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Remarks from Roger Clayman on MLK Day

Monday, January 21, 2019

Thank you Rev. Coverdale for that kind introduction.

I want to call you attention to two people in attendance to day who are special to me.  First, the Chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee and my wife, Lillian Clayman.  And the President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, John Durso.

We have four Executive Board members here: William Kee from 1199; Kevin Peterman from the Faculty Association of Suffolk County Community College; Nick LaMorte from CSEA; and Norah Higgins from PEF.

While I am personally very proud to be recognized at an event commemorating Martin Luther King, I receive this on behalf of our Long Island labor movement.

When you gain the attention of Rev. Coverdale and the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, it shows you are working for the right things.  John Durso and I are proud to carry forward Dr. King’s legacy by fighting for workers’ rights and economic justice every single day and to work in coalition with many of you in this room. 

I promise you that we will not give up until the Riverhead Community Life Center, with the guidance of Shirley Coverdale, is a reality.  And we expect to see that soon – in our lifetime.

Many people know that Dr. King gave his life in Memphis, Tenn. in the Spring of 1968 as he brought the community together to fight for union rights for 1300 black sanitation workers. 

A living wage, health care, pensions, vacations, safety on the job, and dignity.   The right to be addressed by their name and not called “boy” by their supervisors.  Those were their demands.  That’s why Dr. King went to Memphis.

Dr. King often professed that the needs of the Civil Rights movement and organized labor were identical.

It is impossible to ignore the contemporary context of this relationship against the backdrop of the dysfunction in our national politics:

  • The overt expressions of racism;
  • The separation of thousands of immigrant children from their families;
  • The degradation of the environment and safe workplaces;
  • The right-wing attack on unions and the enlarging wage inequality across our land, especially impacting African Americans and Hispanics.

And yet, we labor together, and we make progress.

It is a solemn responsibility we have to re-instill democracy in our culture – day by day, door by door, community by community.  Dr. King’s fight for social justice is not one that comes to an end.  It is an enduring legacy we are charged to carry forward for the next generation.