The American Federation of Labor was founded in 1886 and the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1935. The two union federations merged in 1955. For most of this time police organizations — wrongly referred to as unions — were not affiliated with the U.S. labor movement.
The International Union of Police Associations, comprised of local police groups, like the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Benevolent Association and others, was not chartered by the AFL-CIO until 1979.
If the federation is to uphold its Mission Statement — its stated purpose is “to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation” — the AFL-CIO must immediately expel the IUPA.
Consistently, police associations side with their members against the communities they occupy and routinely subject to brutal, all-too-often deadly force. They defend the violent suppression of recent Black Lives Matter protests, which has led to several deaths and numerous injuries.
Their contracts have a long list of protective disciplinary guidelines — which most employers would never agree to — making it nearly impossible to hold cops accountable for misconduct, including murder.
A prime example is Bob Kroll, the president of Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. Calling on Kroll to resign, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy explained, “Kroll has a long history of bigoted remarks and complaints of violence made against him. As union President, he antagonizes and disparages members of the Black community. He advocates for military-style police tactics making communities less safe and the police force more deadly.
“Despite his conduct, Kroll was reelected with an overwhelming majority.”
Kroll, who now defends the killers of George Floyd, is hardly exceptional. As a resolution passed by Seattle’s MLK Labor states, “Systemic racism exists in the City of Seattle Police Department.” The Seattle Police Officers Guild faces expulsion from the local labor federation if it does not affirm “that racism is a structural problem in our society and in law enforcement that until addressed creates undue harm on Black and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] communities.”
There are calls for stronger action, including a petition signed by thousands of union members calling for the AFL-CIO to expel the IUPA and for AFL-CIO-affiliated public sector unions with police units “to terminate their relationships with unionized police and correctional officers.” (tinyurl.com/ybcgbonv)
Cops aren’t part of working class
Some misguided union members might think that cop associations are merely fulfilling their legal obligation — the “duty of fair representation.”
But real unions, historically, have not defended racist conduct. For example, during World War II, backward white autoworkers staged “hate strikes” to keep Black workers from getting jobs on the assembly line. The United Auto Workers told the auto companies to fire the racist workers.
More importantly, there is a fundamental distinction between labor unions, which represent the organized working class, and “fraternal orders” or “benevolent associations” that represent the uniformed goons of the capitalist state. The police represent an alien class interest. In communities of color they are essentially a colonial occupying force that consistently upholds white supremacy — which their membership organizations reinforce.
In the U.S., police forces began as armed bodies to support chattel slavery, or “slave catchers.” From the first strikes in the 1800s until today, the police have sided with the bosses and upheld capitalist wage-slavery. In addition, policing is a drain on city budgets already strained by falling tax revenues during an economic crisis and exorbitant interest payments demanded by big banks.
Why, we must ask AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, are police allowed to be a part of the labor movement? Yet he takes the pathetic position that “The short answer is not to disengage and just condemn.” (publicintegrity.org, June 5)
Certain supervisors — those who can hire and fire workers — are often not allowed to join unions. A lone individual who crosses a picket line can be barred from union membership. It’s past time to expel the cops — police, prison and detention guards, border patrol and all armed agents of the capitalist class — and get their toxic presence out of the labor movement once and for all.
Growing class consciousness explains the mass popularity of the slogans “f— the police” and “all cops are b—ds.” The acronyms FTP and ACAB (1312) have been spray painted from coast to coast. This is a working-class revolt.
These youth, many of them low-wage workers, are putting their lives on the line for Black Lives Matter. Theirs is exactly the awareness, energy and militancy that the labor movement desperately needs. These youth want to be organized into unions, not be targeted by police or be incarcerated. Not only should the cops be thrown out, the young, multinational working class that has taken on the state needs to be brought in to replace them.
FTP! Organize the youth!