January 16 - 22, 2006




The next stage of King's 'Dream'

It's one of those strange coincidences that on the very day after Martin Luther King Jr. holiday the Security and Exchange Commission proposed new rules calling for greater clarity on pay earned by chief operating officers of public corporations.

It's a strange coincidence because economic disparity served as both a major cause and a major symptom of the racial problems King sought to heal. King Day speakers and writers frequently  point to King's famous "I have a dream" speech, but he gave that in 1963 -- five years before he was murdered in Memphis. 

In the intervening time, King was focusing more and more on the economic underpinnings of the racial struggle. Read his 1967 sermon, listed below, and he makes that clear. Remember, too, that when he died, King was in Memphis to lend support to a strike by municipal garbage men who were seeking a living wage. His death came just before he was to launch the movement's next phase, his "Poor People's Campaign."

So it's a wonderful coincidence that the SEC moved to tighten up reporting of CEO pay so close to King Day. In recent years, wages for working people have barely kept up with inflation, while income for CEOs has skyrocketed. "From 1990 through 2004, CEO pay at the top 365 firms increased 319 percent, the S&P 500 238 percent, and profits 87 percent, while average worker pay rose 4.5 percent," reports the Christian Science Monitor

And these figures represents merely the reported CEO pay -- minus stock options, sweetheart retirement plans and many other perks that the SEC now wants companies to report.

The SEC's move simply underscores the basic point that King's work needs to continue on the front where King was about to lead his movement -- to economics, where the statistics show glaring disparities.  African Americans still earn 38 percent less than white people do, according to U.S. government figures. And in the last five years poverty has risen, as has the number of people without health insurance. And blacks and other minorities disproportionately make up those living in poverty.

The pay for minimum wage workers in 1968, the year King died, was the equivalent of $9.09 today -- worth $4 more than today's minimum wage, says columnist Holly Sklar. "The minimum wage has become a poverty wage instead of an anti-poverty wage," Sklar writes (read other columns in Gleanings.

King's "Dream" in 1963 called for racial equality, but it's clear that in his death King was broadening the movement to embrace a wider dream -- the American Dream for blacks and whites. The American dream is that everyone who works hard and honestly can afford to live in decent housing, buy nutritious food, pay medical bills and retire without undue hardship.  Now that's a dream we all can support.

 -Rob Blezard, editor and webmaster
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