Workers United Branch Calls on AFL-CIO to Expel Police Unions

Hamilton Nolan June 17, 2020

A woman walks past a large 'Black Lives Matter' banner on the side of the AFL-CIO building near the White House in Washington, DC on June 12, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Work­ers Unit­ed in Upstate New York, a union rep­re­sent­ing 9,500 work­ers in New York state, is join­ing the grow­ing call to kick police unions out of the labor movement.

In a state­ment today signed by more than 120 mem­bers, the union says that con­flat­ing our mis­sion with that of police unions under­mines our sol­i­dar­i­ty,” and says that white suprema­cy is cen­tral to our sys­tem of polic­ing — There­fore, we urge the labor move­ment to cut ties with police unions.” The state­ment specif­i­cal­ly cites the demand for the AFL-CIO to expel the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Police Asso­ci­a­tions (IUPA), the labor coalition’s major police union.

The demand is spread­ing through­out orga­nized labor. Last week, the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­i­ca, East (dis­clo­sure: where I am on the coun­cil) passed a for­mal res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the AFL-CIO to kick out the IUPA, becom­ing the first AFL-CIO mem­ber union to do so. The Labor Coun­cil in Seat­tle has threat­ened to kick out its police union, and may do so lat­er this month. The Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants, anoth­er AFL-CIO mem­ber, passed a res­o­lu­tion demand­ing law enforce­ment unions imme­di­ate­ly enact pol­i­cy to active­ly address racism in law enforce­ment and espe­cial­ly to hold offi­cers account­able for vio­lence against cit­i­zens, or be removed from the Labor move­ment.” And the Min­neso­ta AFL-CIO called for the res­ig­na­tion of the head of the Min­neapo­lis police union.

We thought we need­ed to not just speak out, but speak out strong­ly, and hold the labor move­ment account­able for chang­ing prac­tices with regard to police unions, and uphold­ing a tra­di­tion of fight­ing fas­cism and fight­ing for jus­tice,” said Jaz Bri­sack, a Work­ers Unit­ed orga­niz­er. She said that the state­ment on police unions is philo­soph­i­cal­ly aligned with the jus­tice-ori­ent­ed indus­tri­al orga­niz­ing mod­el that the union pur­sues. Work­ers Unit­ed of Upstate New York, which rep­re­sents a broad range of work­ers from the gar­ment indus­try, food ser­vice, race­tracks, and oth­er fields, is not an AFL-CIO mem­ber, though it is affil­i­at­ed with SEIU.

Mem­bers of sev­er­al oth­er unions that are in the AFL-CIO have begun grass­roots orga­niz­ing efforts to push their own unions to pass sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tions to expel the IUPA.

The full state­ment from Work­ers Unit­ed is below, and online here.

Work­ers Unit­ed in Upstate New York stands with Black Lives Mat­ter. We mourn for Rayshard Brooks, Michael Thomas, George Floyd, Dion John­son, Tony McDade, Bre­on­na Tay­lor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all oth­er Black peo­ple mur­dered by police. We com­mit to fight­ing white suprema­cy and fas­cism in all their forms.

As Angela Davis said, In a racist soci­ety, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” To this end, we reject ally­ship and call for sol­i­dar­i­ty. Now is not the time for per­for­ma­tive ges­tures, like the state­ments so many union-bust­ing com­pa­nies have released, but for actions that demon­strate the truth that an injury to one is an injury to all.

At its proud­est moments, the labor move­ment has unit­ed work­ers of all races and iden­ti­ties in the class strug­gle. This is what we must work toward. How­ev­er, it is not an auto­mat­ic result of orga­niz­ing. Our his­to­ry also reveals many times when unions have val­ued white­ness over class sol­i­dar­i­ty. In order to ful­fill our mis­sion of fight­ing for our mem­bers and for the entire work­ing class, we must rec­og­nize and elim­i­nate white suprema­cy with­in our own ranks.

We fur­ther believe that con­flat­ing our mis­sion with that of police unions under­mines our sol­i­dar­i­ty, the prin­ci­ple we must hold dear­est. Mod­ern police depart­ments evolved from vig­i­lante groups and slave patrols. White suprema­cy with­in polic­ing can­not be blamed on indi­vid­ual bad actors,” but must be under­stood as cen­tral to the insti­tu­tion itself. This ori­gin also expos­es the fact that polic­ing was always intend­ed to pro­tect boss­es’ prop­er­ty” — which then meant human beings — and to sup­press work­ers’ rights. There­fore, we urge the labor move­ment to cut ties with police unions. The AFL-CIO has said it sup­ports Black Lives Mat­ter. We join the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­i­ca, East, and their sup­port­ers, includ­ing Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants pres­i­dent Sara Nel­son, in call­ing on the AFL-CIO to make good on its word by expelling the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Police Asso­ci­a­tions. We rec­og­nize that the fact that Black peo­ple are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly work­ing-class makes fail­ing to be anti-racist and sup­port­ing police unions an even greater betray­al of work­ing-class strug­gle and unity.

Final­ly, as the gov­ern­ment attempts to des­ig­nate anti-fas­cism as ter­ror­ism and as police ques­tion pro­test­ers about their polit­i­cal beliefs, we want to make it clear: We are Antifa. Fas­cism seeks to ban unions and pre­vent work­ers from orga­niz­ing. It entrench­es white suprema­cy and class dom­i­na­tion. It is the ulti­mate threat to the work­ing class. We have no oth­er option but to be anti-fas­cist. We exist to defend work­ers against boss­es, whose prop­er­ty rights” are backed by the pow­er of the state. The real loot­ers are not poor peo­ple; the real loot­ers are the wealthy who steal our labor for pen­nies. When they try to crush our move­ments, we fight back. We were Antifa when the boss­es’ hired mer­ce­nar­ies and their police and Nation­al Guard col­lab­o­ra­tors mur­dered union work­ers and their fam­i­lies in places like Thi­bodeaux, Butte, Lawrence, Lud­low, and Blair Moun­tain — and when we resist­ed. We will con­tin­ue to resist all efforts to destroy our sol­i­dar­i­ty, uphold white suprema­cy, and weak­en the pow­er of the work­ing class.

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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