Connecting Past and Present

 This past week we viewed At the River I Stand, a documentary about the 1968 Sanitation Worker’s Strike. The movie shed light on the role of key people, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mayor Loeb, and key groups, like the Invaders. However, the movie also forced us to look beyond mere facts. One instance of this is the way the movie forces us to examine the intricate interconnectedness of organized labor and the civil rights movement. Jerry Wurf, the leader of the AFSCME labor organization, crusaded for the rights of the working man; through this action he simultaneously and (seemingly) unintentionally emerged as a leader for the civil rights movement in Memphis. His effort, coupled with the strident, focused efforts of prominent civil rights leaders (most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. whose assassination occured in the middle of the strike), helped win a landmark civil and labor rights battle for the sanitation workers of Memphis.

     The showing of this film to the Crossroads group comes at a time when sanitation workers in Memphis once again find themselves in the news. The Memphis City Council’s recent proposal to privatize sanitation work in Memphis as a cost-cutting measure led to a backlash by the city’s santitation workers. The “I am a man” slogan also made a reappearance in the minds of many who are connecting the 1968 strike with today’s circumstances. That slogan makes me contemplate the prominent role that work plays in boosting feelings of self-efficacy. The slogan also ties work to civil rights and makes us all question what the basic rights of workers should be. After watching At the River I Stand, and seeing the current news, I am confronted with the reality that sanitation workers in Memphis still find it difficult to make City Council hear their voice. With that in mind, I think we should ask about rights of workers in Memphis, the role that race plays in the debates being held about privatization of garbage collection in the city, and what that means for a city that is striving to become more equal.

Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 9:38 am  Comments Off on Connecting Past and Present  
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