Celebrate Martin Luther King Day in the Streets

If you're one of the fortunate workers that gets Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, keep in mind that MLK probably didn't write his famous "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" in comfy pj's and bunny slippers. Join up with local events commemorating the civil rights movement, or support workers in your area that are fighting to get the day off.

In North Carolina, workers fought their company and won recognition to get the day off 20 years ago. This year, their celebration will be two-fold: the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.'s activism, and the dawn of their union.

Activists at Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina delivered more than 200 petition signatures to their management on January 15, 1990. They campaigned for eight months and got word from management in August of that year that the company would recognize the day as a paid holiday. It was a big victory for the non-union workers, a victory that convinced them to keep meeting. One of their first tasks was to organize an annual Martin Luther King Jr. event for the community—the 20th of which is happening this Monday.



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Workers established a non-majority union, eventually affiliating with the United Electrical Workers (UE) in 1994.

The keynote speaker at Monday’s event is Melvin Maclin, vice president of UE Local 1110 and a leader of the plant occupation at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago.

For more about the MLK Day celebration go here or email Jim Wrenn at jimwrenn [at] embarqmail [dot] com. Read the upcoming issue of Labor Notes for an update on the union's current campaign.

Tiffany Ten Eyck is a former staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.