Commentary: Labor against racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ attacks
By a Jewish New York City public sector worker and union member
When I arrived at my Local’s union meeting Oct. 30, I was wondering whether anything would be mentioned about the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. I am one of very few Jewish members of my Local.
My Local has fought to make the city of New York comply with the 1963 Equal Pay Act, so that our predominantly women-of-color membership is paid the same salaries with the same job titles as Caucasian males like myself. This is a cause that I have proudly supported on the bargaining committee.
After the massacre, I was depressed and remembered the stories of U.S. anti-Semitism that my father related to me when I was a teenager. About how bullies would pull down the pants of my father and his brothers “to see if they were circumcised.” (Circumcision is a common medical procedure experienced by Jewish male children.) About how his schoolmates in Jim Crow Atlanta tormented him by saying they’d taken part in lynching a Jewish man.
My father was a schoolboy in 1913, when an innocent Jewish man, Leo Frank, was found guilty of murdering a young Gentile girl, Mary Phagan in Atlanta. After his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, Frank was ultimately kidnapped and lynched in 1915 by a group calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan. A few months later, the group changed its name to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan when they burned a cross on Stone Mountain, marking the second rise of the Klan in the U.S.
These stories deeply affected me and helped instill in me a passion for fighting against racism and all bigotry wherever it shows its ugly head. When my father died, I thanked him again at his funeral for this gift to me.
My Local allowed me to write an article in its newspaper on Frank’s case on the 100th anniversary of the lynching, titled “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All.”
At our meeting after the Pittsburgh massacre, my Local president, the first African-American woman ever to hold such a position in my local, asked for a moment of silence. Unfortunately, the announcement she made was that 11 people had been murdered in a church for praying.
I passed a note to the chair, and when the next speaker had completed his report, the president corrected her mistake, saying that 11 Jewish people had been murdered in the synagogue in the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. She added that our Local does not condone any type of anti-Semitism. Then, she asked me in front of the membership, “Was that OK?” to which I emotionally responded with two thumbs up.
When I got home and checked the Internet, I noticed that on Oct. 29, Chris Shelton, the president of my Local’s international, Communication Workers of America, which represents more than 700,000 workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, had issued the following awesome solidarity statement:
“Events of the past week have shaken our nation. Violent extremists have targeted African Americans, Jewish Americans and political leaders, and the Trump administration has declared its intention to dehumanize transgender and gender non-conforming members of our communities.
“I call on all CWA members and retirees to honor those who lost their lives this week in Jeffersontown, Ky., and Pittsburgh, Pa., by rededicating themselves to the fight for justice. We must put our union values into action by building stronger connections within our communities and by confronting white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies at every opportunity.”