Brooklyn, NY – The latest round of deadly mass shootings and sweeping ICE raids on poor working families this week have, once again, laid racism bare, while also underscoring trade unionism’s essential role in combatting it.
“The Trump administration’s mistreatment of immigrants at the border and his constant attacks on black members of Congress, and all people of color, has fueled this epidemic of white nationalist violence,” 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said in a statement earlier this week.
The head of the largest property service workers union in the country further called on members of Congress to “get back to work and pass sensible gun legislation.”
“No member of Congress should be enjoying a vacation while people are being gunned down,” Bragg said. “The Senate also must also act to condemn the President’s hateful rhetoric and policies, which have allowed white nationalism and violence to explode. President Trump’s insincere condemnation of white supremacy does nothing to reverse the suffering of black, white, immigrant, Jewish, Muslim and many others who have lost their loved ones.”
Aside from the moral obligation to confront racism head-on — why was 32BJ so unequivocally in its condemnation of Trump as the biggest purveyor of all this toxic hate?
Earlier this week, the nation lost one of its leading literary figures when Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Toni Morrison died at the age of 88. Morrison once said the following about racism in America: “Racism is not a not a goal; it’s a path. It’s just a route to power and money. That’s what it is, that’s what it’s for. The thing itself is just a manipulation and a tool.”
What Morrison understood intimately well, is that above all else, what the 1-percent — the monied class — fears and abhors the most is, working people united in common cause. So, they use racism as a tool to sow division and discord amongst the working class.
It’s been going on throughout American history. Trump and his scapegoating of hardworking immigrants and his white nationalist incitement to violence against those deemed as “other” is just the latest, sickening incarnation.
Labor power, however, has always been most potent when racism is understood to the degree that the late Toni Morrison understood it.
Despite the all the present hate-filled political climate, there are plenty of examples of Labor realizing its power.
In July, the Communications Workers of America [CWA] voted to condemn the “divisive, racist ‘send them back, love it or leave it’ rhetoric of the President of the United States” and to “call on other unions, community organizations, legislative bodies, and individuals to issue similar calls for the President to end this rhetoric, on his own part and among his supporters, especially the President’s Republican colleagues.”
A month prior to that, the Association of Flight Attendants’ [AFA] executive board unanimously resolved to “oppose any efforts by the Trump administration, lawmakers, or private companies to reinterpret existing laws and regulation; and continue to oppose enactment of any new legislation which would erase LGBTQIA+ protections.”
This week, Walmart workers in San Bruno, California; Portland, Oregon and New York City took part in a general strike protesting the corporation’s continued sale of deadly weapons. A California-based organizer reportedly sent out an email to his co-workers declaring, “In light of recent events, and in response to corporate’s inaction, we are organizing a ‘sick out’ general strike to protest Walmart’s profit from the sale of guns. Tomorrow, Tuesday 8/6/2019, do not show up to work.”
“For more than a decade, CWA has been crystal clear that Labor cannot overcome the challenges of our time unless we unite with, and build broad movements for social change,” union leader Chris Shelton told delegates to the 2019 convention in Las Vegas, Nevada last month. “Progressive movements help to create a political climate in which working people realize that change is possible and union membership can change their lives. Progressive movements force the government to stand on the side of workers, instead on the side of bosses. That’s what happened in the 1930s and that’s what happened in the 1960s.”
In the aftermath of ICE raids across Mississippi in which some 680 poultry processing plant workers were arrested, leaving many of their children suddenly alone — Vermont Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said, “This is evil. Days after immigrants were gunned down in El Paso, Trump is continuing the attacks on immigrant families. Our job is to reject Trump’s racist agenda, end the terror inflicted on immigrant communities and bring families together, not tear them apart.”
The only way, however, that working people will ever accomplish anything — is if they continue to remember what racism is really all about, align together, and reject the hatred and division that Trump and the rest of the 1-percent tirelessly foment.