50 Years Later, MLK’s Labor Message Revived

Fifty years ago today, on April 3, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last public speech, which continues to haunt Americans today with its ringing tones of courage in the face of a possible assassination, which in fact occurred the next day.

King gave that speech in Memphis, Tenn. He was in Memphis to support striking unionized government sanitation.

That fact — and the overall evolution of King’s message to include a full-throated embrace of union rights and opposition to the Vietnam War — has often been left out of the popular discussion of his legacy as American culture watered down his message and transformed him in death from a public enemy to a canonized non-threatening saint.

That seems to have changed this week in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Numerous media outlets have focused on that Memphis strike and King’s expansion of the civil rights struggle into a “poor people’s campaign.”

Local union leaders Larry Dorman and Rick Melita have a take on why: The plight of government workers like those who struck in Memphis is again front and center in public life, as efforts to weaken public-sector unions have gained steam. Along with a backlash.

That backlash includes rallies against an expected upcoming Supreme Court decision overturning state laws requiring government workers to pay dues to unions that represent them to cover the costs of bargaining their contracts.

Dorman and Melita helped organized a recent protest at New Haven City Hall against the lawsuit filed in that case, in their capacity as union officials: Melita is state director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents state and private-sector workers; Dorman is communications coordinator for AFSCME Council 4, which represents 35,000 people in Connecticut, including state and local government social workers, child abuse investigators, paraprofessionals, library workers, cops, and plow drivers. The Memphis sanitation workers on strike in 1968 belonged to AFSCME, as well. (Click here to read a full story about that demonstration and the Supreme Court case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.)

Paul Bass PhotoOn a 50th anniversary MLK episode of “Dateline New Haven,” Dorman read aloud a 1961 quotation from King about “right to work” laws similar to the plaintiffs’ position in Janus:  “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans like ‘right to work.’ ...Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer, and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped.”

The backlash also includes walkouts by public-school teachers in right-to-work red states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

“He’s almost been canonized. He’s a secular saint. Everybody’s appropriating a bit of his message to fit their own ideologies. You even hear Republicans saying, ‘He’d be a Republican if he were alive today,’ which I highly doubt.

“His original message was one of economic justice and economic freedom. We’re seeing struggles all over the country for poor people, for low-wage workers, against economic injustice. So his message is as resonant today as it was 50 years ago.”

In Connecticut Melita and Dorman argued that the campaign King led at the time of his death would translate into support for a number of fights at the state Capitol, including efforts to:

• Raise the hourly minimum wage to $15.
• Pass a bill to force large low-wage employers like Walmart to cover state costs for their workers’ Medicaid and food stamp costs.
• Stop the recommendations of a state-appointed “fiscal stability” commission — comprised of corporate CEOs but no representatives of labor — to eliminate state workers’ health care and pension collective bargaining rights and eliminate the estate tax.
• Raise the marginal tax rate on annual income above $500,000 or $1 million from 6.99 percent to 7.5 percent and close the federal “carried interest” loophole that has hedge fund billionaires paying lower rates on their incomes than teachers or custodians do.

“We need to ask our wealthy citizens and largest corporations to pay their fair share,” Dorman argued.

That last point puts labor on the other side of both Republicans and many Democrats at the state Capitol, who argue that the state cannot rely on new tax revenue to tackle its deep fiscal woes because, in their view, the wealthiest taxpayers would simply leave the state. Dorman responded that the number of billionaires has grown in Connecticut in recent years despite the publicized departure of a handful of financial industry executives.

Meanwhile, New Haven’s Harp administration, facing expected cutbacks or flat-lining of state aid, is seeking $3.6 million in labor concessions, even with an 11 percent tax increase, in its proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

AFSCME’s Local 3144 represents the largest group of city workers, including supervisors. Dorman said he “can’t predict” yet how those concession talks will play out.

“We’re well aware that New Haven is facing financial challenges. New Haven’s financial urgencies are a reflection of Connecticut’s failure to tax wealthy people and corporations fairly,” Dorman said.

He said the local union’s relationship with the Harp administration has improved since the election of a new president, noting that the two sides have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract after years of impasse. But even with a “constructive” relationship, “there are always going to be differences,” he noted. “We’re nvever going to be completely on the same page as an employer.”

Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full conversation with Rick Melita and Larry Dorman on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

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posted by: robn on April 3, 2018  3:58pm

CT Salaries

CT Pensions

posted by: 1644 on April 3, 2018  5:58pm

The unions ignore the empirical evidence that raising taxes on the wealthy reduces revenue.  The higher the taxes, the greater the incentive for the wealthy to move.  Connecticut is a small state, and there are few resources here, such as ports, oil, etc., that require high-earners to stay here.  Many retirees move as it is, and Connecticut’s estate tax, one of the few in the nation,  is a huge dis-incentive for those wishing to pass on the bulk of their estates.  The fact is,  Connecticut is not only losing population, it is losing wealthy people, and those moving in are poorer.  The Fiscal Commission’s proposals are meant to staunch the loss of wealthy people,  people who pay a huge share of state expenses (357 families support 12% of the state budget).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 3, 2018  8:16pm

posted by: robn on April 3, 2018 3:58pm

CT Salaries

CT Pensions

Look at who there backers are.

The Yankee Institute for Public Policy (YIPP) is a right-wing think tank in Hartford, Connecticut. According to their website, they have been “creating new ideas for lower taxes and smaller government in Connecticut since 1984. The YIPP is a member of the State Policy Network. Yankee Action and the Yankee Charitable Foundation are both controlled by YIPP.With “credentials” like right-wing talk-show host, Republican political operative, and journalist, its staff members are more like a spin mill’s than a bona fide research organization’s.Research reveals that the “institute” is just that: a right-wing propaganda machine that’s part of the $83 million “State Policy Network” and connected to the Koch Brothers and other billionaires of the far right.

How about this.

U.S. CEO retirement packages: Bigger than yours

Most fast food workers do not earn enough to retire with much of a pension. Then there is David Novak, executive chairman of YUM Brands (YUM.N), the conglomerate that runs Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC outlets.Novak’s total retirement holdings, including deferred compensation, are worth $234 million - more than any other Fortune 500 chief executive.Novak tops the list of Fortune 500 CEOs with the largest retirement nest eggs, according to a study from two progressive think tanks - the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies.


The 5 highest-paid CEOs in the US


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 3, 2018  8:36pm

posted by: 1644 on April 3, 2018 5:58pm

The unions ignore the empirical evidence that raising taxes on the wealthy reduces revenue.

It is not just the unions.The American people as a whole say raising taxes on the wealthy.

Majority Say Wealthy Americans, Corporations Taxed Too Little

As President Donald Trump and Republican leaders strategize about tax reform, the majority of U.S. adults believe that upper-income people and corporations are paying too little in taxes. In contrast, about half of Americans say middle- and lower-income people pay too much, while the other half says these groups are currently paying their fair share or are not paying enough.In fact under Trump tax plan.The Rich will pay even less taxes.


The numbers are in: Trump’s tax plan is a bonanza for the rich, not the middle class
Multi-millionaires get more than $700,000 back. The poorest fifth gets $60.


Connecticut is not only losing population, it is losing wealthy people, and those moving in are poorer.

Connecticut’s Millionaire Migration Myth
06/23/2017 01:24 pm ET

It is true that Connecticut is experiencing population decline. But who’s really leaving? A brand new report published by CT Data Collaborative sets the record straight: “DRS data show the lower-income tends to out-migrate from Connecticut at greater rates than the high-income, data which is confirmed by IRS data.” The chart below shows a dramatic increase in the number of high-income tax returns filed in our state from 2010-2015, further debunking the millionaire migration myth.


As far as those moving in are poorer.Not on my Block.I have a lot of Middle Class New Yorkers and People from New Jersey .

posted by: 1644 on April 3, 2018  9:37pm

3/5’s Your HuffPo citation just says, unsurprisingly, that high-incomes rebounded after the crash.  Post-crash, of course, there were pretty much no bonuses, no real estate sales commissions, no capital gains.  HuffPo does not address net income flows.  Here, in 2016, post the second tax increase, we see a net loss of $ 2.7 billion in income as wealthy leave and poor move in. 

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 4, 2018  8:29am


Many have claimed that this idea has forced Connecticut’s richer inhabitants, as well as businesses, to move out of the state.

However, Rodriguez believes this isn’t the case. He says millionaires are migrating to or remaining in more affluent areas of Connecticut, increasing school enrollment. Unfortunately for the poorer areas, when a school’s enrollment increases, so will state funding. Ipso facto, the richer schools are actually receiving more help from the state.

Despite the debates over school funding and taxes, the number of millionaires continues to rise in the state. According to the New Haven Register, in 2016 7.4 percent of households in Connecticut were millionaire households. This was the second highest concentration of millionaires in the country.


like I said I have seen more Middle Class New Yorkers and People from New Jersey .moving to this state.

posted by: 1644 on April 4, 2018  11:17am

The absolute numbers of millionaires don’t matter: aggregate numbers do.  If we gain three folks with a $1 million income, but lose one person with a $5 million dollar income,  we have more millionaires, but are still worse off.  As far as school funding,  town population is not considered in aid distribution, only school population.  Well off people don’t send their kids to public schools, so they don’t impact school funding.  Moreover,  the general consensus is that school populations in suburban towns are falling, while urban populations are rising.  Thus, the struggle over the “hold-harmless” policy in ECS funding when the total amount of aid is not increasing.