of anti-communism and how that ideology was being used to hurt all working people. Those matters were not lost on the FBI and J Edgar Hoover, its director, who ran major red-baiting campaigns against Dr. King.

“So this weekend, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights leader and a staunch trade unionist until the day he was assassinated,” the AFL-CIO statement read. “And we vow to remember his lessons truthfully as we continue the fight against racism and economic inequality.”


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.