Philando Castile’s “death by cop,” along with that of Alton Sterling, has sparked massive protests against racist state terror across the U.S.
Castile’s life, as a union member and beloved school cafeteria worker for 13 years, has reignited a commitment to labor solidarity in the struggle against police brutality and racist injustice. Castile was a member of Teamsters Local 320, Minnesota AFL-CIO.
In Philadelphia, a “Justice for Philando” protest emphasized that “Black lives matter” and “Black work matters.” UNITE HERE Local 634, the high school food service workers, called the event, saying, “He was one of us.” More than 100 union members and activists gathered on July 14 in front of Benjamin Franklin High School, where a Black student was brutalized in May by school police. Some flew red flags with the union solidarity message: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
UNITE HERE’s press release demanded: “Our country needs to organize to change the economic conditions and social biases that perpetuate this culture of violence and hate against people of color.” Their members were joined by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Working Educators Caucus, Teamsters, Service Employees Locals 1201 and 32BJ, along with students from the Philadelphia Student Union and Youth United for Change to build labor solidarity against racist police brutality.
Growing solidarity in the increasingly multinational U.S. working class, including by nonunionized workers, is visible in widespread support for Black Lives Matter in the “Fight for 15” minimum wage movement. In the wake of the recent police killings, a statement from the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance “condemns the continual mistreatment, brutality and murder that the Black community faces, and stands firmly with the Movement for Black Lives.” (apalanet.org)
Representing farmworkers, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, called for Brown unity with Black struggle after the killing of Castile and Sterling. President Baldemar Velasquez denounced “systematic racism” in the U.S., saying: “Now is the time when solidarity matters most in this movement for justice. … Join us in standing with our Black brothers and sisters as we all fight for a country where traffic stops don’t end in death.” (floc.com)
Workers ‘Unite2Fight’ racism
The AFL-CIO launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #1uenough, “One union Enough,” to reinforce the need for solidarity against racism. Forwarded widely by groups like Pride at Work, an organization of LGBT labor activists, a recent tweet honored Sandra Bland on the July 13 anniversary of her death in Texas police custody after being stopped for failure to signal a lane change.
Labor solidarity has ranged from protests and vigils to resolutions. On July 9 and July 13, Boston activists, members of the militant, “old-school” Boston School Bus Drivers, Steelworkers Local 8751, joined thousands to say “no” to racist police murder. Vice President Stevan Kirschbaum spoke wearing a sign, “Justice: Jail Killer Cops.” Also marching in the “Unite2Fight” action were red-shirted members of UNITE HERE Local 26. The protests were organized by MASS Action Against Police Brutality.
In Chicago, National Nurses United marched with signs reading “Racism is a deadly disease.” They stated in a July 12 press release that “from racially motivated police shootings to the courts to incarceration, and racial disparities in health care,” racism is a matter of concern to them as working nurses. (tinyurl.com/jaa4dde) In Brooklyn, Hotel Trades Council members came out to march on the anniversary of Sandra Bland’s killing.
A Facebook post by the Philly Coalition of Labor Union Women called attention “to the hundreds if not thousands of Black and Brown lives taken without regard for how precious their lives were.” (tinyurl.com/hzsoea4, July 10)
International solidarity has come from the International Transport Workers’ Federation, representing 5 million workers in 150 countries. The ITF says “the global union movement we represent, stands shoulder-to-shoulder” with workers in the U.S. in mourning and in calling for accountability. (tinyurl.com/gsnt3oo, July 8)
Cops out of labor unions!
Philando Castile’s Teamsters Local 320 is part of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, which also represents “law enforcement personnel” in some jurisdictions. The cop who killed Castile was not a member of his union. But all over the U.S., cops and prison guard groups are admitted as “unions” into organized labor.
Castile’s death exposes the deadly contradiction of calling people in these groups “workers” when they are armed and paid by the state to repress workers. The Appalachian Workers Alliance delivered a powerful message about this in a statement titled “Yes, ALL Cops: Against Police and in Support of Oppressed People”:
“The police are the foot soldiers of national and racial oppression in the United States. … Police are not workers. Police are armed enforcers of a state and economic system that exploits workers and oppresses people of color. Real unions pledge to not cross picket lines while police, in fact, bust unions and break up picket lines.”
If labor wants “one union” of workers, get rid of the cops and prison guards!
Sara Catalinotto, Gerry Scoppettuolo and Scott Williams contributed to this report.
(WW photo: Scott Williams)