The jury trial on trumped-up charges against union leader Steve Kirschbaum will begin on Feb. 2. After months of pretrial hearings and false starts, this founder of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union will be in court facing serious felony charges.
United Steelworkers Local 8751 was already in a fierce fight against global union-buster Veolia, which locked out the union members and then fired four of its leaders in October 2013. As support grew for the campaign to reinstate the leaders – Kirschbaum, Andre Francois, Garry Murchison and Steve Gillis — Veolia resorted in June to manufacturing four felony charges against Kirschbaum.
Everyone watching this case knows that the charges are fraudulent and are meant to break the back of this fighting, majority Haitian and Cape Verdean union. Two of the charges have already been dismissed.
Of course, the obvious falsity of the charges is no guarantee of justice in the capitalist courts.
If an African-American youth can be gunned down or choked to death by police in broad daylight — with video footage of the event to boot — and the perpetrator is never charged for the crime, then a communist, anti-racist trade union leader can face a fabricated case and be in trouble.
That is why the letter seeking support from organized labor for Local 8751’s fight against Veolia was signed by both United Electrical Workers Local 1110 President Armando Robles and Boston Black Lives Matter organizer Daunasia Yancey.
Unions all over the country have responded to this letter with resolutions of support and donations. The Alameda County Labor Council in northern California recently passed a resolution urging support for Local 8751, calling it “as class conscious and as anti-racist a union that you will find anywhere.” This resolution follows one passed last year by the San Francisco Labor Council, which was initiated by Transportation Union Local 174, which represents that city’s school bus drivers.
This makes support from other school bus driver unions bicoastal — the New York School Bus Drivers Union, ATU Local 1181, issued a letter in October 2013 saying it “stands in 100-percent solidarity with USW Local 8751.”
Last year the Boston School Bus Drivers got support from Boston’s labor allies — the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, the Greater Boston Labor Council, Boilermakers Local 29 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2222. That support has now expanded to include the Massachusetts Nurses Association and Springfield-based Food and Commercial Workers Local 1549, both of whom have made donations.
Bus drivers join Black Lives Matter protests
Meanwhile, drivers have joined forces with Boston Black Lives Matter, turning out with placards when the organization called a Peoples State of the City Speakout in front of Symphony Hall, while Mayor Martin Walsh was giving the State of the City address on Jan. 13. Homeless advocacy groups joined the action as well.
That action was a first step in the expansion of Local 8751’s fight against Veolia from a “union struggle” to a “community struggle.” History shows that such struggles against attempts by the super-rich 1% to drive communists out of labor unions cannot afford to be isolated, since they are part of the broader struggle against racism.
The “red purges” of the 1940s and 1950s, when communists and socialists were pushed out of labor unions, are widely seen as the obliteration of social unionism and the consolidation of business unionism — a trend that continues today.
What is not as widely recognized is how this red purge decimated anti-racist consciousness and mobilizing in the unions, which were primarily being organized by communists.
The clearest example of this is the CIO’s attempt in 1946 to organize in the South. The campaign’s leaders were clear that in order to succeed, they also had to fight racism and take on Jim Crow.
However, that campaign was crushed. Why? Because right at that moment, on the heels of the biggest strike wave in U.S. history, with 4,600 strikes in the year after the war, the ruling class launched a massive purge of communists in the labor movement, aided by many trade union leaders. That attack on leftist unionists included the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and a host of other anti-union laws.
Racists in the South used this anti-communist frenzy as a cover for their goal of keeping the South segregated. Some accounts of this chapter of labor history describe how the vicious anti-communist frenzy strengthened the Klan and the police and liken the period to that when Black Reconstruction was overthrown in the late 1870s.
The assault on Local 8751 in Boston represents a similar dynamic — an attack on communists in a union serving as a cover for an attack on anti-racist solidarity.
In the 1970s, Boston’s African-American community won the right to desegregated schools. Ever since, that right has been under attack by a series of attempts to resegregate the public schools.
The Boston School Bus Drivers union has always fought all these attempts — with rallies, coalition building and every available means. It is easy to see why Boston’s elite 1% want to kill this union. It is a progressive, anti-racist base among workers whose jobs are to transport students to and from school and who represent the very symbol of desegregation: busing.
However, the city establishment does not seek only to crush the role that communists in this union have played in opposing racist resegregation of the schools. It also wants to smash the communist belief that the fight against racism is central to the class struggle.This also explains why the corporate media is increasingly trying to demonize the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
It is critical to pack the court on Feb. 2. Say NO to union busting and racism!