Memphis is historically a city that strongly embraces its workers. Part of that history is the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who came to support Memphis sanitation workers on strike in 1968 when he was assassinated.
On January 20, 2014, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Memphis community once again displayed support and solidarity with Memphis workers. Specifically, the 220 BCTGM Local 252G members locked out by Kellogg.
Hundreds of community and religious activists joined the BCTGM and other labor and allied organizations in events to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King, while highlighting the current struggle of Kellogg workers in Memphis.
BCTGM International President David Durkee and International Secretary Treasurer Steve Bertelli led a large group of locked out Local 252G members, families and supporters down Main Street for the 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade.
BCTGM members from as far away as Ohio and Michigan came to march with their locked out union brothers and sisters. Hundreds of union members, dressed in bright yellow Kellogg Lockout: Memphis, Tenn. shirts, carried signs and a banner, “Kellogg: This is NOT the 1960s – We Already Won Our Rights!”
Following the parade, President Durkee and the locked out Kellogg workers were honored as special guests during a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration service sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In his remarks to the special gathering at Cane Creek Baptist Church, Durkee reflected on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., noting that Dr. King’s passionate fight to end social and economic injustice resonates today just as it did nearly 50 years ago.
“One of those fights is going on right here in Memphis. This fight embodies all that is wrong with today’s America. But it also illustrates the spirit, unity, and resilience of America’s working families and the communities that they live in,” Durkee told the crowd.
“You are all well aware that three months ago Kellogg Company locked the doors to its Memphis plant, telling its hard working employees to go home, and not to bother returning until they would agree to a contract that would set back the next generation of Kellogg workers. Not just here in Memphis; but all over North America,” said Durkee.
He noted that Kellogg is a $14 billion dollar company that pays its CEO and top executives millions of dollars, while simultaneously lavishing its dividends and stock buybacks on its largest investors. “And yet despite all these riches, Kellogg turned on its workforce, their families, and their communities.”
Reflecting on the abrupt announcement made by Kellogg just two weeks before Christmas that it plans to close plants in London, Ontario and Charmhaven, Australia, Durkee said, “It goes without saying that these closings will devastate the local economies and hurt both communities. More middle-class jobs will disappear. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Kellogg just built another plant in Mexico.
“Kellogg, it turns out, is just like every other large company beholden to Wall St. Profits before people. The downsizing of the middle-class and the destruction of the American dream,” added Durkee.
“But Kellogg and its friends on Wall Street are in for a rude awakening. As Dr. King said nearly fifty years ago : ‘Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in this world.’ And that something is a movement to take back our communities. To fight for justice. To fight for power.
“Dr. King knew that if a movement was to be successful, people of all different types would have to come together. And we are seeing that today!,” Durkee proclaimed.
“One of Dr. King’s lasting legacies was his firm belief that people would indeed stand up for themselves; that they would fight for equality and justice; and that they would band together with their fellow citizens and demand a better day. That time is now,” concluded Durkee.