Two retired sanitation workers from Memphis stood proudly before the assembly gathered at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee the Friday before the April 5 election. The Rev. Jesse Jackson made sure the message was clear. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for these workers when they went on strike in Memphis in 1968. Now those assembled were to march in King’s honor and vote for candidates who supported a basic civil right: collective bargaining.
Opponents of labor unions have cleverly made this budget battle a choice between workers and taxpayers, workers and children, workers and just about everything else. But these are false choices, and nowhere is this better illustrated than the attack on the Milwaukee Public Schools food service workers.
A high percentage of food service workers are black and Latino at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Like the sanitation workers in Memphis, school food service workers see themselves fighting for their civil rights. The false choice is that money saved from the cuts in pay and benefits could be used to help fund kindergarten or lower class sizes.