Labor, racism & organizing the South
Following are edited excerpts from an Aug. 25 article by Saladin Muhammad, of the Southern International Worker Justice Campaign, entitled “U.S. labor movement must struggle against racism and white supremacy to rebuild its strength!”
As the U.S. and global economic crisis intensifies, the scapegoating of the most oppressed sections of the working class also intensifies.
Racial profiling is a polite way of saying that Black and working-class people of color are being targeted by state and vigilante repression. It is important that we recognize this targeting as a major part of the capitalist strategy to divide the working class and to recreate major and long-term antagonisms to prolong the life of the capitalist system.
Capitalist crisis amounts to a war on Black America
The murder of young Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., by a racist white vigilante and the role of the Sanford Police Department and local and state governments — and the use of the Stand Your Ground law in trying to protect the killer and justify his racist act — have triggered a growing movement of resistance.
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement reports, “Every 36 hours starting from January 1, 2012, until July 9, 2012, a Black person has been killed by the police inside of the U.S.” The voices and actions of the U.S. labor movement need to be heard and seen challenging this war on Black America, which is largely a war on the Black working class. This war is destroying communities, institutions and lives.
In addition to promoting fear among whites, what is often unstated and downplayed by the term racial profiling is that it seeks to promote white supremacy — a sense of white privilege and national chauvinism that has been structured in the economic, social and political culture of U.S. democracy — to align the white working class with the capitalist elites and system.
Racial profiling is part of capitalism’s neoliberal strategy of forcing down wages, eliminating pensions and causing economic and social dislocation, which have created massive unemployment, homelessness, and gentrification for millions of mainly Black and working people of color.
Racial profiling turns the dislocated into commodities for the prison-industrial complex. There are more than 2 million mainly Black and working-class people of color incarcerated in the U.S. prison system. They are a super-exploited part of the U.S. working class.
Vicky Pelaez reports at Global Research, “At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society.” While some states pay the minimum wage, deducting for food, clothing and rent, “In privately-run prisons, [workers] receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day [or] $20 per month.” (March 10, 2008)
Without a race and class analysis of the attacks on the working class, the labor movement looks at these attacks in a narrow and economist way, one that prevents it from being seen as an organization that seeks to unite and empower the broad working class.
Labor movement must organize the South
The attacks on the trade unions are part of the corporate strategy to dismantle organizations that provide an organized and democratic framework for uniting and empowering the multinational and multiracial working class to resist these attacks. Capital recognizes that the trade unions, in order to survive and grow, must become part of the broader social movement that is challenging the corporate attacks throughout society and internationally.
The campaign in Wisconsin to recall Gov. [Scott] Walker points out the failure of the labor movement to struggle against racism as one of the major weaknesses in this important campaign. Reportedly, 39 percent of union households in Wisconsin voted in support of Gov. Walker partly in response to the racist messaging of the Walker campaign.
There is also something seriously wrong when the U.S. national labor movement fails to make a concerted effort to organize labor in the South, especially when the U.S. economy has shifted a major part of its manufacturing to this region. The South is also the location of a major concentration of direct foreign investments.
Labor’s failure to call for repeal of the right-to-work laws in the South — a region where they are the most concentrated, and where labor is the least organized and the most exploited — also reflects an historical bias by the U.S. labor movement, which is linked to its failure to mount a serious struggle against racism and white supremacy within its ranks and throughout society.
Thus, the South as a region has been victimized by a form of racial profiling and national chauvinism, which has expressed itself and aligned itself with U.S. foreign policies against other oppressed peoples of color throughout the world.
If the U.S. labor movement is to rebuild its strength during this period of major economic crisis, it must take up the struggle against racism and white supremacy/national chauvinism, not as an abstract debate, but as part of its social, political and organizing agenda.
Black workers are taking the lead in trying to build a movement to organize the South. Both dominant corporate political parties are holding their national conventions in Southern states because they understand not only their critical role in the presidential elections, but also in the U.S. and global economy.
Support the Southern Workers Assembly as a step toward building a Southern Labor Alliance and a mass social movement to organize the South.