Forty-three years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, about 400 labor-union members and supporters looked to him for inspiration from the Pacific Northwest.

Forty-three years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, about 400 labor-union members and supporters looked to him for inspiration from the Pacific Northwest.

They rallied for more than an hour in the rain, in the central-Seattle park named for the civil-rights leader.

If King were still alive, speakers said, he would be in Wisconsin, seeking to prevent the breakup of public-employee unions. Just before he died, King was supporting a strike by African-American garbage and sewer workers.

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, alluding to King’s “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, urged listeners of all races to struggle for economic and civil rights, and against extreme concentration of wealth.

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“We weren’t able to get there with him while he was alive, but he expressed confidence we can get to the promised land. That is why we, in the only government jurisdiction in the world named in his honor — Martin Luther King Jr. County — need to lead the effort to get to the promised land.”

Paul Bachtel, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, said in the current U.S. political climate, transit operators might see a wave of union-busting, though no such threat is imminent in Seattle. “Take away our collective-bargaining rights, our right to binding arbitration, and we’ll go on strike. Don’t screw with transit,” he told the crowd.

Between speeches, the Inshallah Youth Choir of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and the Seattle Labor Chorus provided odes to the labor movement, while many sang along.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com