Today, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., who devoted his life to the fight for racial justice before paying the ultimate price in the pursuit of equality. Although King is most widely remembered as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, he recognized the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression, and he campaigned relentlessly for economic justice and for the rights of working people.
King understood the power of moral authority in these struggles, and more than fifty years after his death, his life continues to provide inspiration—as well as strategic guidance—for our work in the Labor Movement. We continue to be inspired by his actions, which included marching with our Union sisters and brothers, and calling for justice in healthcare.
We know that the struggle for racial and economic justice is not yet complete. Voting rights are under attack, including efforts to undo the central tenets of the 1965 voting rights act. Uprisings against police killings of unarmed Black Americans have created a renewed focus on deep disparities in law enforcement. Across the country, local school boards are being pressured to offer a sterilized representation of American history, omitting the experience and effects of racial discrimination.
The work continues, but King’s legacy endures. Then, as now, entrenched interests actively resist change that threatens their power. As we encounter that resistance, we remember one of King’s most enduring lessons—that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In our movement, we also face powerful challenges from powerful interests. Profit-driven hospital corporations work to undermine our call for safe staffing. Government agencies tasked with enforcing law to keep patients safe are reluctant to rock the boat. In the Supreme Court, anti-labor groups are currently arguing that unions should be responsible for the economic impact of strikes on their employer; an attempt to remove our most powerful tool for winning fair contracts.
Like King, we know that we are on the right side of history, and so we persevere. Today, we stand proudly in that fight, and the shoulders of a giant of justice.
Rosanna Mendez, Executive Director, SEIU 121RN
Leo Perez, RN, President, SEIU 121RN