Will this be the day that will launch steps toward racial justice in the land called the United States? The horrendous public execution of George Floyd by White police officers has triggered massive protests in cities across the country and the world. Years of simmering anger and resentment have erupted. I pray this will be the day when the power of the people begins to break apart and destroy the systems of racism.
The strike continues an ongoing global reckoning on race and police brutality set off by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May. At noon in each U.S. time zone on Monday, workers are expected to take a knee for about eight minutes — the amount of time prosecutors say a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Strikers are demanding sweeping action by corporations and government to confront systemic racism and economic inequality that limits mobility and career advancement for many Black and Hispanic workers, who make up a disproportionate number of those earning less than a living wage.
Specifically, they are calling on corporate leaders and elected government officials to use executive and legislative power to guarantee people of all races can thrive. That demand includes raising wages and allowing workers to unionize to negotiate better health care, sick leave and child care support.‘Strike for Black Lives’ set in dozens of US cities on Monday, By The Associated Press, July 20, 2020
“All labor has dignity,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told striking sanitation workers in Memphis more than 50 years ago.
“One day,” he said, “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.”
I never paid much attention to what sanitation workers did until a small group of them went on strike in early May in my hometown, New Orleans. They are called “hoppers,” because they spend all day hopping on and off the backs of trucks, rounding up garbage containers, and using their strength to dump them into the barrel that crushes the trash.
My Uncle Jonathan is one of them, and he asked me to help him and his fellow Black workers organize their City Waste Union in the first weeks of the strike. Their fight, which has now gone on for more than two months, has shown me more clearly than ever before that Black people are still shackled to a cycle of generational poverty and mistreatment.
They often carry signs that say, “I Am a Man,” as they protest. It’s the iconic sign Memphis sanitation workers first carried in 1968, in their bitter, 65-day strike, during which Dr. King was assassinated after coming to support them. I am only 25, but it’s obvious to me that my uncle and his co-workers are still waging the same civil rights battle 52 years later.After 50 Years, Sanitation Workers Still Fight for Dignity. A determined handful of men in New Orleans carry on the cause Dr. King died defending in Memphis by Daytrian Wilken. Ms. Wilken is the spokesperson for the City Waste Union in New Orleans. The New York Times, July 20, 2020
On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood up at the Mason Temple in Memphis and spoke in support of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers. The workers were on strike to fight for the ability to unionize, put better safety standards in place, and their right to a livable wage. They had stopped work, partially in response to the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who had been crushed to death by a garbage truck while on the job.
On that day, on the eve of his assassination, Dr. King said, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there… Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”Why we’re striking for Black lives: It’s time for a reckoning. Workers of all races are walking off the job today, to unite in demanding racial and economic justice by KARISSA LEWIS and MARY KAY HENRY, salon, July 20, 2020
Being home sick with Covid-19 won’t keep Edie from participating in the Strike for Black Lives, though, which she plans to do over FaceTime. On Monday, tens of thousands of workers from a variety of different lines of work in more than 25 cities will go on strike to demand that the corporations they work for and the government that’s supposed to work for them confront systemic racism.
Fast food workers like Edie will be joined by an enormous swath of the workforce: other low-wage workers like airport employees, rideshare drivers, nursing home caregivers, and domestic workers alongside middle-class teachers and nurses and even high-paid Google engineers. Those who can’t strike the whole day will walk off the job for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a white police officer kept his knee on Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s neck before he died.
It’s a massive action that will bring together major unions as well as grassroots organizers. The Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and American Federation of Teachers will join forces with the Fight for 15, United Farm Workers, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Social justice organizations, such as the Movement for Black Lives, Poor People’s Campaign, and youth climate organizers will also participate. It represents a unique partnership: Labor unions don’t always act in concert, let alone partner with grassroots and social justice groups.
But demand for putting together such an action came from the bottom: Workers who have been activated by the toll of the pandemic and the massive uprisings against racial injustice and police violence across the country. They see these things as inextricable.
“Across the country, people are gaining a new understanding that it is impossible to win economic justice without racial justice. That health care for all, fair immigration policies, and bold action on climate change all require racial justice,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “This is a unique and hopeful moment in our movement’s history, because in organizing this strike with our partners, we found broad acceptance and acclamation that now is the time to take large-scale action to demand that corporations and government do more to dismantle structural racism and protect Black lives. We are all clear that until Black communities can thrive, none of us can.”Across the country, essential workers are on strike for Black lives. Racial injustice and Covid-19 have collided for many essential workers. Today they’re on strike by Bryce Covert, VOX, July 20, 2020