Univ. of California Academic Workers’ Union Calls on AFL-CIO To Terminate Police Union’s Membership

Mario VasquezJuly 27, 2015

Police unions have always played a powerful role in defending cops—no matter how brutal and racist their actions. (Ben Musseig / Flickr)

Unit­ed Auto Work­ers Local 2865, the union rep­re­sent­ing 13,000 teach­ing assis­tants and oth­er stu­dent work­ers through­out the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, called on the AFL-CIO to end its affil­i­a­tion with the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Police Asso­ci­a­tions (IUPA) in a res­o­lu­tion passed by its gov­ern­ing body on July 25.

The res­o­lu­tion came in the wake of a let­ter writ­ten by the UAW’s Black Inter­ests Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee (BICC). The group formed in Decem­ber 2014 in response to the acquit­tals of police offi­cers in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Gar­ner and is large­ly inspired by recent actions in the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. With the let­ter, BICC aims to start a real­ly dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion that the labor move­ment has had in the past and needs to con­tin­ue to have around the inter­sec­tions of race and labor, eco­nom­ic pri­va­tion and racial dis­par­i­ty,” accord­ing to BICC mem­ber Bran­don Buchanan, a grad­u­ate stu­dent cur­rent­ly study­ing Soci­ol­o­gy at UC Davis who serves as Head Steward.

The let­ter charges that police asso­ci­a­tions oper­ate in ways that are anti­thet­i­cal to the mis­sion state­ment of the AFL-CIO, par­tic­u­lar­ly its stat­ed goal to ful­fill the yearn­ing of the human spir­it for lib­er­ty, jus­tice and com­mu­ni­ty; to advance indi­vid­ual and asso­ci­a­tion­al free­dom; [and] to van­quish oppres­sion, pri­va­tion and cru­el­ty in all their forms.”

It pro­vides his­tor­i­cal evi­dence to its alle­ga­tions, say­ing, Police unions in par­tic­u­lar emerge out of a long his­to­ry of police inter­ven­tion in labor pol­i­tics and its com­plic­i­ty in racial vio­lence,” before ref­er­enc­ing dead­ly dis­putes with activist work­ers in the 19th cen­tu­ry, the defense of Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion, the lob­by­ing that enabled the cir­cum­stances of Fred­die Gray’s death and the crack­down on the Occu­py move­ment across the coun­try as exam­ples of Amer­i­can police act­ing as a vio­lent supres­sive force.”

The let­ter can be read in full below:

The let­ter was pre­sent­ed by Buchanan on behalf of BICC to the joint coun­cil of UAW Local 2865, the local’s gov­ern­ing board. Accord­ing to Buchanan, the let­ter and its call to the AFL-CIO were endorsed overwhelmingly.

The AFL-CIO is an enor­mous part of the labor move­ment. It has a lot of say, it influ­ences elec­tions, it is an orga­ni­za­tion which serves to build a lot of sol­i­dar­i­ty between a num­ber of dif­fer­ent unions,” Buchanan told In These Times. But at the same time, one of the things that we noticed is that it also has these police asso­ci­a­tions which are a part of it — police asso­ci­a­tions who have con­sis­tent­ly worked not nec­es­sar­i­ly in the inter­est of work­ers, in par­tic­u­lar black work­ers, but instead have upheld a cap­i­tal­ist sta­tus quo as well as white supremacy.”

The endorsed let­ter echoes the sen­ti­ment made by Shawn Gude last year at Jacobin:

When there’s mass resis­tance to pover­ty and inequal­i­ty, it’s the cops who are sum­moned to calm the pan­ic-strick­en hearts of the elite. They bash some heads, or infil­trate and dis­rupt some activist groups, and all is right in the world again.

Such is the inher­ent defect of law-enforce­ment union­ism: It’s peo­pled by those with a mate­r­i­al inter­est in main­tain­ing and enlarg­ing the state’s most inde­fen­si­ble practices.

Ear­li­er this year, in an arti­cle enti­tled Blood On Their Hands: The Racist His­to­ry of Mod­ern Police Unions,” human rights attor­ney Flint Tay­lor gave an overview of such sor­did prac­tices for In These Times.

Buchanan says that while the endorse­ment came with an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of the gov­ern­ing board vot­ing in favor, there was con­cern from cer­tain mem­bers who ques­tioned whether the endorse­ment would alien­ate those who had rela­tion­ships with peo­ple in the police force.

This is not about indi­vid­u­als. We’re not talk­ing about or call­ing out indi­vid­ual peo­ple. We’re call­ing out struc­tures of pow­er,” Buchanan stress­es in response. We’re not say­ing that [police offi­cers] are indi­vid­u­al­ly bad. But what we’re talk­ing about is things like vil­i­fy­ing black bod­ies to pro­tect police offi­cers who bru­tal­ize and kill black peo­ple and then get away with it with the sup­port of these police associations.”

UAW 2865’s gov­ern­ing body made sim­i­lar waves with its activist streak last year when it became the first Amer­i­can local to endorse the glob­al move­ment for Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) against Israel.

While numer­ous Amer­i­can unions have held actions against police bru­tal­i­ty in the past year (such as the May Day port shut­downs by ILWU Local 10 in Oak­land and ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Car­oli­na), UAW 2865 is the first local to explic­it­ly call for dis­as­so­ci­a­tion between police unions and the rest of orga­nized labor cur­rent­ly oper­at­ing under the umbrel­la of the nation­al federation.

In a sto­ry detail­ing the his­to­ry of police unions and orga­nized labor for Al Jazeera Amer­i­ca in Decem­ber, Ned Resnikoff report­ed that an AFL-CIO spokesper­son down­played any ten­sion between the two sides, say­ing, The AFL-CIO is like any fam­i­ly. … With 57 affil­i­at­ed unions and a diver­si­ty of mem­ber­ship there is bound to be some disagreement.”

Buchanan believes that dis­af­fil­i­a­tion between the AFL-CIO and IUPA would mean that the IUPA would lose legit­i­ma­cy as an orga­ni­za­tion and thus trans­fer AFL-CIO sup­port from police asso­ci­a­tions and instead towards peo­ple of col­or and their com­mu­ni­ties, who he says have been tra­di­tion­al­ly locked out of orga­niz­ing spaces.

It’s a ques­tion of legit­i­ma­cy. Hav­ing [the AFL-CIO] dis­af­fil­i­ate demon­strates that if our union orga­niz­ing is meant to address the inter­ests of work­ers — and black work­ers are includ­ed in that — then these police asso­ci­a­tions are inim­i­cal to those inter­ests,” Buchanan says.

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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