Martin Luther King Jr. Predicted This MomentRoundup
tags: labor, Martin Luther King Jr., social contract, COVID-19
Gene B. Sperling, the national economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is the author of the forthcoming book “Economic Dignity.”
Fifty-two years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously asserted the dignity of all work, he seemed to foresee this moment when it would become so clear that the labor of everyone — farmworkers, grocers, delivery drivers, caregivers, nursing assistants — was essential to all of our health and well-being.
“One day,” Dr. King told sanitation workers on strike in Memphis in 1968, “our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.”
Dr. King wasn’t just making a moral observation. He was calling for “genuine equality” through an increase in wages, health care, job safety and economic power. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter,” Dr. King asked, “if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger?”
Today, we are forced to confront the dissonance between our nation’s labeling of workers as “essential” and “heroes” and their limited wages, benefits and ability to organize.
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