More than a dozen people marched Saturday from the Capitol to a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the University of Texas campus to defend workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain.
The event, called the Working People’s Day of Action, was held in conjunction with similar marches across the country Saturday, which was the 50th anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike during which King was assassinated.
The 1968 strike, which came after two black sanitation workers were crushed by a garbage truck, was part of a labor movement that resulted in several nationwide reforms.
“It was this strike that reminded us that all working people were humans,” event organizer Steve McNulty said Saturday. “Fast forward to today, working people are facing threats on every front just as much if not more than 50 years ago.”
Participants in the march cited concerns about corporations shipping jobs overseas as well as the recently adopted tax cuts they say hurt the middle class.
“We’ve had a change in our political system for the worst,” Sheryl Cole, an Austin Democrat running for state representative in District 46, said Saturday. “It is time to fight.”
The key issue for those who participated in Saturday’s march — including the local chapters of the Communications Workers of America and of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — is a U.S. Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, that is expected to be heard this year and could overturn any requirements for government workers represented by unions to pay union dues. In Texas, workers already are not required to pay union dues, however many states mandate it.
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar called it a “veiled way of trying to take away the little bit of power that the union movement has” and said it would “gut so much of what the labor movement has built up over decades.”
He said that, while Austin has achieved many victories for workers’ rights, including adopting an ordinance this month mandating paid sick leave for employees, many of those rights are being threatened at the state and federal level.
“Some of our job is to make sure we defend those victories at the state Capitol,” Casar said.