Martin Luther King jr. and “the fierce urgency of now”

From Martin Luther King jr. to Sara Nelson:
“The fierce urgency of now”

Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together – To End this Shutdown with a General Strike.”
Sara Nelson, president, Association of Flight Attendants, January 20, 2019

On January 20, 2019, Sara Nelson was awarded the AFL-CIO “MLK Drum Major for Justice” award. It’s worth reprinting the key parts of her acceptance speech here. That’s the best way of commemorating Martin Luther King in 2020:

….This award is not about me. This award was created to honor the legacy of Dr. King. This award is about all of us. We are together here tonight because he called us together. He called on us to come together with the “fierce urgency of now” to fight for justice.

“Our calling is now. There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding right now for our 800,000 federal sector sisters and brothers who are either locked out of work or forced to come to work without pay due to the government shutdown.

“These are real people who are facing real consequences of being dragged into the longest shutdown in history. No money to pay for rent, for childcare, or a tank of gas to get to work. The federal worker stretching insulin through the night and wondering if she will wake up in the morning. The transportation security officer in her third trimester with no certainty for her unborn child. The corrections officer who tried to take his own life because he saw no other way out. The air traffic controller who whispered to his union leader, “I just don’t know how long I can hang on.”

“The situation is changing rapidly. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoints closing. Many more will follow. Safety inspectors and federal cybersecurity staff are on furlough, not working. The layers of safety and security that keep us safe are not in place due to the shutdown.

“I have a growing concern for our members’ safety and security.

“In addition, it is likely days – no more than a week – until the aviation system begins to unravel and massive flight cancelations ensue. When that happens, private jets won’t take off either, and no one will get to Atlanta for the Superbowl.

“At best, our members will lose work, at worst ..

“….If they can’t do their job, I can’t do mine. Dr. King said, “their destiny is tied up with our destiny. We cannot walk alone.”

“Federal workers here tonight – Stand Up.

“Flight Attendants and aviation workers – Stand Up.

“Nurses who count on the medicine we deliver on our planes – Stand Up.

“Everyone who flew to this conference – Stand Up.

“Anyone who believes it is a crime to make people work without pay – Stand Up.

“Federal workers, We’ve got your back!

“The country sees no solution in sight, but Labor can lead the way. Dr. King rallied us by reaching for the mountain top. He didn’t seek integration of just ONE school, he sought freedom in our schools for ALL children. He didn’t seek integration of just ONE lunch counter, he aspired to have us ALL “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” And sisterhood, Dr. King!

“Today, people are starving for this kind of leadership. They are hungry for answers where some would say there are none. Through our Labor Movement, we have the answers for them and together we can lead the way.

“We need to follow Dr. King’s lead and think big. Think big like the hotel workers who took on the largest hotel chain the world and won. Think BIG, like the teachers in Los Angeles who this very minute are taking on powerful hedge funds to save public education for our children.

“Dr. King said that “With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together.”

“Now listen to me… We can end this Shutdown together.

Happening now: French workers on general strike. The day is coming when US workers and youth will follow suit.

“Federal sector unions have their hands full caring for the 800,000 federal workers who are at the tip of the spear. Some would say the answer is for them to walk off the job. I say, “what are you willing to do? Their destiny IS tied up with our destiny – and they don’t even have time to ask us for help. Don’t wait for an invitation. Get engaged, join or plan a rally, get on a picket line, organize sit-ins at lawmakers’ offices.

“Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay. Others are going to work when our workspace is increasingly unsafe. What is the Labor Movement waiting for?

“Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together – To End this Shutdown with a General Strike.

“We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American Labor Movement. We have the power.

“And to all Americans – We’ve Got Your Back!

Go back with the Fierce Urgency of NOW to talk with your Locals and International unions about all workers joining together – To End this Shutdown with a General Strike.”

Remember that? Not only a call for a general strike, but a call for the membership to agitate in their local unions for that. Within a few days, the government shutdown was ended.

Today, as almost all eyes are focused on who will be the next president, we should remember that speech from Sara Nelson. And we should be putting her call into action.

Nobody will save us. Not even Bernie Sanders, whose sum total action during that shutdown was the circulating of an online petition aimed at Mitch McConnell. If you want to see a savior, get a crew of workers together and take a selfie! Unfortunately, not a single major labor leader took up Sara Nelson’s call. If any lesser ones did is unknown. That is a large part of the reason that the United States is in the situation it’s in today.

Looming climate disaster and “the fierce urgency of now”
The most urgent issue of today is the climate disruption and plant and animal extinctions. Maybe Bernie Sanders will be the next president; maybe Trump will be reelected. One thing is certain: In either case, congress will not enact the steps needed to avert this looming disaster. What is needed is mass street action to simply shut down society. That makes Nelson’s words all the more relevant: “The fierce urgency of now.”

But that day is coming when workers will overcome not only the Republicans and Democrats but their own union leadership. The day is coming when we will rise up as Sara Nelson called for a year ago. That is the best way to commemorate Martin Luther King, jr.

From Martin Luther King jr. to Sara Nelson:
“The fierce urgency of now”

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