This book chronicles King’s speeches and interactions with Unions between 1957 to 1968.
The chief obstacles to America fulfilling its promise are war, poverty, and racism. These three evils are intertwined and once person deeply understand them the lines between them are blurred. The forces that create, perpetuate, and defend the institutions are also aligned.
The three evils manifest as an ultra-right coalition: big business, military, and reactionaries in both parties. It is essential for students of Dr. King to remember he had opposition from both parties. This ultra-right coalition was formed because they used similar goals and tactics. The same way police are used to intimidate civil rights protesters the military threatens people in Vietnam. These entities work together to garner public support and maintain control.
More informally the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen’s council weld power in opposition to the progressive agenda. He made clear both organizations were two sides of the same coin. The White Citizen’s Council would not use violence or racial slurs, but they would use legal means to undermine the civil rights movement. The White Citizens Council was more socially acceptable, so they could expose racist rhetoric in public that would aid the Ku Klux Klan in recruitment. Both organizations promoted regression and inequality in America.
To combat the ultra-right an ultra-left coalition needed to be formed from the civil rights, academia, the church, and labor movement. These movements are natural allies. Most black people are members of the working class. So labor rights, wage floors, old age medical care are vital to living freely in America. Labor will benefit from desegregation because there will not be a more vulnerable class of workers willing to break picket lines. Traditionally, black people would scab segregated unions. If labor allows people of all races to join the unions will be stronger.
Unions were some of the early financial supporters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Unions having access to well-employed people could crowdfund easily and quickly. The capital was put to good use in the Birmingham Campaign and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to name a few areas.
Fortunately, union funds did not stop King from speaking on racism and segregation in the unions. King implored the United Autoworkers Union to desegregate its local affiliates during an anniversary dinner he was asked to speak. His critique of discrimination in unions extended to the America Federation of Unions the largest and most powerful at the time.
King also praised many unions that had a history of integration and fighting for Civil Rights outsized the Union. The United Package Worker Union of America (UPWA) was an example of an integrated activist union. The UPWA even ran integrated schools in Appalachia. The CIO was not only integrated; it united workers from all trades. His affiliation with these radical unions led to much adversity for King.
Throughout King’s career, he was smeared as a Communist for his support of unions that were started by Communists. This book explains how many unions purged themselves off communists by the 1950s. Also, labor organizer Stanley Levison was considered to be a communist. The author that compiled the speeches in this book explains Levison cut ties with the Communist Party in 1957 before he met King. So King has no contact with Communists or the Communist Party.
All social ills were not merely due to policy. Automation ballooned unemployment by taking away lower skilled jobs. Blacks disproportionately occupied these jobs. White workers also felt this contraction in labor but not to the same extent as blacks. King proposed a universal basic income (UBI) to ease the effects of high unemployment. The government would peg UBI to median income, not the lowest income level.
UBI is the centerpiece of a comprehensive committed anti-poverty program. Previous anti-poverty programs targeted a single aspect of poverty such as housing or food. These programs were embarked on by groups that were not fully committed to seeing the program through. The federal government is the only entity big enough to address these issues in a holistic and sustained manner.
The Vietnam War in addition to being fundamentally immoral hindered the building of the welfare state. It diverted most of the countries resources into subverting Vietnam’s national will. Because the population wanted to support the troops and stand in solidarity against the enemy, the social justice movement was hampered. Many Americans felt a united front needed to be maintained and any internal strife should be postponed until peacetime.
The last speech in the book is “To The Mountain Top” given the day before King died. He explains how the Civil Rights Movement is just part of a larger world movement for justice. Starting with Plato, he gives a summary or Western history bending toward justice and landing right here with us at the Mason Temple in Memphis. He realized he would not make it there with us. However, we are to soldier on and continue his work.