NLF Highlights

Organized Labor & Black Lives Matter

NLF Highlights for July

Well in advance of the fall 2020 issue of New Labor Forum , we are releasing an important article by David Unger on the relationship of organized labor to police and carceral work. In “ Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions ,” Unger asks whether the highly unionized workforce of nearly 2 million people employed by the carceral state have a right to union representation. And if so, should there be limits placed on their ability to collectively bargain and lobby? And furthermore, do police unions deserve a place within the AFL-CIO, given the role they have sometimes played in strike-breaking as well as controlling and even attacking protests by labor and its allies? Subscribe now to New Labor Forum to join conversations like this and support the work of the journal.

We also include here a cutting-edge talk by Maurice Weeks, of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, presented at a recent forum hosted by NLF publisher, the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. Weeks discusses #DefundPolice and its challenge to the structural power of police departments. He also reveals the extent to which police departments dominate municipal budgets, citing L.A., Detroit, and Tulsa, where policing accounts for 52%, 36%, and 30% respectively of those cities’ total expenditures. And, extending the discussion of labor’s role in the fight for racial justice, April Simms, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, examines the impact on black families and communities of ceaseless police killings of unarmed black citizens. She also makes a plea for unions “to do the uncomfortable but necessary work of fighting the white supremacy that is choking us.” We end with a heart-rending poem by Mark Doty, commemorating 12-year-old Tamir Rice, murdered at the hands of the police.

Table of Contents

    1. Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions? / David Unger, New Labor Forum
    2. Black Workers and the Triple Pandemic / with Maurice BP-Weeks, June 24, 2020, CUNY SLU forum
    3. “We need you to fight for us to breathe” / April Sims, The Stand
    4. In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice 2002-2014 / Mark Doty, American Poetry Review, vol. 44 no. 03

      Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions?
      by David Unger, New Labor Forum

      President Trump’s chain-link fence around the White House has been turned into a protest gallery. Posters, signs, and tags speak old and new names that have become tragically familiar: Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. The demand—voiced in protests across the country and even the world—is for a fundamental change in the way society polices and treats Black people. #BlackLivesMatter #DefundPolice, #FundBlackFutures, #CopsOutOfSchools, the messages scream.

      But half a block from the White House, another small makeshift gallery has been erected on the plywood nailed over the broken windows of a burned office building lobby. A different theme dominates there: #DropIUPA, #NoCopUnions, #CopsOutOfTheAFL. There’s no talk of unions on Trump’s fence, but here, at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO at 815 Black Lives Matter Plaza (formerly 16th Street), many of the signs call for unions to look inside our own house. The fight over the future of policing, mass incarceration, and for Black lives is at the very doorstep of the “house of labor”.

      Read the full article here

      Black Workers and the Triple Pandemic
      with Maurice BP-Weeks , June 24, 2020, CUNY SLU event

      Black workers are facing a crisis on multiple fronts. They are more likely to be frontline workers and more likely to die from COVID-19. Unemployment rates for Black workers continue to rise even as rates for white workers fall. And they are on the front lines in the system of structural racism that leads to police brutality, poverty, and worse health care outcomes. At the same time, the Movement for Black Lives has created the foundation of a resistance, and an opening to imagine real change.

      How can we build a broad movement of unions, worker centers, community organizations and social justice activists to dismantle white supremacy? Considering the legacy of structural racism and police brutality, as well as the virus and economic crisis, our speakers will discuss ideas on how to build working class power for a better world.

      Watch the full clip here

      “We need you to fight for us to breathe”
      by April Sims, The Stand

      (June 4, 2020) — Say their names: Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Tony McDade. David McAtee. Manuel Ellis.

      Some days it’s hard to breathe. Here’s my truth: I’m a Black mother raising Black kids.

      My son, Javonte, joined the U.S. Marines at 17 because he wanted to make a difference, he wanted to serve his country. He came home five years later only to witness his country condone and sanction the continued murder and abuse of Black men who look like him. He won’t tell me he’s scared; he doesn’t have to.

      Read the full article here

      In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice 2002-2014

      by Mark Doty, American Poetry Review, vol. 44, no. 03

                            the boy’s face

climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel

of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower


swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,

or ears to hear? If you could see


what happens fastest, unmaking

the human irreplaceable, a star


falling into complete gravitational

darkness from all points of itself, all this:


the held loved body into which entered

milk and music, honeying the cells of him:


Read the full poem here