Unions and ‘Black Lives Matter’

Stephon Johnson | 8/6/2015, 10:16 a.m.
Ever since its inception, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has found itself intertwined with labor movements.
Black Lives Matter Black Lives Matter

Ever since its inception, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has found itself intertwined with labor movements. Whether it was Fight for $15 linking up with the movement for various protests or unions claiming allegiance to them, labor and human rights are becoming kinfolk. Now, add National Nurses United to the list of labor organizations speaking out in favor of Black Lives Matter as an issue of democracy and the fight for justice.

“For nurses, the national dialogue this week about structural racism is a reminder that health, which includes personal safety, is a broad thematic that affects all corners of the national debate—from police shootings to the courts to incarceration and racial disparities in health care, housing, job opportunities and education,” reads part of NNU’s statement. “Systemic racism also contributes to additional race-based violence, such as the horrific massacre that claimed nine lives in an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

“While there are clear correlations between structural racism in the criminal justice system and economic and social justice, each area is also a clear and present danger to life and health, as well as an infringement on the human rights of those affected and on American democracy. As nurses, we are dedicated to preventing all forms of illness, protecting health and alleviating human suffering.”

NNU is one of several unions to align themselves with Black Lives Matter. Whereas some have linked up with Black Lives Matters activists to fight Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting activities, members of the Communications Workers of America passed a resolution at a convention in June desiring to address issues of “systemic racism” in America.

“Closing this gap requires that we address the underlying inequities that continue to divide working people in this country along racial and economic lines,” the resolution stated. “We must oppose policies designed to marginalize minority communities and people of color, including the push to privatize education primarily in communities with high concentrations of African-Americans; attacks on public services using thinly veiled racial references that politicians use to stigmatize people who use public services and the workers who provide those services; trade and economic policies that destroy jobs in our big cities and small towns, many of which have large populations of African-Americans; and voter suppression laws that suppress the rights of minorities to vote.”

Even student-worker unions have implored other labor representatives to drop their association with law enforcement. United Auto Workers Local 2865, a University of California student-worker union, has requested that the AFL-CIO break ties with the International Union of Police Associations. In a resolution to the federation of labor unions, Local 2865 states that the police force exists to “uphold the status quo” and that there should not be any solidarity with law enforcement and the working class with the “elite” calling upon them to subdue labor movements.

The resolution made references to the Ludlow Massacre and the Haymarket affair as examples of police assisting in the shutting down of labor movements.

“Police are there to break up picket lines,” said David McCleary, head steward at UC Berkeley and executive board trustee of UAW Local 2865. “That’s their role.”