King's activism focused on civil-rights battles but he was no stranger to the struggles of workers of all colors. Though he never delivered a Labor Day speech, he spoke many times about the importance of workers being organized. King was assassinated while down in Memphis, Tennessee lending support to Striking garbage sanitation workers on April 4, 1968. Kings support led directly to improvement of wages for workers and union organizers across the world.
King was not only an advocate for racial equality but also for economic equality. Labor movements all around would be forever changed and that organized labor would be a key action for economic equality. Dr. King’s words still ring true many years later. Working people today face an increasing strain as some companies demand that workers contribute more to their pensions and health care premiums while management pockets millions of dollars in profits.
Dr. King made several speeches to the AFL-CIO, the Shop Stewards of the Local 815, Teamsters and the Allied Trades Council and to the sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18, 1968
This is an excerpt of his speech to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO on Oct. 7, 1965
“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”
King's campaigning on racial and economic equality still today permeates through many organizations and is the cornerstone of organized labor throughout America and the rest of the world.