King’s Economic Legacy

Joey Fishkin highlights a very important part of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington:

Threaded through the demands of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were calls for economic justice. The marchers demanded a nationwide minimum wage of “at least” $2.00 (it was then $1.25, so a 60% raise), in order to “give all Americans a decent standard of living.” They demanded a “massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers — Negro and white — on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.”

The legacy lives on. As David Dayen observes, “fast food and retail worker” strikes reflect the original marchers’ demands. An entity like “McDonald’s is so vast and lucrative that it could easily survive a major wage increase.” Such increases are desperately needed. As worker Willietta Dukes puts it:

I make $7.85 at Burger King as a guest ambassador and team leader, where I train new employees on restaurant regulations and perform the manager’s duties in their absence. . . . I’ve worked in fast-food for 15 years, and I can’t even afford my own rent payments. . . .My hours, like many of my coworkers, were cut this year, and I now work only 25 to 28 hours each week. I can’t afford to pay my bills working part time and making $7.85, and last month, I lost my house.

Dukes is one of the millions of faces behind aggregate statistics that suggest grotesque unfairness at the heart of the American economy. They won’t get much of a hearing in a mainstream media obsessed with the problems of the fortunate. But there is hope that a critical mass of actions by them, like the Washington civil rights march of 1963, will eventually force those at the top to take notice.

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