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Like unions, BLM movement is a fight for justice

By Stuart Appelbaum President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union | 10/27/2016, 11:55 a.m.
Black Lives Matter is one of the most important civil rights movements in recent years. And it is one we ...
Stuart Appelbaum

Black Lives Matter is one of the most important civil rights movements in recent years. And it is one we in organized labor must embrace, not only because it is morally right but also because fighting for justice is what unions do.

Created four years ago after the acquittal of the man who killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, Black Lives Matter became a rallying cry when subsequent police shootings across the country claimed the lives of Black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Philando Castile in Minnesota and Eric Garner and Akai Gurley in New York.

It is a movement that demands the end of police brutality and mass incarceration, and is dedicated to improving the lives of all Black men, women and families, regardless of economic status, religious beliefs, immigration status and sexual or gender identity.

What it is not is a movement that is antipolice, or anti-white, yet it has been unjustly portrayed as both. It also has been the target of racist hatred. In recent weeks, a BLM float was vandalized at a college homecoming celebration in Idaho, a Virginia college professor compared it to the KKK and some police groups across the country have vilified it.

Critics have responded to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” by saying things such as “All Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter.” That misses the point. Of course, all lives matter, but the tragic, historical truth of our country is that for more than 400 years, Black lives have not mattered as much as white lives or even the lives of other groups of color.

Black people have been enslaved, lynched, segregated, disproportionately jailed and routinely subjected to a different standard of justice than whites. Time after time, police officers involved in the shooting deaths of Black people—many of whom were unarmed—have either not been charged or were acquitted.

Although it is a movement created by and for Black communities, all of us, regardless of skin color, must come to understand and respect it and to stand shoulder to shoulder with men and women demanding equal justice and equal treatment under the law.

That is something we are deeply committed to at the RWDSU, where many of our members are people of color who work largely in relatively low-paying jobs. We must continue to organize in communities of color to help the workers who need it most. And, we must attack racism in all of its forms.

As the union pioneer A. Philip Randolph once said, “Freedom is never given; it is won.”

That is the aim of the Black Lives Matter movement—and it is why we in the labor movement, and society at large, must embrace it and fight for its ideals.