Exactly 50 years after the 1968 sanitation workers began their strike and marched from Clayborn Temple to Memphis City Hall, hundreds gathered in Memphis to march the same route on Monday.
As the mass of marchers made their way through the streets of Downtown, stepping to the rhythm of a small marching band, they chanted, holding picket boards resembling those carried in 1968.
The marchers, who were from two dozen cities around the Mid-South, were demanding $15 an hour minimum wage and fair working conditions.
The Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for $15 were the co-organizers of the demonstration.
The group was joined by labor organizer Bill Lucy and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, among others.
“This is an historic day because it looks back upon 50 years ago when folks marched to start the sanitation workers strike and to march for decent wages and job conditions,” Cohen said. “Fifty years later we’ve got some of the same problems we had then.”
Some of those problems, he said, are the wealth gap, as well as the number of people living below the poverty line and not working for a livable wage.
“This is an effort to get a $15 dollar an hour, livable wage, which we need to have all over this country,” Cohen continued. “And for workers to have a better life.”
At lunchtime on Monday, close to 100 fast-food employees and Fight for $15 advocates gathered near the Midtown McDonald’s on Union, rallying for respect, $15 an hour pay, and the right to join a union.
Carrying signs with different variations of the “I AM a Man” slogan, strikers in Memphis were among the thousands across the country who participated in strikes like these on Monday to pay homage to the 1968 strikers, while vowing to continue their fight.
“We’re fast-food workers and we count just as well as someone sitting in a corporate office,” a local fast-food employee said. “If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t get the money that they get.
“We need benefits, we need healthcare, dental, all that,” she said.
On this day in 1968, after two sanitation workers were killed by machinery on the job, hundreds of Memphis sanitation workers began daily marches. They were fighting for the recognition of the local union of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), as well as demanding their pay be raised to $2 an hour — the equivalent of $15.73 today.