This new year brings some degree uncertainty for some, and for others celebration. We as African Americans will reflect on last year’s victories and defeats with a sense of emotional pride that will inspire most of us to try harder this year.
Losses such as the death of Muhammad Ali (“The Greatest”) and victories like that of women’s tennis star Serena Williams with her 24th singles title victory will continue to add pages to African-American history.
Also, with the term expiration of President Barak Obama, who carried the mantle of president with a grace and honor never before seen in modern politics, and the death of legendary singer Natalie Cole, African Americans continue to be the woven in the fabric of this great nation with unmistakable clarity.
As we approach another year of celebration in observance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, many residents are shifting this year’s celebration theme towards a subject that was important to Dr. King himself, which was economic equality, or the Poor People’s Campaign.
Like Dr. King, many Americans believe that the African-American worker has been denied respect politically, socially and economically.
The history of the African-American worker can be traced back to the United States’ slave institution, which used African men, women and children as laborers to build economic wealth and prosperity. Since slavery however, the African-American worker has not matched their white counterparts in acquisition or compensation in all aspects of the labor force.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (data.bls.gov), professional African Americans fall short in compensation when compared to their white counterparts, who in some cases are less qualified.
With that said, many residents of south St. Pete continue to work for little or no wages, as did their ancestors before them. With no economic incentive from local or state government, local African-American residents continue to work menial jobs.
From the taxi driver, sales clerk, childcare provider, stock person, healthcare provider, security, construction, hospitality or sanitation worker etc., local African Americans who work these positions are living in near dire circumstances in comparison to many white residents who often supervise or manage these positions.
Historically, the slave worked for free or for food, which is the case for many local African-American workers today. Free in the sense, that wages are garnished to the point of slave labor in some cases, while utility bills and housing forces the 40 hour a week worker to seek public assistance in some cases.
In light of MLK Day, and consistent with Dr. Kings’ economic aspirations, most local south St. Pete workers feel as though the “Right to Work” law of Florida has not benefited the black workers. In fact, many residents feel as though this law undermines the important contributions of the African-American worker to Florida’s multibillion-dollar economy.
Many residents are convinced that the unionization of the African-American worker would force employers to pay local black workers higher wages and provide job security. In fact, most locally elected officials are aware of the benefits of unionization because most are native to union states.
However, solutions to the economic plight of local African Americans would contradict the very dialog of “pity and welfare reform” used by Mayor Kriseman’s administration and other local politicians to get black votes.
Nevertheless, in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, local African-American workers will come together in unity (as they do every year) and march with hopes for a better tomorrow.