Ken Riley: Martin Luther King Day Speech

Full transcript from speech Ken Riley, International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 President, delivered on Martin Luther King Day 2012 in Charleston, SC


Good evening, everyone.  I would like to take this opportunity to welcome each of you to our home, the headquarters of the International Longshoremen Association, ILA Local 1422.  The movie industry is alive and well here in Charleston.  If it wasn't for the filming of Army Wives on tomorrow, this event would have been held down in the community hall. 

Therefore I must issue a warning here this evening.  You are currently seated in our hiring hall.  If we receive a request for labor this evening, we are bound by law to hire from the individuals who are present in the hiring hall.  So while you all are out there looking so pretty and dressed up, I hope you have your coveralls, hard hats, gloves, and steel toe shoes in your automobiles.  Because, you will have to go to work.  A refusal could result in a 7, 14, or 30 day suspension.

Nevertheless, I believe it is fitting, that we find ourselves here tonight, not in a decorated auditorium but in a place where working men and women assemble everyday to seek work, and to provide a decent living for their families.  I believe it is only fitting that we find ourselves in a Union Hall, yes a Union Hall, in South Carolina, as we commemorate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King; A legacy which included the struggle for dignity in the workplace.  Even Dr. King realized that the best way to secure fair wages, safe working conditions, healthcare, pensions, and most of all respect in the workplace, was by organizing.

That is why he went to Memphis.  That is why he died.  He recognized that workers rights are civil rights.   He realized that these rights would be more secured within a union.  As Dr. King traveled throughout this country and throughout the south in particular, he witnessed firsthand the calamities associated with an ever intensifying class war.  He warned us, in Memphis, in 1968.  While addressing the Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King made this point, he said, “We have developed an underclass in this nation.  And unless this underclass is made a working class, we are going to continue to have problems.”

Brothers and sisters we have major problems in this country.  They are continuing and they are growing.  Why?  Because for the firs time in a longtime, we are witnessing the disappearance of the middle class and its foundation, which is organized labor.  It was the unions that built the middle class in America and in particular the black middle class. 

So now, The Corporate Barons, the right wing conservatives, and the republican party have declared war on the middle class, and as you can plainly see, they in are in full battle mode.  They are turning back the clock.  In my opinion, their primary target is organized labor, the Unions.  Why, because of the amount of damage that can be done by eliminating them;

Eliminate the unions and corporate profits will soar, all on the backs of the working poor.

Eliminate the unions and the middle class will crumble.

Eliminate the unions and a major source of funding for the Democratic Party or any other socially conscious party will evaporate.

Eliminate the unions and the only true voice of working people will be silenced.

Eliminate the unions and many benefits that you as workers currently enjoy, rather you are union or not, will begin to disintegrate. 

Remember, and make no mistake about it.  It was the unions that brought you,

40 hour work week
The weekend
Paid Holidays and Vacations
Employer provided healthcare
Sick Leave
Family Medical Leave Act
The Minimum Wage Law

In Closing, Corporate America, Foreign Capital, and the Republican Party have declared war on the working people of our communities, accepted it, and internalize it, but most importantly let us prepare quickly to defend against it.

If this is war, then we must act as though its war.  Working people in Wisconsin and Ohio understands that this is war.  Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, and Occupy Charleston and yes Occupiers all over this nation understands that this is war. The longshoremen up in Longview Washington, who are preparing for a major fight this month, understands what this is all about.

Listen, we are not going to turn back the clock.  We are not going to let them.  The Republicans are campaigning here in South Carolina this week, on the theme that they are going to take back America.  How in the world you are going to take back something you already have taken.  No, we the people are going to take back America, beginning in November when we re-elect Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America.

Again, Welcome to the House of Labor in this community, the headquarters of the International Longshoremen Association, ILA Local 1422.  Please enjoy the evening.

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