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Rallies commemorate MLK’s death and labor legacy

Today, in 50 US states, rallies are being held to remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination 43 years ago, while he was on his way to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers. It comes, of course, at a time when labor rights are being threatened around the country by politicians eager to use tough budgetary times to advance an anti-labor agenda.

The rallies are under the banner of “We Are One,” through Working America, the AFL-CIO’s advocacy arm. Find the action nearest you on the official website.

I’m writing from northern Wisconsin, in a small town of only a few hundred people. The other day I was talking with a man who has lived up here just about all his life. Someone described him to me as the most forward-thinking man in town; he has an array of solar panels in his yard, and generating electricity for the neighborhood is only one of the many cottage industries he has going to support his family and his imagination. He was depressed because he’d just learned from the power company that, in a year or so, they’ll no longer pay him a reasonable rate for what he can add to the grid. They want to shut out small producers like him. He also has a job at a local school and is part of the union.

Last week, to defend the union’s right to organize, he went to the first rally he’d ever been at in his life. He talked about the people who passed by and saw him, hoping that the kids would remember this for years to come as a time when their parents finally stood up for themselves against big business. Most people cheered them on, he told me. But not all.

“A few of them were calling us bottom-feeders,” he said. “Well, I guess I’m a bottom-feeder.”