Trayvon Martin didn’t live long enough to find a permanent job. He wasn’t a dues-paying union member. Why then is justice for Trayvon Martin, who was a 17-year-old African-American high school student at the time of his slaying, important to the organized labor movement in the United States?
His importance is being shown by the outpouring of resolutions and proclamations from a wide spectrum of local and national unions across the U.S. Local unions, labor federations and national unions have been speaking out following the outrageous July 13, jury acquittal of Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman.
On July 15, the South Bay [California] AFL-CIO Labor Council called upon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to bring criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Support for the national Justice for Trayvon Martin Movement came quickly from Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in San Francisco on July 18.
Augusta Thomas, a national vice-president of the 670,000-member American Federation of Government Employees, wrote on July 19: “This is about the value of life. It is specifically about whether the life of a Black youth has any value. … This is a time to reflect on how the depth of racial and ethnic prejudice drives a chasm between people who otherwise share so many of the same complaints, issues and concerns. This is a time to reflect upon who benefits from this chasm.” (Read these resolutions online at workers.org)
Workers are under attack all across the country, especially unionized workers, along with the masses of all nonunion, low-wage workers so squeezed to survive. These attacks by Wall Street and its political backers threaten to eliminate the gains workers fought hard for and won over many decades. Workers and labor organizations are seeking ways to mobilize the broadest resistance to these attacks.
As sister Thomas explains, the biggest obstacle to a united working-class fightback is racism. Those who should be united by class interest will fail if the poison of racism and prejudice breaks up unity or prevents solidarity and unity from being forged in action.
And who is it that profits from the disunity caused by promoting racism among the working class?
It’s the Wall Street bosses and bankers and their system of capitalism. They can only succeed in their program of cutbacks and union busting if they can keep us — the massive and thoroughly multinational working class — confused and divided.
That’s why protesting the racial profiling shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, and every outrage and incident of racism, especially the war on youth of color by the police and vigilantes like Zimmerman; attacks on lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender and queer people; anti-women and sexist injustices; and other prejudices and oppression are profoundly labor issues.
The labor movement must redouble its efforts to show solidarity to all the communities fighting for jobs, a better future and freedom from discrimination. In doing so it will help educate the more backward layers of the working class, build anti-racist unity and create solidarity among all workers of all ages, in a union or not, including unemployed workers and all the communities involved.
It is the only way forward for the labor movement. An injury to one is an injury to all. Justice for Trayvon Martin!