Who can stop the cops?

January 11, 2016

Chris Morale contributes another perspective to an SW article about police killings.

I WANTED to respond to and expand on Danny Katch's excellent article "What will stop the police killing spree?"

The article provides a breath of fresh air in what otherwise might be a confusing and demoralizing time. After Tamir Rice's murderer has been let off free without so much as a trial, many are asking how can we hope to hold killer cops accountable.

Katch lays out a stark picture of violence by the police--which is on a scale well beyond the gun violence mainstream politics focuses on--and how it's connected to an overall system of oppression and exploitation. Importantly, he argues that even though race plays a major part in police killings, the police also kill and brutalize working-class people in general.

He also rightly lambasts the complicity of the Democratic Party in police violence, pointing to why no one in the movement should put their trust in the likes of Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, or Hillary Clinton, formerly of Walmart's board of directors.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

At the end of the article, Danny writes:

Moving forward will require more than mobilizations against new police atrocities, as important as these demonstrations of anger and outrage are. Those committed to challenging injustice and violence need to also understand and confront the connection of a racist and militarized police force to the wider political and economic system whose rulers are determined to preserve the status quo at any cost.

I absolutely agree. But here's where I wish Danny went just a little further: I think we need to spell out the fact that Black workers (and workers in general) are going to be the key social force in stopping racist police violence. And we need to talk about the sort of organizations we need to build to bring that force to bear.

This is important because of the context we're living in: The rise of a well-connected Black elite enmeshed in the system, alongside the continued immiseration and oppression of the Black poor and workers.

WE CAN see this clearly in Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Black woman, presided over both a police crackdown on poor communities of color over the years and a police crackdown on the Baltimore rebellion last spring. Like Danny suggests about the liberal political class, we need to understand that the Black political elite has fundamentally different interests from Black workers and the poor.

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It's also important because of the historic role of Black labor struggle. From the Black slaves carrying out a general strike to cripple the South's economy during the Civil War, to the League of Revolutionary Black Workers' organizing to shut down the auto plants of Detroit during the 1960s, Black labor has played a critical role in the fight against racism.

This role has continued today, and there have been recent examples that we should focus people's attention on and build upon.

The local Fight for 15 organizing committee "Show Me 15 STL" has played an ongoing role in the organizing in Ferguson, Missouri. Black retail and fast-food workers are a big part of the organizing committee, and a member of the committee was working at a McDonald's near where Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown. Show Me 15 later conducted a "Freedom Tour" of Black activists across the South to connect economic inequality and racial injustice.

The Black longshore workers of International Longshoreman's Association Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina, continue to play a leading role in the fight against racism there. Beyond fighting to defend the "Charleston Five," they organized a struggle to take the Confederate flag down from the statehouse in the 2000s, and led mass marches for Walter Scott and the nine killed in the Charleston church massacre this past year.

Another group of longshore workers shut down the port of Oakland in solidarity with Walter Scott and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just by engaging in a work slowdown, as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) did up and down the West Coast ports earlier in 2015 to protest safety issues, longshore workers cost the U.S. economy hundreds of millions of dollars each day. That's a huge economic power that could force racial justice and win reforms, and it matters that this ILWU local has a longstanding cadre of Black socialists and working-class militants.

Since declaring war on "apartheid education" before their 2012 contract strike, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has continued to make important strides in connecting their struggle for education and labor justice to the fight against racism.

The CTU invited a Black Lives Matter activist to speak at their recent contract rally. Later, the CTU endorsed and mobilized for the hastily organized Black Friday protest for Laquan McDonald. The CTU's House of Delegates leadership body overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for "thorough reform of the Chicago Police Department." And now, as of January 7, the CTU is supporting the demand for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to resign.

We've seen the power of football players to shut down the neoliberal university. Activated by the protests of other students and workers on campus, the University of Missouri football team committed themselves to striking and withholding their labor from future games until the movement's demands were met. With the school slated to forfeit a million dollars if the players didn't show for their game against Brigham Young University, the school capitulated, and the chancellor and university president resigned.

Importantly, in the past year, labor activists have joined together to release e-books and organizing guides about connecting the Black Lives Matter movement and the labor movement. These resources can help generalize the experiences of organizing and help point a way forward for activists and militants across the country.

FOR SOCIALISTS, we need to make these connections and argue for class politics wherever we are--not just in pointing to history or theory, but by taking even small steps to connect Black Lives Matter organizing to workers' struggles, and vice versa. My own local situation provides a potential example of this.

In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA or "the T") is facing ongoing privatization and austerity. A central part of this is an ongoing attack on the Carmen's Union Local 589, their working conditions, pensions, health care and compensation.

Blame for the problems of a funding-starved system gets laid at the feet of the workers, serving to divide riders from workers, just as a fare hike is coming down the pike. Since people of color make up a disproportionate and significant section of the MBTA's workforce--37 percent of the workforce versus 19 percent of the MBTA's service area's population--this is also a racist attack.

So far, the Carmen's Union has organized protests and leafleting, including outside the AFL-CIO Labor Day Breakfast where President Obama was speaking. Recent slanders in the media have likely knocked the wind out of the union's organizing for a time.

What would it mean for local Black Lives Matter groups in Boston to join hands with the Carmen's Union and support its struggles against management and the state? How could we begin to make connections today that could lay the groundwork to hold the cops accountable tomorrow?

As for labor's interest in uniting with Black Lives Matter to fight racism, we can point to the millions of poor and working-class people swept up in the criminal injustice system--in prison, on probation or formerly incarcerated. So long as the New Jim Crow remains, mass incarceration creates a desperate population of mostly Black, currently or formerly incarcerated people who could be used as strikebreakers when workplace struggle picks up, as Black workers have been used by capital throughout U.S. history, such as during the organizing campaigns at Ford in the early 1940s.

As with the criminalization of immigrants, the New Jim Crow pushes those swept up in it to be so desperate as to be willing to take much lower wages, helping to bring down wages for all workers. And so long as the rest of the class sees this group of workers as violent, dangerous thugs and not fellow workers, it's more difficult to unite and organize a workplace or fight cuts to community services.

The devastating winter in Boston last year has already shown us how the New Jim Crow can affect labor. Union trades workers were paid $30 an hour to clear off the snow-covered MBTA tracks, while the incarcerated were paid less than a dollar an hour for the same job. As the ruling class' austerity assault continues, they'll continue to try to drive down working-class living standards by any means they can.

BLACK WORKERS aren't a small or separate part of the fight against racism. In fact, they're the great majority.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black workers are more likely to be members of unions than their white or Latino counterparts. But even beyond the "official" labor movement, chances are that at any Black Lives Matter action, you'll run into a fast food or retail worker protesting on their day off, a college student who works part time as an Uber driver, or an overworked office temp. Mothers of children who have been murdered by police are also court clerks, school bus drivers and nursing assistants--like Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham's mother. These are all workers, and mobilizing our power starts with seeing us as such.

I don't think that Danny would disagree with any of this. Of course, not everything can fit in one article. And of course, this doesn't discount the importance of protest or other tactics, whether on campuses like Mizzou or in communities like Cleveland or Chicago.

But in the context of political confusion about the direction of the Black Lives Matter movement and even questions about whether protest can actually win, it's important to highlight the key and leading role that the working class must play in the way forward. Given other political forces arguing that race trumps class and power (if they mention these at all), and given political forces like DeRay McKesson of Campaign Zero blaming teachers' unions as part of the problem, we need to steel ourselves and make arguments for working class leadership and organization connected to a vision of complete liberation.

It's not just a question of how, but who has the power and interest, to stop the police killing spree. And how do we start organizing that power for all the Tamir Rices, Sandra Blands and Mike Browns out there.

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