But was King fighting for the things that Trumka and his union forces are fighting for today? Is, say, the "right" for well-paid, unionized public employees to enjoy a health plan that includes coverage for Viagra -- a cause for which Milwaukee teachers waged a protracted court battle -- the equivalent of King's work in Memphis, much less his efforts for the right to vote and access to public accommodations?
"It is delusion, bordering on abomination, to try to equate what Martin Luther King was doing in Memphis to public workers getting Cadillac benefits for which they contribute very little, or nothing, at taxpayers' expense," says Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who has also served on the National Labor Relations Board. "The sanitation workers in Memphis were receiving wages that were so significantly below that which are enjoyed by middle-class teachers in Madison that to try to draw that comparison is offensive. Truly offensive."
Whatever events take place on April 4, look for the effort to have the enthusiastic support of the Obama administration. "Union rights are no different than civil rights," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told officials of the Communications Workers of America during a Wisconsin strategy conference call two weeks ago. "It's a part of our history, it's a part of our culture, it's a part of what has made this country so great."
Will it work? After all the demonstrations and all the speeches, will the public watch protests by angry, nearly all-white, middle-class school teachers with excellent health and retirement plans and think of Martin Luther King? Trumka's AFL-CIO and the big unions are very rich and very powerful. They have the ability to get their message out. But their April 4 strategy might be too ambitious even for them.
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