Why unions need Black youth
The new youthful explosion demanding justice and battling police racism and terror is offering new life to the existing labor movement. We write “existing” to make it clear we are aware of its historic political weaknesses, especially with its predominantly white, male leadership at the highest levels. Hundreds of thousands of young people in the streets offer the opportunity for the labor movement not only to keep on existing but to grow.
Workers World newspaper reporters visited Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown’s killing. We spoke with African-American youth who were furious at the killer cops responsible for Brown’s death. They raised their need for jobs, for a living wage and — for labor unions. They want to join a union that will listen to them and fight for them.
Let’s make that clear. Despite their disappointment that unions were not reaching out to these young people, the Black youth saw union membership as a way to protect their interests on the job and to fight for higher wages, better benefits, etc. For the low-wage jobs they saw in their future, they knew a union was necessary for their survival.
That was the voice of a sample of the several thousands in the streets of Ferguson last summer. Now they are joined by hundreds of thousands more youth — Black, Brown and white — who are putting their bodies on the line in the struggle for justice against racist police repression and murder.
Workers World encourages class- conscious union activists to reach out to your unions and bring them into this struggle with concrete solidarity. There are a few simple steps that could make a difference.
Open the doors of a union headquarters to the young people demonstrating in the streets. Create a safe haven for demonstrators to have hot tea or coffee, eat a slice of pizza and know that the union is on their side.
Many individual unionists are participating in the demonstrations. But unions can also organize as unions, bringing union banners. In New York on Dec. 4, unionists in the hundreds from the Professional Staff Congress of the City University and hospital workers from 1199 Service Employees carried their banners in Foley Square and on the march. They set a good example for the labor movement to follow.
During the earlier Civil Rights Movement, we often saw banners of the United Auto Workers or the Transport Workers Union in the fight against racist segregation and for equal rights. Let’s see it again.
If the most class-conscious and anti-racist union members start to make this appeal, it can set in motion a new dynamic that shows “Black lives matter” to the union movement. This can attract the most heroic and politically advanced youths to the labor movement that needs them to survive and prevail. Show solidarity with Black youth against police terror and build the solidarity needed for a united, powerful and successful labor movement.