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APWU Web News Articles

50 Years of Fighting: In Memory of Echol Cole and Robert Walker

Web News Article #: 
10-2018

01/31/2018 - On February 1, 1968, two young black sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, were crushed to death when their outdated truck’s compactor malfunctioned. 29-year-old Echol Cole and 35-year-old Robert Walker were sheltering from a storm when their hazardous work vehicle tragically killed them.

The workers were outraged – something had to be done to demand dignity and safety. They saw that they would have to move mountains – and do it themselves – if they wanted a better life.

Two weeks later, black municipal employees walked off the job in a wildcat strike, demanding union recognition. They stood up and fought for safe working conditions, bargaining rights and better pay. 1,300 sanitation workers marched in protest under the banner of I AM A MAN – a mantra for dignity that would go down in history. This labor struggle brought together labor and civil rights leaders, the clergy and students. It created an unstoppable coalition that refused to ignore injustice.

February 1, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the on-the-job deaths of Cole and Walker which led to historic changes for racial and economic justice not only in Memphis but coast to coast. You can go to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ (AFSCME)  I AM 2018 campaign website for more information on how you can remember this infamous anniversary as well as other milestones of the historic strike.

Moment of Silence to Remember Fallen Workers

AFSCME is having a National Moment of Silence to remember brothers Cole and Walker on February 1, at 1pm EST, and asked APWU members to join with their union sisters and brothers.

Indeed, all workers deserve to be safe at work. The struggle for justice and dignity continues.