Church Involvement In Labor Movement Has a Long History

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers on March 28, 1968. (Sam Melhorn / Associated Press / March 28, 1968)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, lead a march on behalf of striking Memphis sanitation workers on March 28, 1968. (Sam Melhorn / Associated Press / March 28, 1968)

Pastors and students in Mississippi are putting pressure on Nissan to remain neutral as the United Automobile Workers try to organize a 5,600-worker plant near Jackson. They’re planning marches and protest events with the slogan “Workers’ Rights are Civil Rights.” Many say the campaign for better working conditions at the Nissan plant, described in a story in the Los Angeles Times, is a new kind of civil rights struggle.

Unions are increasingly turning to outside community groups to help organize workers, labor experts say, especially after the UAW lost a recent key vote at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. There, politicians and business leaders spoke out against the union.

But the Nissan campaign isn’t the first in which labor has worked with church groups, preachers and community leaders to organize workers. Here are a few others:

1968. Sanitation workers, Memphis, Tenn.

In 1968, after two sanitation workers were crushed to death in Memphis, about 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off the job. They were striking to protest discrimination and poor working conditions, and argued for joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. As the strike continued, workers visited black churches to gain support; churches offered to help strikers with food for their families. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis in early April of that year to speak to the workers, giving his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, and calling on listeners to boycott companies with discriminatory hiring practices. “Be concerned about your brother,” he said. “You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.” King was assassinated in Memphis the next day.

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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times
Alana Semuels

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