Dr. Martin Luther King during Sanitation Strike Copyright Richard L. Copley
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (center) with Jerry Wurf (right), president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) International, and AFSCME International Field Service Director P. J. Ciampa (standing) in Memphis during Local 1733’s sanitation workers’ strike in 1968. Copyright Richard L. Copley

Rethinking the Problem of Alliance: Organized Labor and Black Political Life

The enduring problem of the relationship between leading political currents within organized labor, and those prevailing among African- Americans and black advocacy organizations, has once again become a central concern of the left.[i] Unsurprisingly, the chief impetuses for this intensive focus are the seismic shock of Donald Trump’s surreal ascent to the U.S. presidency and the spectacular surge, and subsequent dispersal, of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As recriminations fly across entrenched axes of disagreement (i.e., identity politics versus class solidarity, racial consciousness versus class consciousness), it is striking how easily the familiarity of the questions and answers in this debate allow us to displace and ignore more disquieting inquiries into the premises and problems of these discussions. In the present, to put the matter bluntly, any discussion about the possibility of, or promise of, or pitfalls of, relationships between organized labor and black- led racial justice advocacy organizations must attend to internal deficiencies within both domains that threaten the potential value of such solidarity in the first place. Moreover, this critical attention must be informed by a grasp of the dynamic transformations within the American racial and economic orders wrought in recent decades.

This insight is especially critical in a moment where the anticipated and real constituencies of both groups are already precarious, and severely jeopardized by a deleterious political environment that neither has been able to effectively prevent. As a consequence, both American organized labor and independent African-American protest movements—especially the former— will face existential challenges despite the perception of renewed political activism and engagement from the broader progressive left. Even in the face of these challenges, however, the significant role that such movements play in advancing egalitarianism and justice suggests that salvaging their promise from these dilemmas is a project that deserves intellectual energy and political commitment.[ii]

Rethinking the Crises of “Race and Labor”

Breaking through this morass requires rethinking how we theorize about the familiar dis- course around “race and labor.” Thinking on these themes tends to repeat or reiterate particularly canonical accounts of the “crisis” between blacks and labor, despite the fact that the constituencies or actors those terms are meant to pick out, and the social reality these renderings presuppose, may no longer be applicable. To clear the ground, we aim to briefly sketch three historical accounts of “crisis” as a way of  unmasking the clusters of assumptions that animate these familiar outlooks.

The first, the crisis of conflict, predominated in the early twentieth century, during the high tide of Jim Crow, laissez-faire capitalist ideology, and labor repression. Fundamental to this framework is the sense that the prevailing black political leadership and organized labor are in an opposition that is structurally and ideologically antagonistic. It emerged in a period where union locals (especially craft unions) formally and informally excluded African-Americans, while national leaders largely abetted, or acquiesced to, entrenched racism among their members.[iii] In response, prominent black intellectuals and leaders across the political spectrum often characterized unions in baldly antagonistic terms, and exhorted blacks to become strikebreakers on the grounds of race loyalty. While this might be expected of conservatives like Booker T. Washington, nationalists like Marcus Garvey, or nativist liberals like Anna Julia Cooper, even black radicals like Hubert Harrison declared that so long as “the white organized labor movement . . . is pronouncedly anti- Negro,” then “just so long will self-respecting Negro leaders abstain from urging the laboring masses of their race to join forces with the stupid and short-sighted labor oligarchy.”[iv]

. . . [I]n the early twentieth century, prominent black intellectuals and leaders . . . often . . . exhorted blacks to become strikebreakers on the grounds of race loyalty.

The second, or crisis of collaboration perspective, while incipient in early Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) efforts, emerged most fully in the mid-twentieth century. It has sustained an ideal of progressive coalition building that most haunts contemporary left political rhetoric today. Built into this framework is a presumption that these groups’ respective leadership classes have large, broadly independent constituencies, symbolic authority, and material resources that they can effectively mobilize for political participation both formal (e.g., voting, lobbying, drafting legislation, running for office, etc.) and informal (e.g., demonstrations, protests, boycotts, strikes, etc.). This account tends to treat African-Americans and labor as natural allies, and the crisis at hand is characterized as a lack of coordination and cooperation between their respective advocacy organizations. “[I]t is axiomatic,” Martin Luther King Jr. once argued, “that what labor needs, Negroes need, and simple logic therefore puts us side by side in the struggle.”[v]

A black and labor-led coalition must somehow transcend the existing political parties and pathways . . .

This rendering of crisis has both reformist and radical strains. For the former, the key problems involve uprooting racism and moderation within unions, rescuing the Democratic Party from its reactionary elements (e.g., Dixiecrats), and moderating black protest and self-assertion, all to sustain a decisive electoral coalition capable of passing both civil rights and other egalitarian legislation.[vi]For the radical conception, the crisis is more structural, and requires a more confrontational and self-purifying political praxis. A black and labor-led coalition must somehow transcend the existing political parties and pathways, either through a third party, mass civil disobedience, or constitutional reordering, to essentially re-found the nation upon radically egalitarian values.[vii]

This crisis of collaboration’s presuppositions reflects the radical transformation of both black political life and organized labor at mid- century by the New Deal rewriting of labor law, the wartime expansion of American industry, and the mass northern migration of African- Americans. At this high point of union membership, over one in three non-agricultural workers belonged to a union, and blacks moved from constituting roughly just one percent of union rolls to being overrepresented among union membership.[viii] Flush with dues and members, labor was seen by many black activists as an important, if not unwavering, source of material, logistical, and popular support for civil rights insurgency.[ix]

The last, which might be called the crisis of culture description, emerged as the political power of labor declined precipitously in the late twentieth century, and the U.S. racial order shifted dramatically. The diminishing of labor’s power occurred in the face of capital investments in automation, intensifying globalization of manufacturing and trade, a sustained material and ideological assault by corporate elites and conservative politicians, broad indifference by market-captured Democrats, and unions’ own bureaucratic mismanagement.[x]The trans- formation of the U.S. racial order since the mid- twentieth century is marked above all by the ambivalent legacies of the civil rights movement. That movement produced a substantial increase in the moral and political power of anti-racist ideals and anti-discrimination norms, producing the rapid growth of a substantial, if precarious, black middle class, and dramatic changes in immigration policy that are responsible for a massive influx of non-European migrants.[xi] These gains, however, were consolidated alongside the severe marginalization of the post-industrial ghetto poor, and the astonishing racial polarization of political parties.[xii]

Especially against this backdrop, the “crisis of culture” framework characterizes the relation between “blacks” and “labor” as simmering with contention and distrust. Instead of emphasizing structural features of the economy, however, it focuses on sharp differences on questions of values, culture, and ethics. Indeed, even when—as is often the case—these accounts foreground controversial policies like affirmative action, welfare reform, abortion rights, or gun control—there is an ineliminable ethical dimension underneath them. Sharp disagreements about to what degree black disadvantage is to be explained by reference to deviant cultural dispositions, inherited historical burdens, broader economic transformations, or more or less explicit forms of anti-black racism, all mobilize ethically charged questions of moral and civic responsibility.

. . . [B]lacks must be wary of interracial alliances, even with purportedly progressive labor unions.

This account identifies disagreement on these questions as crisis-engendering sources of animus, where solidarity might otherwise prevail.[xiii] This deep disagreement on values and beliefs tends toward supposed “resolutions.” The first, which gained strength in the Black Power era, and has seen some minor resurgence in the present, is to suggest that white workers and organized labor are too reactionary to be trusted. Thus, for economic self-preservation in an era of structural unemployment, or cultural recognition in an age of integration, blacks must be wary of interracial alliances, even with purportedly progressive labor unions. Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther fire- brand, for instance, proclaimed that black radical solidarity with the poor and unemployed precluded allying with labor unions, which he mocked as “the House Niggers of Capitalism” for their opportunity hoarding and ideological affinities with cultural conservatism.[xiv] The second “resolution” largely abandons the collaborationist appeal to deep progressive consensus, and asks instead for a modus vivendi. Coalition parties are exhorted to subordinate their other commitments to the thin solidarity that might come from appeals to economic self-interest and shared political enemies.[xv]

Both of these views, however, understand politics in ways that are untethered from other sources of value besides material interest or shared racial interests. They hope, in the face of powerful countervailing evidence, that deep pluralism might be dissolved or at least sublimated by appeals to a single axis of unity or threat, which simply cannot bear the burden it is being asked to carry.

A New Terrain for Organized Labor

The background conditions that rendered these earlier accounts plausible no longer hold. Industrial manufacturing jobs in the United States have been decimated and supplanted by structural unemployment. Work in sectors traditionally more difficult to organize has expanded.[xvi] With corporations undergoing extensive streamlining in part to elude labor costs and obligations, membership in private-sector unions, where whites were overrepresented, is now far outpaced by rates among public-sector workers where the inverse is true.[xvii]

Due to well-documented historical instances of racial and gender discrimination practiced by unions and their members, union leaders today are more  attuned  to  identity-linked  injustice and make great efforts to transcend past exclusivity, which, while not exceptional for the past, besmirch the labor movement’s legacy as a progressive social force. These efforts are, undoubtedly, in part the consequence of the changing demographic composition and balance of power within the labor movement, as well as an artifact of the decline in overt, Jim Crow-era, anti-black racist attitudes in the society writ large.[xviii] Far from the arm’s-length suspicion with which unions were held in the early twentieth century, African-Americans are now significantly more likely to join unions than whites, even when one controls for occupation, industry, and other variables.[xix] Indeed, not only are unions often thought of as the most reliable and immediate avenue for protection and redress in instances of discrimination, but two of the three largest unions in the United States— the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—are led by a Latina and an African-American male, respectively.[xx]

. . . African-Americans are now significantly more likely to join unions than whites . . .

The familiar picture of charismatic black male protest leaders hashing out cooperative efforts with white male union bosses is increasingly outdated.[xxi] Much has been written about the leadership role that black women and queer- identified activists have played in the Movement for Black Lives, but far less notice has been given to what appears to be a similarly dramatic shift among local union leadership.[xxii]  Just taking the northern New Jersey area that AFSCME has been organizing in recent months, as an example, the overwhelming majority of union locals  in  libraries,  hospitals,  welfare  offices, and more have been led by black women, all of whom work full-time and raise families in addition to union responsibilities. Although more research needs to be done, it seems likely that the barriers to leadership that black women face in traditionally powerful black institutions, like the church or civil rights organizations, may be far less significant within unions, which tend less toward extravagant charisma and authoritarian rule, and more toward democratic decision-making, strong social ties, and networking and organizational skills.

. . . [T]he barriers to leadership that black women face in traditionally powerful black institutions . . . are far less significant within unions.

As minorities have gained increased power within organized labor, there has been a concomitant drift in financial and rhetorical solidarity from organized labor to identity-linked social movements. Labor’s participation in, and financing of, broader progressive movements is extensive. It is difficult to name a racial justice movement or advocacy campaign in the United States that is not heavily supported by labor resources or staff (e.g., the Movement for Black Lives, migrant rights, voting rights, etc.). As just one example, in the aftermath of Laquan McDonald’s 2014 shooting by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, it was the SEIU– Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri and Kansas (SEIU-HCIIMK) that was the earliest large backer of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who defeated the incumbent Anita Alvarez with a campaign that highlighted how Alvarez had stonewalled Van Dyke’s indictment for over a year.[xxiii] Usually, these electoral efforts are con- ducted with political giving and staff deployment. Nevertheless—and we will return to the significance of this point—it is rare that significant percentages of rank-and-file members are mobilized to volunteer on such campaigns.

In light of the uneven past of labor unions, these changes are welcome, but their import is circumscribed by the overarching irony that the growth of minority leadership and membership coincides with an unprecedented decline in union power and capacity. The proliferation of state right-to-work laws, the inherent disadvantages of firm-level bargaining, and a weak punishment regime for corporate suppression of unions has left union coffers in a weakened state. More contentious forms of politics, like the strike or work-stoppage, are increasingly difficult to wage in an economy marked by three decades of stagnant wages, the prohibitive cost and unfavorable terrain of workplace litigation, and a byzantine maze of contracted and atomized forms of employment.[xxiv] Even the shared experience of work that grounded solidarity, and the leisure time that facilitated union organizing, are under siege. American workers have increasingly irregular hours, and the collapse of social goods provided by the state (i.e., child care, schooling, after-school programs, recreation centers, etc.) make the time necessary for organizing more precarious and less predictable.[xxv]

. . . [T]he growth of minority leadership and membership coincides with an unprecedented decline in union power and capacity.

In many respects, unions are approaching what scholars of urban politics often referred to as the “hollow prize” of black mayoral control in post-industrial cities like Cleveland, Ohio and Gary, Indiana.[xxvi] At the very moment of black urban electoral success, the power to collect tax revenue, stem job and population flight, sustain quality government services, provide patronage, and secure public safety were all severely circumscribed by forces beyond may- oral control. Similarly, as unions have declined in membership, esteem, and bargaining power under neoliberalism, their connections to their members and the broader working class have suffered. With organized labor increasingly fighting rearguard battles to protect previously won wages and benefits as opposed to more conventionally heroic fights for forward-looking gains in pay and dignity, millions of workers are questioning the purpose of their unions and becoming less invested in the words, actions, and fate of national union leadership.

Blacks and Unions Today: A Crisis of Capacity?

It is important to note that this failure to deliver on core issues is not meant to suggest that union members are only motivated by the pursuit of parochial economic interests. Indeed, in our view, unions, properly conceived and organized, can cultivate some of the best features of democratic, associational life and ward off inequalities that are corrosive of democratic equality.27 By building from some degree of self-interest to create forms of solidarity, and convening a forum for debate and deliberation, unions are among those civic associations that allow individuals to enlarge their sense of others’ needs and arguments, forge unexpected bonds, and generate a compelling sense of the common good. However, to sustain this engagement, especially in the face of the active suppression of organizing and the comparably low esteem in which unions are held, it is necessary to build practical faith through occasional victories. In this era of diminished capacity and tremendous opposition, the crucial question for unions is: where to find these victories?

The moral force of anti-racist politics, the exemplary character of the civil rights movement, and diminished familiarity with class- based politics has led some unions to foreground the anti-racist dimensions of their causes to generate otherwise elusive feelings of familiarity, authority, and efficacy.[xxvii]  In some respects, this is an important project. It shows an aware- ness of the divergent ways that policy may affect stigmatized racial groups, and seeks to cultivate a more general sense of justice or the common good beyond immediate union interests.

However, invocations of “racism” and “racial injustice”—when not carefully described or understood—may be easily recast as less- nuanced forms of identity politics, and hijacked by what Cornel West prophetically called “vulgar racial reasoning.”[xxviii] The slippage from ethically motivated struggles against racism and economic oppression to hollow invocations of racial authenticity and group loyalty opens the door to mendacious usurpation by minority political entrepreneurs, and broad demobilization when the politics of authenticity cannot be sustained.

Take teachers unions, for example. After years of assaults by neoliberal education reformers who effectively used racial justice arguments (often proffered by high-profile minority surrogates) to advance major reforms to public education that undermined teachers’ collective bargaining rights and the sustainability of the public  education  system  itself  (i.e.,  charters, vouchers, and test-based teacher evaluation), unions were able to effectively turn these criticisms on their head. Working with racial justice groups, unions emphasized the impact of these reforms on minority teachers and democratic participation by minority communities and parents. New terms like “education apartheid” and “school-to-prison pipeline” were formulated to re-describe school funding by property taxes and excessively punitive charter-school discipline, respectively.[xxix]

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been particularly effective in leveraging these arguments to win broad support among the city’s  African-American  constituents  for actions like their 2012 strike and their campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close fifty schools, most of them in poor black and brown neighborhoods.[xxx]Emphasizing the racial makeup of the teachers to be laid off and students to be affected, the CTU maligned the closings as racist, mobilizing the ire of Chicago’s black constituents.

While the CTU coalition was unable to stop the closings, the impact of the campaign was significant. The racism argument weakened Emanuel’s support among African-American constituents, creating a real and frankly unprecedented opportunity for a challenge from Karen Lewis, the president of the CTU and leader of the strike. That Lewis, an African-American woman who had only four years before been a chemistry teacher, was leading in early polls against Emanuel, one of the most well- connected and powerful Democrats of his generation, was a shocking testament to the broad support that the union and its allies had built.[xxxi]

Alas, Lewis fell ill with a brain tumor and was forced to step down from the race.In her stead, the CTU promoted Jesús G. “Chuy” García, a Chicano-American Cook County commissioner. It was at this point that the CTU’s implicit reliance on racial polarization broke down. Without a black woman in front, CTU’s image as the vanguard of a struggle against anti-black racism in Chicago was diminished. Freed from the specter of openly challenging a black protest candidate, black political elites from city alderman to President Barack Obama aggressively moved to support the mayor and neutralize the charge of institutional racism.[xxxii] CTU discovered that the politics of mono- lithic racial interest and elite brokerage were better mobilized by their opponents, who included black elites in formal positions of power. In the face of this masterful opposition, the relative political weakness of CTU’s com- munity allies was exposed. None could over- come distrust between black and brown residents and their competition over public-sector jobs. They could not effectively mobilize black voters behind a Latino candidate and, despite the media appeal of this racial controversy, African- Americans in Chicago remained ultimately more concerned by violence and economic deprivation than litigating allegations of racism in public education.[xxxiii]

A Search for New Forms

What this defeat helps illuminate is a deeper problem: the historic disconnect between con- temporary spokespersons and ostensible “leaders” on racial justice issues, and their anticipated constituencies. In their embrace of anti-racist themes and enthusiastic forays into supporting racial justice movements like the Movement for Black Lives, unions instinctively seek to align themselves with groups that purport to represent and stand in for the actual constituencies (e.g., minorities, women, and sexual minorities who are theoretically most affected and animated by these issues). In an attempt to avail themselves of the symbolic authority with the greatest media impact possible, they often leverage either the historical legacy of renowned groups (i.e., the AFL-CIO’s inviting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and La Raza—an advocacy group for Latinos—to join it as members) or attach themselves to the stature, media cache, and charisma of these movements’ most well- known celebrity leaders, bestowing awards upon them in celebratory ceremonies.[xxxiv]

The way this tends to proceed, however, produces two pernicious implications. Because the symbolic authority of these figures comes either from a legacy of action without analogue in the present,  or  an  anticipated  black  constituency yet  to  be  materialized,  the  actual  material reproduction of these groups is secured in large part by donations from progressive organizations such as unions and universities. Yet these institutions, in part because of their own need for symbolic legitimation and in part because of their own ideological blinders, tend not to hold these figures accountable for actually mobilizing independent constituencies and resources, or achieving even their own stated policy goals. Representative claims that secure an audience and circulation in popular media (and even social media) are often sufficient. Perhaps most ironically, the championing of “leader-full” movements allows these figures to, at one and the same time, accept awards, grants, and honors for their ostensible standing as spokespersons, while disavowing responsibility for the success or failure of any specific actions simply by appealing to the unadulterated goods of decentralized and diffuse organizing.[xxxv]

To be clear, this is not a retreat to the sort of argument made famous by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s Black Power (1967), which suggested that blacks needed to “consolidate behind their own, so that they can bargain from a position of strength” and meet coalition partners on a ground of equal strength.[xxxvi] Indeed, in the current moment, where labor is fighting to preserve basic material goods for its member- ship that might sustain practical faith in its own solidaristic theory of change, and racial justice organizations lack the capacity for effective mobilization and uncompromised fund-raising, there remain promising avenues for mutual cooperation to build mutual capacity.

If racial justice activists are going to continue to rely upon union support, one way of building a more reciprocal relationship would be to devote more action and attention to creative ways of helping union leaders deliver on core issues of wages, anti-discrimination, and work- place dignity. Successes on these core issues, in turn, help union organizers appeal to the rank- and-file to actually support these alliances in ways that go beyond the financial or symbolic. It may also help racial justice advocacy organizations develop their own capacities for mobilization, especially to the extent that these flounder on the failure to recruit and retain older members, or suffer from an inability to persuasively incorporate questions of work and public safety into their portfolios.

. . . [To build] a more reciprocal relationship [racial justice activists could help] . . . union leaders deliver on . . . issues of wages, anti-discrimination, and workplace dignity.

One promising effort in this vein has been pursued for over a decade in New Haven. There union locals provided seed funding and staff sup- port to myriad community organizing, public dialogue, and voter education partnerships with African-Americans and Latinos in the city. They forged a locally powerful political coalition. In practice, the political project of winning a majority voting block on the New Haven Board of Alders required both labor unions and community organizations to come to terms and champion their ostensible constituencies’ deepest concerns; namely, stemming violent crime and promoting equitable economic development.[xxxvii]

Sustaining and expanding the significance of such efforts in the future might require that such coalitions transcend the instrumental and technocratic justifications of voter turnout or expanding union rolls based on desires as given, and, instead, cultivate through debate and dialogue, across plurality, a more general sense of justice and the good. Balancing these efforts with the competing need to win local, state, and federal elections will continue to be a source of difficulty.

Beyond any particular policy domains, it should be clear that this vision of rebuilding union and black civil society capacity remains tightly tied to democracy. It must be admitted, therefore, that they are at odds with some anti-democratic currents in contemporary black politics. Chief among these are the prevalence of a priori demands for ideological purity and the attempt to claim or deny epistemic authority based primarily on one’s racial or social identity. Despite the proliferation of paeans to legendary civil rights organizer Ella J. Baker’s example and radical democratic norms within the Movement for Black Lives, these kinds of practices attempt to forge unimpeachable authority rather than egalitarian, democratic exchange.

What they each share is an impulse to avoid the arduous task of persuasion and the anxiety- inducing confrontation with plurality that are both constitutive of a democratic life in common. Instead, they hope to set up preemptory and uncontestable truth claims rooted in the purportedly privileged insights of subordinate social groups. To the extent that these views demand genuflection upon threat of ostracism, preclude the egalitarian exchange of opinions, and act with unbridled certitude on questions that do not warrant it, they are, as political theorist Hannah Arendt put it, “necessarily domineering.”[xxxviii] In a democratic con- text, such views are self-undermining.

If unions and black advocacy organizations are in a mutually overlapping crisis of capacity, this question of what is and is not self-undermining looms largely. The terms of collaboration must develop those perspectives or actions that best encourage partners to con- tribute what is most needed for the flourishing of the overall alliance. The embrace of political celebrity   and   symbolic   affirmation   among black organizations is a disincentive to the kind of work that labor unions actually need done— local electoral victories, increased membership ranks, and an open, deliberative culture. Instrumentally relating to unions just for staff and financial support, without seeking out opportunities for mutually informative forums and dialogues with rank-and-file members, will cause racial justice advocates to lose prime opportunities to learn from workers of all races, build constituencies, and shift the rank-and-file away from the sorts of enmities exploited by Donald Trump. If such work is undertaken with the appropriate spirit of sacrifice and humility, receptivity and charity, then perhaps a cascading and contagious rebuilding of political capacity might occur even in the midst of conservative retrenchment.


[i] See, for example, Walter Benn Michaels, Charles W. Mills, Linda Hirschman, and Carla Murphy, “What Is the Left without Identity Politics?,” The Nation, December 16, 2016, available at https://www.thenation.com/article/ what-is-the-left-without-identity-politics/.
[ii] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/union-inequality-wages/497954/.
[iii] Leading labor advocates not only casually indulged racist rhetoric, but they even offered up apologias for the horrifying violence that organized workers subjected blacks to during strikes, work stoppages, and pogroms. These actions in defense of  opportunity  hoarding and psychic privilege were justified as necessary for the cultivation of labor solidarity and preventing strikebreaking and wage diminishment. In 1905, AFL president Samuel Gompers threatened  blacks  with  “a  race  hatred  worse than any ever known” as “Caucasian civilization will serve notice that its uplifting process is not to be interfered with” by “the colored man . . . lend[ing] himself to the work of tearing down what the white man has built up” by strikebreaking. Samuel Gompers, “Talks on Labor: Addresses at St. Paul and Minneapolis,” The American Federationist XII (1905): 638. For more on the history of racism in labor unions in the early twentieth century, see Paul D. Moreno, Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006). On the anti- union politics of black intellectuals in this period, see Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
[iv] Hubert   Harrison,   “The   Negro   in   Industry [August 21, 1920],” in The Hubert Harrison Reader, ed. Jeffrey B. Perry (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 83.
[v] Martin Luther King Jr., “Speech to United Automobile Workers Union in Detroit, Michigan, April 27, 1961,” in All Labor Has Dignity, ed. Michael Honey (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 28
[vi] See, for example, the account of A. Philip Randolph’s desegregation work in the AFL, in William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013),121-62.
[vii] See, for example, Abram Harris, “The Negro Worker:  A  Problem   of   Progressive   Labor Action,” in Race, Radicalism, and Reform: Selected Papers, ed. William Darity Jr. (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1989), 193-206 or Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 150.
[viii] Jake Rosenfeld, What Unions No Longer Do (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014),1, 101
[ix] See,  for  example,  Bayard  Rustin,  “Preamble to the March on Washington,” in Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, eds. Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2003), 112-15.
[x] Rosenfeld, What Unions No Longer Do.
[xi] For influential accounts of the transformation of the U.S. racial order, see Desmond S. King and Rogers M. Smith, Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama’s America (Princeton: Princeton  University  Press,  2011);  Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver, and Traci R. Burch, Creating a New Racial Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); and the clas- sic text by William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012).
[xii] On the ethical and political quandaries posed by the condition of the ghetto poor, see Tommie Shelby, Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016). On racial polarization and political parties, see Michael Tesler, Post-Racial or Most-Racial? Race and Politics in the Obama Era (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).
[xiii] See, for example, the historical account by Richard Iton, Race, Culture, and the American Left (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
[xiv] Eldridge Cleaver, “On Lumpen Ideology,” The Black Scholar 4, no. 3 (1972): 4.
[xv] While usually putting the point in more robustly ethical terms, even King was not above reminding labor audiences of shared enemies, declaring, for example, “The labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti- labor propaganda from the other.” Martin Luther King Jr., “AFL-CIO Fourth Constitutional Convention, December 11, 1961,” in All Labor Has Dignity, ed. Michael Honey (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 38
[xvi] William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears (New York: Vintage, 1997).
[xvii] David  Weil,  The  Fissured  Workplace:  Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).
[xviii] Of course, the decline of these attitudes does not mean that there are not still significant findings among whites of overt hostility toward racially ameliorative public policy, robust desire for interracial distance, intractable racial stigma and stereotype, and resentment of perceived minority advantage. See Lawrence D. Bobo, Camille Z. Charles, Maria Krysan, and Alicia D. Simmons, “The Real Record on Racial Attitudes,” in Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972, ed. Peter V. Marsden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 38-83.
[xix] Rosenfeld, What Unions No Longer Do, 100-31.
[xx] In a public-sector union meeting organized by the co-author, for example, the local’s black female president defended seniority-based raises on the grounds that performance reviews conducted by management were, given the prevalence of implicit and other forms of bias, likely to produce unfair results.
[xxi] A classic example is the tense behind-the-scenes negotiation between president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), Walter Reuther, and Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Reuther tried to convince King to use his stature as movement leader to get the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to stand down, allow the lily- white Dixiecrat delegation from their state to be seated, and accept the symbolic compromise offered by Lyndon Johnson. Tellingly, Reuther badgered King by reminding him of the money that UAW had donated to SCLC over the years. Nelson Lichtenstein, Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 394-95.
[xxii] See, for example, Marcia Chatelain and Kaavya Asoka, “Women and Black Lives Matter,” Dissent 63, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 54-61.
[xxiii] The union’s endorsement and $50,000 of financial  contributions  arrived  even  prior  to the release of Laquan McDonald video on November 24, 2015. See donor data for Friends for Foxx  collected  at  https://illinoissunshine .org/committees/friends-for-foxx-31640/.
[xxiv] Rosenfeld,   What   Unions   No   Longer   Do,84-131; Weil, The Fissured Workplace, 7-28; and Alex Gourevitch, “Decline of the Strike,” Dissent 61, no. 4 (Fall 2014), 142-47.
[xxv] And, in addition to these extraordinary structural obstacles, which leave union organizers scheduling meetings at 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning in between late shifts and school drop- off, the unprecedented expanse and insinuation of on-demand, algorithmically tailored entertainment into our everyday lives is a constant competitor for finite attention.
[xxvi] H. Paul Friesema, “Black Control of Central Cities: The Hollow Prize,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35, no. 2 (1969), 75-79.
[xxvii] See, for example, Amy B. Dean, “Is the Fight for $15 the  Next  Civil  Rights  Movement?,” Al-Jazeera America, June 22, 2015, available at http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/6/ is-the-fight-for-15-the-next-civil-rights-move ment.html.
[xxviii] Cornel West,  Race  Matters  (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1993), 21-32.
[xxix] The fact that at its core the education reform movement is disproportionately white and elite, from a financial and administrative perspective, has certainly made these arguments resonate, especially to a black professional managerial and political class concerned with its own precarity.
[xxx] “Chicago  Board  Votes  to  Close  50  Schools,” CNN,  May  22,  2013,  available  at  http://www .cnn.com/2013/05/22/us/illinois-chicago- school-closures/.
[xxxi] Jason Zengerle, “Rahm Emanuel’s Top Nemesis Just Might Take Him On,” New Republic, July 14, 2014, available at https://newrepublic.com/ article/118694/rahm-emanuel-vs-karen-lewis- would-be-bloody-mayoral-battle.
[xxxii] “Chicago   Mayor’s   Race   Is   Dividing   the City’s Black Community,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2015, available at https:// www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chicago- mayors-race-is-dividing-the-citys-black- community/2015/03/13/bb10be44-c8c8-11e4. -aa1a-86135599fb0f_story.html?utm_term=.a99e8a2f60e4.
[xxxiii] “Candidate for Chicago Mayor Struggles to Unite Latinos and Blacks,” The New York Times, April 3, 2015, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/us/candidate-for-chicago-mayor-struggles-to-unite-latinos-and- blacks.html.35.  “AFL-CIO Invites in La Raza, NAACP; The ACLU’s Labor Practices; Detroit’s 10% Pay Cuts,” In These Times, August 4, 2013, available at http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/15392/ ACLU_Labor_Rights_AFL_CIO_Donors.
[xxxiv] “AFL-CIO Invites in La Raza, NAACP; The ACLU’s Labor Practices; Detroit’s 10% Pay Cuts,” In These Times, August 4, 2013, available at http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/15392/ ACLU_Labor_Rights_AFL_CIO_Donors.
[xxxv] This is a peculiar irony of black protest politics in the present. In a recent piece by The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, there is a memorable vignette  where  #BlackLivesMatter founder Alicia Garza is heading to a speaking engagement in San Francisco when her travel is interrupted by a protest, planned in part  by  Oakland’s  #BlackLivesMatter  chapter, which shut down the Bay Bridge. Garza had not even been informed of this massive direct action in her own city, or of the action to seize the stage during a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle, yet, abjures responsibility for either event on the grounds that #BLM movement is decentralized and radically democratic. Even setting aside knottier questions about the eth- ics of protest and political leadership, there remains a glaring contradiction between these reflexive disavowals of responsibility in these domains, and the reflexive acceptance of it when attached to awards and press coverage. Jelani Cobb, “The Matter of Black Lives,” The New Yorker, March 14, 2016, available at http:// www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/14/ where-is-black-lives-matter-headed.
[xxxvi] Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: Politics of Liberation in America, 2nd ed. (New York: Random House,1992), 47.
[xxxvii] Laurel  Leff,  “How  Labor  Beat  City  Hall,” New Haven Independent, September 15, 2011, available at http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/mills_leads_un/; Jennifer Klein, “New Haven Rising,” Dissent 62, no. 1 (Winter 2015), 45-54.
[xxxviii] Hannah  Arendt,  Between  Past  and  Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin, 2006), 237 

One comment

Comments are closed.