Honoring Dr. King's Legacy in New York
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. He was in Memphis to support sanitation workers, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment on the job. He famously said, “It is a crime to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”
Dr. King’s legacy teaches us that workers’ rights, civil rights and human rights are inexorably linked. On the anniversary of his death over thirty years ago, we are also reminded just how far we are in fulfilling his dream of equality and dignity for all people.
Right now, we’re witnessing an unprecedented attack on public sector workers around the country. Here in New York State, our legislature and new Governor passed a budget of tax breaks for the wealthy and austerity for the rest of us. The budget features across-the-board cuts to vital public services, major concessions from public sector workers, and leaves unanswered many more questions about future concessions and layoffs. At the same time, our elected leaders failed to examine the more than $8 billion in corporate tax breaks and loopholes that could have helped close the budget deficit, and failed to extend even a modest tax on the wealthy, which would have raised billions of dollars and had overwhelming public support.
Students, parents, concerned community members and activists from around the state poured into the Capitol in Albany last week to protest the fiscally-conservative budget and the deep cuts to education and other priorities. New Yorkers understand that our budget crisis—and the larger economic crisis—will not be solved by adding more people to the unemployment rolls, by decreasing educational opportunities for our children and young adults, or by rolling back the basic rights of workers. We intend to continue fighting against short-sighted and immoral policies that increase inequality, and work for more far-sighted solutions that create good, family-sustaining jobs and curb corporate abuses.
Locally, we also have a long way to go to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. Income inequality has only grown in the forty-three years since Dr. King’s death. If New York City were a country, it would be the second most unequal in the world, and yet recent economic policies have only exacerbated our divisions.
Mayor Bloomberg’s city budget proposal hits seniors, low-income children, schools, firehouses, libraries and parks particularly hard. Instead of negotiating to restore money in the state budget to prevent deep cuts to services for New York City’s poor, working and middle class residents, Mayor Bloomberg focused his negotiations on changing public sector work rules, which would undermine teacher contracts and retirees’ pensions. We should remember that the debate over the city budget is just beginning and we should not allow false austerity to win out over the needs of the majority of New Yorkers, especially as the Mayor sits on reserve funds and could still implement a millionaire’s tax to ensure the city’s wealthy pay their fair share. Yesterday, we joined the We are One rally in City Hall park to remind our elected officials that workers’ rights are human rights.
We also joined with members of the Living Wage NYC campaign and community residents last night at a mass meeting last night in Brooklyn to call for an end to city-sponsored working poverty. New York City expends significant public resources to subsidize corporations that fail to deliver good jobs or broadly-shared prosperity. With nearly one in ten New Yorkers still unemployed and working families struggling, we get our money’s worth from corporate subsidies.
We know that Dr. King’s tragic death left us with much unfinished work. As we strive to build a more just and sustainable New York, we hold April 4 as a day of remembrance and action to honor Dr. King’s legacy and keep his dream alive.