On 18 March 1968 Dr King made one of the most famous speeches* of his life and the civil rights movement. A fortnight later he was dead.
“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.” (Extract)
The message is still relevant.
Covid-19 has been revealing. About the services we all need, but also how we value the people who provide them. Many key workers** who continued to go in and put themselves at risk are among the lowest paid and least secure.
We should not say these people’s work has no dignity. But by most standards – income, savings, housing, health, education – the highest quality of life it permits is low. We clapped them every week for months. Will we be happy to let this go on?
Citizens Advice and other respected organisations and experts are making the case for benefit and employment reform that would mean a new settlement for key workers post Covid-19: see Key Workers: True Value.
* All Labor Has Dignity, Martin Luther King Jr, Memphis, 18/03/68
** Critical workers who can access schools or educational settings, Gov.UK, June 2020