Dr. King’s goal was full employment and universal health care. J. Phillip Thompson

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June Zaccone

Jan 16, 2023, 12:41:02 PM1/16/23
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Dr. King’s goal was full employment and universal health care.
J. Phillip Thompson January 21, 2013

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a leader for our times. A thoroughgoing revolutionary, he advocated peaceful yet determined resistance to not only racial but also economic subjugation.

Though his approach was nonviolent, he never to advised passivity in the face of injustice or acceptance of the “politics of the possible.” His was a call to prolonged protest and self-sacrifice among people of conscience, a resolve strong enough to force a humanistic reordering of national priorities and transformation of the political economy. In opposing militarism and denouncing the Vietnam War during the height of its popularity, King proposed spending money instead on full employment, universal healthcare, affordable housing, and massive investments in education. He repeatedly cautioned that technology and corporate wealth were being used for selfish ends:
The contemporary tendency in our society is to base distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breath of meaning it is necessary to adjust this inequity.
On this national holiday, as we debate austerity measures, the jobs crisis, and gross inequality, we would do well to recall the entirety of King’s mission.
• • •
King believed that racial justice was not the final aim of black Americans’ struggle, but rather part of a broader and more fundamental struggle for economic justice. Economic justice also was not the ultimate goal, but it was a condition of that goal: upholding the dignity and promise of human beings everywhere. While he supported blacks’ efforts to win political offices and championed black pride as a counter to negative anti-black stereotypes and black self-hatred, King continuously reminded black audiences that winning meaningful improvements required strong alliances with poor whites, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans.....

Some progressives, desperate for signs of hope, look to the labor movement. King believed it was imperative to redesign the economy to protect workers and sought an alliance with labor leaders. He told the national AFL-CIO convention in 1961:
In the next ten to twenty years, automation will grind jobs to dust as it grinds out unbelievable volumes of production. This period is made to order for those who would seek to drive labor into impotency. . . . To find a great design to solve a grave problem, labor will have to intervene in the political life of the nation to chart a course which distributes the abundance to all instead of concentrating it among a few. The strength to carry through such a program requires that labor know its friends and collaborate as a friend.
Tragically, following King’s assassination, most black political leaders were too fearful to follow his example. They retreated from building a multiracial movement for full employment. By the early 1970s, most accepted affirmative action—a far less costly strategy than full employment, created by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to quell urban rioting and appease elites—rather than befriending and collaborating with other minority groups and poor whites in the service of transforming society....

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Network
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