Forty-three years after their actions drew worldwide attention, 1,300 heroes of the Labor Movement became enshrined last month in the Labor Hall of Fame located in the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Memphis sanitation workers became the newest inductees as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis called them “ordinary men who took an extraordinary stand for what is right.”
Eight of the surviving workers were present for the April 29 ceremony. Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama hosted the group in the White House.
Marching under the banner “I Am A Man,” the workers walked off the job after two co-workers were crushed when a garbage truck malfunctioned. The city government would not recognize the union they created, AFSCME Local 1733. Picket lines continued for several months, gaining national attention when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined them. King was killed in Memphis during a trip to support the workers.
Speaking at the event, Alvin Turner (one of those who went on strike) cited the parallels between today’s actions against public employees and those he and his fellow AFSCME members endured in 1968:
“I see they’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of poor people. They’re starting at the top with the teachers, but they’re coming down to the little man. I go to union meetings and only 10 people are there. They’re coming after you and if you don’t start coming to union meetings, they’re gonna get you.”
The Labor Hall of Fame was created in 1988. The late MTD President Paul Hall was enshrined in 2003.