Moment of Silence Honors Memphis Sanitation Workers, Connects Past To Present

Across the United States, in communities large and small, working people took time out on Feb. 1 to honor the sacrifices of two Memphis sanitation workers whose deaths triggered the historic 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in that Tennessee city – and changed the course of civil and worker’s rights nationwide.

Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed in the compactor of a malfunctioning garbage truck 50 years ago on the same day – after their warnings about equipment safety went unheeded. Their deaths led to a walkout by 1,300 fellow sanitation workers. The strike was characterized by the powerful signs that the sanitation workers carried, “I AM A MAN.”

New Haven city worker and AFSCME Local 3144 Vice President Harold Brooks and his family participated in the I AM 2018 Moment of Silence in New Britain.

Council 4 marked the anniversary of Cole’s and Walker’s deaths with a moment of silence in front of our permanent Workers Memorial in New Britain.

Click here for coverage of our ceremony in The Courant.

The Moment of Silence events in New Britain and elsewhere were part of a broader commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Memphis strike called I AM 2018. This campaign seeks to connect the struggles of a half century ago to the enduring issues of today, including the upcoming Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 – the latest attack on public service workers by deep-pocketed corporate interests.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Memphis several times in the spring of 1968 to support the AFSCME sanitation workers' fight for safer working conditions, better wages and simple dignity. It was in Memphis that he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

AFSCME is planning the Working People's Day of Action in major cities across America on February 24, the Saturday before the court hears arguments in the Janus case.

Council 4, SEIU, the Connecticut AFL-CIO and other unions will join with community allies for “We Rise” rallies on February 26 at noon in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Storrs.