Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrates the life and work of one of the most well-known leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, whose work has resonance and importance around the world. This year on January 15, CUPE Ontario commemorates the timeless social justice values we gained from King’s example, including compassion and the courage to stand up for human rights and equality for everyone.

It is widely known that King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee but it’s less known why he was there. King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers who were on strike to protest unsafe working conditions, abusive white supervisors, low wages and to gain recognition for their union.

Martin Luther King Jr. was committed to building bridges between the labour and civil rights movements. He knew that human rights are union rights and was a strong advocate for all workers, and their right to organize. Today, King continues to be a symbol of the fight for fairness and justice in society including in the union movement.

King was also a strong voice for economic justice and the eradication of poverty. He understood the importance of paying workers a living wage to give them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. He believed that income equality would create a stronger economy for all of us.

In Ontario, we live in a province where so many basic human rights are still not being met because of austerity measures by Liberal governments. An untold number of Indigenous people live in communities without basic needs such as clean water and electricity. Systemic discrimination continues to exist in our communities and workplaces. Racial profiling of black men by police is still a problem and the socio-economic gaps among racialized groups continues to widen.

There is a very real economic impact of these inequalities. Studies show that racialized Canadians are three times more likely to live in poverty than other Canadians (19.8 per cent compared to 6.4 per cent).

The fight for social justice and equality is far from over. We are experiencing a resurgence of right-wing extremists and white supremacy groups. When the President of the United States re-tweets messages of hate and Islamophobia, we know we are living in a dangerous era and we cannot afford to be silent.

All of us have a role to play in fighting back against hate, fascism, racism and all forms of discrimination. On this day, CUPE Ontario recommits to following in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s footsteps in the struggle for equality and justice, and we will do this by mounting political and social justice campaigns, supporting the important work of our equality committees, and working in coalitions with others to create a better future for all.