To the editor:
April 4 marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the nation paused to honor the memory of the man who was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, it was troubling that so many seemed to honor him in ways that could lead people, especially young people, to believe Dr. King, the principles he stood for, and the injustices he fought against are part of some long ago past and no longer relevant or important to the United States of today.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the principles Dr. King stood for and the injustices he fought against are crying out for as much attention to be paid to them today as they were on the day he was gunned down in Memphis.
Dr. King went to Memphis to stand in solidarity with the city’s striking sanitation workers who were earning minimum wage which, in 1968, was $1.65 an hour. Just hours before he was gunned down, Dr. King asked aloud how it was possible that, in the richest country in the world, people were working for what he correctly called, “slave wages.”
I suspect that, if Dr. King was with us this April, 4, he would have been in New York City standing in solidarity with the Big Apple’s fast food workers, who were striking against the “slave wages” corporations like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s pay them, even as those corporations post billions in global profits annually.
One striking, full-time, fast food worker asked the TV reporter interviewing her if the reporter could provide for himself and a child on the $8.75 an hour she gets paid. The reporter was, literally, speechless.
There is a real irony in the fact that the Memphis sanitation workers earning $1.65 an hour nearly half a century ago were actually better off economically than the striking 33-year-old single mother earning $8.75 an hour today.
That’s because if 1968’s minimum wage of $1.65 an hour had simply kept pace with inflation, the single mother working at a fast food restaurant today would be making at least $11 an hour. Dr. King would, no doubt, be outraged by that reality.
Such ongoing economic injustices, along with the growing and unsustainable disparities in wealth between the “New Plutocracy” and the vast majority of other Americans, would most certainly be a focus of Dr. King’s efforts and activism if he were alive today.
Anyone who doubts the power of the “New Plutocracy” needs only to look at North Carolina. There, the billionaire heir to the Dollar Store empire has bankrolled an initiative, which seems likely to pass the GOP dominated state legislature and be signed into law by the Republican governor, that will substantially raise taxes on groceries in order to offset any losses in tax revenues from efforts to dramatically slash tax rates on corporations and the state’s wealthiest residents, aka the “New Plutocracy.”
Dr. King may have died 45 years ago, but the principles he stood for and the injustices he fought against are as valid and real today as they were when he went to Memphis to stand with that city’s sanitation workers — an act of courage and principle that cost him his life.