Every year, Mumia Abu Jamal’s birthday is observed by the most militant and politically advanced workers around the world. This year there were demonstrations in London, Paris, Berlin, Juarez, Mexico, Houston, Sacramento, California, Los Angeles and, of course, in his hometown of Philadelphia.
This year, these protests calling for Mumia’s release coincide with powerful worker uprisings in France against pension cuts and the ongoing occupation of the Weelaunee Forest in defense of the land Georgia officials have staked out for “Cop City.” While there may not be as many burning patrol cars and precinct buildings as there were in 2020 following the police lynching of George Floyd, it’s clear that the fiery spirit that ignited at the start of this decade isn’t dying out any time soon.
The movement to free Mumia has likewise birthed generations of freedom fighters. And like the former apartheid government of South Africa, the dying white-supremacist empire in the U,S. cannot survive the release of their most prized political prisoner.
The path of Mumia’s freedom struggle is paved with stepping stones from each victory won for prisoners along the way. The fight to get Mumia the treatment for hepatitis C that he contracted in prison, for example, was a historic win for prisoner health care across the country.
There’s nobody the cops and the prisons wanted to kill more than Mumia. And yet he lives. That itself is proof of the enormous pressure the masses of people can put on the system when we act together.
The key factor in so many of these victories occurred when rank-and-file workers used their organizational power to intervene on behalf of prisoners. In 1999, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down all West Coast ports demanding freedom for Mumia, and 20,000 people marched through San Francisco for Mumia, led by the ILWU contingent. Teachers in Oakland, California, held teach-ins on Mumia and the death penalty.
More recently, the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal in Oakland organized demonstrations to demand needed hep-C treatment for prisoners and against BigPharma price-gouging by Gilead Sciences, maker of the hep-C cure Harvoni.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and other South African workers have called for Mumia’s release. Starbucks Workers United, the ILWU and Amazon Labor Union leaders have called for his freedom.
Why not the AFL-CIO? Why not the Writers Guild of America? Why not the Teamsters? If you’re a union member, what would it take for you to get a resolution adopted calling for Mumia’s freedom?
May Day means solidarity with prisoners
May 1 is International Workers Day. When rank-and-file workers get out into the streets to raise their own grievances, we get results. As workers, we have enormous influence over capitalist societies, but we can only wield that power in an organized, collective manner.
But what would happen if workers didn’t just join a picket line because it’s their wages that are on the line? What if we looked at the demands being raised by other workers, by the most oppressed workers in our class, in particular?
What if, by next May Day, we raised up the demands of the most oppressed sector of our class? One out of every 100 workers is shackled in a prison cell right now, forced to eat shitty food and drink poison water, subjected to the worst humiliations and the most brutal violence.
What if we echoed the call made by anti-apartheid guerrilla leader Oliver Tambo in 1982: “Now is the time, South African youth; you can and must render South Africa ungovernable!” (tinyurl.com/va5fm3w4)
We know from the letters Workers World gets from our readers on the inside just how many of our comrades inside are just waiting for the chance to be able to reciprocate a little solidarity sent their way. If you’re a union worker, don’t you want them on your side when you fight your next battle against the boss?
The Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party calls on all rank-and-file unionists to make prisoners’ demands your demands. There is no better place to start than by demanding the immediate release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Free Mumia! Free them all!
The writer is co-chair of the PSC, along with Mirinda Crissman.