Features, Law and Politics, National, New York

Unions: We Must Lead the Opposition to White Supremacy

August 17, 2017

By Joe Maniscalco

 

Robert E. Lee memorial in Charlottesville, VA.

Labor leaders here and across the nation are speaking out in the wake of the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and declaring trade unionists must lead the fight against the rise of white supremacy in Donald Trump’s USA. 

“The attacks in Charlottesville [Virginia] show the violence of racism and white supremacy,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda said in a statement. “We stand with Charlottesville and honor the memory of Heather Heyer. We also know that our union and the labor movement must lead in the fight against white supremacy.”

Miranda also noted that the establishment has always sought to divide workers based on race.

“Unions are the voice of equality and justice in the workplace — it is our responsibility to unite the working class for racial and economic justice,” Miranda continued.

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union of America, called racism a “blight” on the nation.

“The trade union movement which has led so many fights for equality should be a visible and vocal force denouncing these un-American white supremacist groups that perpetrated the violence in Charlottesville,” Samuelsen said in an email “Unions are working men and women of all colors and creeds standing together to collectively defend and advance their livelihoods. That’s America, not those haters who once again demonstrated how much work still needs to be done to stamp out racism in America.”

Shaun Francois, I, head of Local 372 and vice-president of DC 37, told LaborPress that Labor can, indeed, play a major role in the fight against racist hatred — the same way it did back in the turbulent 1960s.

“Labor can play a major role just like it did back in 1968 when they had the Sanitation Strike [in Memphis, Tennessee],” Francois said. “We need to get back to basics and take it back to the streets like out forefathers and foremothers before us. Our president has a moral responsibility to set the mood of peace instead of igniting Violence in this country, We are a divided people of minority groups. Labor can play a part in organizing a coalition by recruiting like minded groups and bring them together for a majority.”

Last week’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia claimed the life of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from the state. State Troopers Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Pilot Berke M.M. Bates also died when their helicopter crashed near the University of Virginia campus. Many others were also injured in the clash with neo-Nazi- and Klu Klux Klan marchers.

Héctor Figueroa, president of SEIU 32BJ, invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his condemnation of the white supremacist actions that sparked the mayhem.

“As a union we reject these kinds of hateful actions and encourage our members, working families and the reasonable majority to peacefully stand up against the torch-bearing, Nazi-saluting white supremacists who are sowing chaos in Virginia,” Figueroa said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.’ We must denounce intolerance and hate, and demand that the Trump administration reject these kind of hateful acts that go against the very principles of our country.”

Donald Trump, however, characterized the participants in last week’s swastika-ladened “Unite the Right” rally as “some very fine people.” Similar white supremacists rallies are planned for this coming week.

“Now is a moment for all Americans who believe in freedom and justice, in tolerance and inclusion, to stand up and speak out,” AFSCME leaders Lee Saunders and Elissa McBride said in a joint statement.

The union is further urging fellow trade unionists and the public at-large to join members in contributing to both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

“The white nationalism on display this weekend has no place in our communities, our politics or our workplaces,” RWDSU leader Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to stand up against the hateful ideologies that have become alarmingly mainstream over the past year.”

The RWDSU, itself, became the victim of an anti-Semitic cyber attack earlier this month, necessitating in the temporary shutdown of the union’s website.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a statement calling the violence that took place in Charlottesville the “worst kind of evil in our world.”

“Any response must begin with our leaders, starting with President Trump, acknowledging this for what it is: domestic terrorism rooted in bigotry,” Trumka said.

August 17, 2017

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