For some strange reason, after having attacked and demonized Martin Luther King for the entirety of his Civil Rights career when he was alive, right-wingers now seem to want to claim him as one of their own -- a small-government conservative preacher who believed in fiscal restraint. Eh?
So yesterday, while union supporters marched on the anniversary of King's assassination, the talkers at Fox News were in full denunciation mode. First there was Neil Cavuto, claiming that the unions were "co-opting" King for their cause. To persuade us of this, he hosted Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson (the guy who previously had gone on the air and claimed that "Barack Obama is destroying America based on lies" and that "Barack Obama hates white people -- especially white men. Sorry folks, but the truth will set you free!"):
PETERSON: If it's possible to turn over in your grave, I believe that Dr. King is turning over in his grave today. I was born on a plantation down in Alabama, I participated in the Civil Rights movement, I did sit-ins. And Dr. King was about uniting the races, he wasn't about dividing them. Dr. King believed that the same law that protected white Americans should protect black Americans. He wanted us to have the freedom to move about in this country. He was about morality and justice. And for Jesse Jackson and others to take his movement, to take his purpose and use it for personal gain, I have to say, Neil, is nothing less than evil.
Cavuto apparently thinks it was a mere coincidence -- due to the fact that most of the workers were black -- that King was in Memphis to support striking garbage workers. Peterson, likewise, tries to claim that King had no special affinity for the cause of labor unions.
Then there was Glenn Beck, arguing that it was "absurd" to suggest that King was a supporter of the unions' cause:
BECK: Trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for, really? ... This is what he gave his life for, a union? Now, he may have supported this event, this cause, but he gave his life -- fighting for civil rights. The right of all men to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, or, uh, their union label.
Is there a person within the sound of my voice -- outside the union halls -- that I could ask, Why did someone kill Martin Luther King? Why? And they would say, 'Good thing you asked me -- collective bargaining rights, of course!' That's absurd!
Of course, this shouldn't surprise anyone, since in the case of Beck we're talking about a guy who promotes the work of King-haters like Cleon Skousen on one hand while trying to claim King's legacy for himself with the other. A guy who viciously attacks progressives and their causes while conveniently overlooking the historical fact that his adopted idol was himself an ardent progressive.
Indeed, King fully understood that civil rights and labor rights are powerfully intertwined -- that ensuring the ability of black people to organize for their rights was part of a parallel fight for all working people to organize for theirs. And that the very people who opposed the rights of unions to organize were the same people who wanted to keep black people from enjoying their full rights as citizens.
Really, all you have to do to understand this is to read Dr. King's own words, which stand as stark repudiation of the union-hating garbage being spewed on Fox.
For instance, take his 1961 address to the AFL-CIO:
"Negroes are almost entirely a working people…. Our needs are identical with labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community. That is why Negroes support labor's demands and fight laws which curb labor. That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature, spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth."
"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society."
"Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted. They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table.
"We want to rely upon the goodwill of those who oppose us. Indeed, we have brought forward the method of nonviolence to give an example of unilateral goodwill in an effort to evoke it in those who have not yet felt it in their hearts. But we know that if we are not simultaneously organizing our strength we will have no means to move forward. If we do not advance, the crushing burden of centuries of neglect and economic deprivation will destroy our will, our spirits and our hope. In this way, labor's historic tradition of moving forward to create vital people as consumers and citizens has become our own tradition, and for the same reasons."
And he was similarly clear about the principles involved in the current labor battles:
"In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as 'right to work.' It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote."
Or you can visit AFSCME's page devoted to King's role in the Memphis strikes to get a clear picture of why King was there and how intimately the causes of civil rights and labor rights were twinned.
Not that these right-wingers will ever admit that.