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Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

The Fable of Localism

By Isaac Kreisman - Socialist Worker, January 9, 2018

AN AGING former ski coach and radio personality holed up at the end of a dirt road in rural Vermont may be an unlikely hero for a fictional rebellion story.

The new novel Radio Free Vermont isn't the work of a local eccentric, though, but perhaps the most prominent voice of the contemporary environmental movement: Bill McKibben. While the 350.org founder and Middlebury College professor has been publishing books for decades, Radio Free Vermont is his first novel--or "fable" as the author calls it.

While the book doesn't make any claims to be putting forward a political position or program, the imaginings of McKibben are worth engaging with. The professor and activist has a well-deserved reputation as a leading public intellectual and tireless organizer for climate justice.

His critiques of the fossil-fuel industry and policies of politicians of both parties have been unsparing, and he is vocal in advocating grassroots mobilization as essential to addressing the environmental crisis. In 2016, he was a surrogate in Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, and was appointed by Sanders to the Democratic Party's platform committee.

The back cover of Radio Free Vermont sports endorsements not only from Sanders but also from Naomi Klein, the author of the recent bestseller No Is Not Enough.

Below & Beyond Trump: Power & Counter-Power in 2017

By Black Rose Anarchist Federation - It's Going Down, December 23, 2017

This analysis was developed by ongoing discussions among members of the Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN) Anarchist Federation’s Analysis and Strategy Committee and sent as a discussion document to our August 2017 convention, where it generated deep discussion and further feedback.  It is organized into four sections: an analysis of ruling class power, an analysis of social movements, a statement of basic organizing principles in light of the current moment, and some suggestions for the federation moving forward.

Its main points are that we see real potential to build popular power and social anarchism in the coming period. The U.S. ruling class is fractured, the political terrain has shifted dramatically, and there is mass discontent with corporate politics as usual. This provides numerous opportunities for pro-organizational revolutionary anarchists to intervene as social movements arise. At present the mass discontent is being channeled by the institutional left – unions, non-profits, and other institutions traditionally aligned with the Democrats — into explicit reformism and electoral politics. We argue for promoting independent social movements outside of the institutional left while putting forward within new and existing social struggles the need to advance class struggle, collective direct action, direct democracy, and a vision of libertarian socialism.

Which way for the climate movement?

By Michael Schreiber - Socialist Action, May 11, 2017

On April 29, more than 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., in a powerful show of determination to rescue the earth from the ravages of climate change. Over 370 sister marches took place simultaneously across the United States and in countries around the world from Britain to Brazil, and from Mexico to Kenya and the Philippines.

The size of the crowd in Washington far surpassed earlier expectations by the organizers and the National Park Service. At precisely 2 p.m., virtually the entire march, which at that point extended more than 20 blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, grew quiet as people sat down as an ensemble. Drums kept the rhythm as the marchers thumped their chests to show that while coming from many backgrounds, their hearts beat as one.

In addition to the colorful puppets and banners carried by organized contingents, most of the marchers brought hand-lettered signs, with slogans reflecting a variety of related social concerns (such as “Black Lives Matter”) in addition to that of the environment.

Although the organized trade-union contingents were meager, spirited groups of Native Americans, LGBTQ people, and communities of color—including a number of Washington, D.C., youth—made their presence felt.

“In the face of a federal administration that would rather reap profits than protect people, our communities are rising up,” Jeremiah Lowery, climate justice organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a press statement on the eve of the march. “In Washington, D.C. and around the world, it’s low-income communities, communities of color, and workers who are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis they did the least to contribute to.”

There is no doubt that the threats by the Trump administration to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords and to rescind environmental measures put in place by Obama—which themselves were far from adequate—were responsible for swelling the numbers of people who joined the demonstration.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…

By Ali Tamlit - Red Pepper, April 23, 2017

To begin this story, cast your mind back a few months…

It’s May 2016. My facebook feed (the ultimate source of truth in our post-truth world) seems to be schizophrenic, or at least representing two entirely different worlds.

One world is the ‘green’ activists, who are in the middle of two weeks of global actions against fossil fuels. The spectacular actions in the US, Australia, the UK and most notably Ende Galende in Germany, have led some of my comrades to claim: “WE ARE WINNING!”

The other world is that of Monique Tilman, the young Black girl assaulted by an off duty police officer as she rode her bike in a car park. It is the world of police brutality, the world of indigenous people being dispossessed of their lands for tourism or ‘conservation’.

Surely, the ‘we’ that is winning can’t claim to include these people?

The green movement, under NGO leadership, seems to be content with shallow demands of CO2 reduction. Whilst the inextricable links between capitalism, ecological destruction, colonialism, white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy lie just below the surface, yet no one, within the nonprofit-industrial complex at least, seems to want to join the dots.

Why did Plane Stupid chain themselves to the runway at Stansted Airport?

By Plane Stupid - New Internationalist, March 29, 2017

Editor's Note: Plane Stupid includes members of the IWW.

Just over a year ago we were convicted for our part in the Heathrow 13 action. We occupied the Northern runway at Heathrow, cancelling 25 flights, saving hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted and protesting against the construction of the proposed third runway. For this we nearly went to prison.

So, why this move? Why is a well known environmental group now taking action against mass deportations?

Well, as Audre Lourde says, ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue campaign, because we do not live single issue lives.’ We do not see ourselves as ‘environmentalists’, nor do we see the fight against airport expansion or the fight against climate change as isolated from any other issue. Airport expansion is a form of violence and a form of oppression, one that a minority of people will benefit from the profits, whilst countless people will suffer from loss of community and health, both locally and globally.

As Black Lives Matter clearly stated back in September, the climate crisis is a racist crisis as it is Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies feel the worst effects of this violence. Oppressions are connected and the different forms it takes often share common roots. These roots include capitalism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and colonialism.

The rise of the bad jobs economy

By Neil Loehlein - Socialist Worker, February 27, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S presidency is sure to bring intensified attacks on U.S. workers. He has promised massive tax handouts to corporations, rollbacks of labor and environmental regulations, cuts in social services, attacks on abortion providers, and incarceration and deportation for undocumented workers.

Yet, in a grim twist of irony, anxiety and insecurity about the dismal conditions of U.S. workers, felt by many people, was a critical factor in Trump's "victory" last November.

One major component driving the sense of insecurity is the increase in jobs considered contingent or nonstandard over the past 10 years. Irregular hours, variable earnings, temporary or on-call employment, and a lack of job security are some of the aspects associated with this type of work.

This isn't a phenomenon of small businesses, either. In a majority of cases, these work arrangements involve large companies employing outsourced labor instead of directly hiring their workforce.

In an economically uncertain climate, bitterness at working a contingent job--or fear of falling into this type of work--was likely a factor in convincing some number of working place people to vote for Trump out of desperation at the economic conditions they face.

The shift, insofar as it took place, was neither universal, nor the result of the positive appeal of Trump's right-wing program. Most important of all, as Charlie Post explained in International Socialist Review, Hillary Clinton failed to mobilize traditional Democratic voters.

Faced with a choice between a corporate Democratic candidate with little to offer but more of the same and a populist demagogue who promised to bring back jobs to the U.S., a small section of workers--particularly older, white workers in a couple Rust Belt states that have experienced significant job losses in manufacturing over the years--chose the latter.

They will be tragically disappointed. Trump may have promised to "bring jobs back" to the U.S. during his campaign, but he has been ambiguous about the types of jobs he would create and how he plans to create them.

Trump claims he will revive manufacturing jobs lost to other countries through trade deals like NAFTA. But that facts say something different: Only a minority of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to "offshoring" to countries like China or Mexico. Studies show other factors, like automation, played a bigger role.

As Lee Sustar wrote at SocialistWorker.org, Trump's broader plans for government spending cuts, deregulation and privatization will only lower living standards for workers overall. At best, his proposal for infrastructure investment may create some highly skilled jobs in construction, but nothing on the scale required to fix the dearth of decent-paying jobs.

Trump's current hiring freeze on federal workers may even lead to the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs. Plus, deregulation of labor standards and the spread of right-to-work states under Trump's leadership could easily lead to a further proliferation of contingent employment.

The deteriorating conditions for workers that feed working class discontent will only get worse if Trump is allowed to get away with his reactionary program.

Connecticut activists demand 100% renewable energy, jobs and justice

By Susan Rogers - Socialist Action, January 26, 2017

“To Change Everything, It Takes Everyone!” Under this mantra of the new climate justice movement, 400 Connecticut activists joined a “March for Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Earth” on Dec. 3. Picket signs carried the slogans voted up by the planning committee and included: Emergency Transition to 100% Renewable Energy Grid! Mass Electrified Transit for All! No to the Fracked Gas Buildout! No to Environmental Racism! No to the State Budget Cuts! and Yes to Jobs & Justice!

The event broke new ground for the climate movement in the state, garnering significant union endorsement and the participation of some of the newest strikers from the Hartford Fight for Fifteen.

The speaker’s platform and march route demonstrated the organizers’ goal of making concrete the relationship of the fight to halt runaway climate change and the struggles for jobs and racial justice. For example, at the kickoff rally of the event, activists heard from John Harrity, the president of the state machinists’ council, who spoke of the contribution workers can make to building a fossil-fuel-free world. Bishop John Selders, of Moral Majority CT, a group well-known for actions against police brutality, educated the crowd about the power of the Black radical tradition and the need for social movements to learn this history.

The first stop on the march was Union Station, a train and bus depot, where Mustafa Salahuddin, the president of the Bridgeport, Conn., Transit Workers Local 1336, spoke of his union’s commitment to fight for green mass transit for all. At TD Bank, activists expressed solidarity with the water protectors and veterans at Standing Rock.

At the Main St. Burger King franchise, Vanessa Rodriquez, a Dunkin’ Donuts worker who was arrested in the recent Fight for 15 day of action, explained why she had chosen to sit down in the street. “I did it because we are all strong together. Whether it is the Fight for 15, climate change, or immigration, if we stand together we will win!”

Although the protest was launched by the usual trinity of the most active state climate organizations—that is, 350 CT, the Connecticut Sierra Club, and the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network—organizers hammered away in the call on the need for a climate movement that was linked to the everyday struggles of working people. The call began, “The fight to preserve our planet and halt climate warming is inextricably tied to the struggle for all the other elements of a decent human life: jobs, health, equality, and justice.”

The drive for endorsements was accompanied by more language about this commitment and said: “The climate movement stands ready to campaign with the labor movement, the Movement for Black Lives, Native Americans, climate refugees, immigrant communities, environmental justice activists, conservationists, and other community movements for a massive program of good green jobs and a turn to focusing on the needs of people over fossil fuel profits.”

Immigrant rights activists who were approached about participating in the march asked for more explicit attention to the threat hanging over them of more deportations, and the 350 chapter voted to add that the march was not only against environmental racism but would “Stand with Immigrants and Climate Refugees.”

In the end, the protest was endorsed by not only a large number of local climate action and peace groups, but also by the Connecticut chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and by four major state labor organizations. The latter included the State Council of Machinists, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Greater Connecticut Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, and the Connecticut UAW Cap Council.

The increased willingness of labor unions to endorse local climate actions is likely based, in part, on the opening created when many national AFL-CIO affiliates openly bucked the reactionary position on Standing Rock that was expressed by the federation president, Richard Trumka. But the now daily media coverage of the growing evidence that catastrophic change is inevitable without drastic encroachments on the prerogatives of big business is also having its impact on the ranks of the labor movement.

All this speaks to the potential of the April 29 People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., to put hundreds of thousands of working people in the streets and to kick off a new wave of organizing the unorganized millions who are ready to fight for a decent life in an unpolluted world.

Black Awakening, Class Rebellion

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor interviewed by George Ciccariello-Maher - ROAR Mag, December 2016

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has written the most important book of 2016. Published by Haymarket, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation has struck a chord nationwide, garnering major awards but more importantly sparking necessary debates. Like all militant texts, it walks the fine line between Marx’s “ruthless critique of everything existing” — in this case, not only the white supremacist power structure, but also the abject failure of Black elites and the Obama “illusion” — and the revolutionary optimism coalescing in the streets from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond. By showing us how we got here, to a society in which “colorblind” rhetoric provides cover for not only racist continuity but also the dispossession of the poor as a whole, Taylor’s book is a compass for charting a different course altogether. George Ciccariello-Maher interviews her for ROAR Magazine.

Airport expansion is a racist policy

By Jo Ram - Red Pepper, November 2016

On 19 November, activists blockaded one of the key access roads to Heathrow airport with a banner saying ‘Climate Change is A Racist Crisis’. More groups had interventions planned but the police foiled their attempts. 15 arrests took place throughout the day. 100s also took part in a nearby demonstration despite heavy police presence. This action was coordinated by Rising Up! and comes a few weeks after Theresa May gave the green light to the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

For the climate and everyone who doesn’t belong to the global political elite, May’s decision doesn’t make sense. Thousands will see their home demolished to make way for the new runway. Only 15% are responsible for 70% of UK’s international flights - so airport expansion doesn’t really benefit the average person who goes on holiday once or twice a year. Plus, a large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, whose routes could be better serviced by improved rail infrastructure. More crucially, flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change. It is not possible for the UK government to expand airports and meet existing commitments on climate action.

The subtext of this decision is loud and clear: the government’s doesn’t care either about the local community, who are fiercely opposed to the expansion, or about the vast majority of the world’s population, for whom climate change is truly an existential threat.

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