Black Lives Matter: Unions Must Be a Force for Social Justice
The Solidarity Center believes that Black Lives Matter and stands unequivocally with the millions of Americans and allies around the world peacefully calling for equality for Black people and an end to all forms of racist violence. These mass demonstrations are a demand for a society that fully lives the value of opportunity for all—which includes respect for human dignity and racial, social and economic justice.
Vigilante murders and state-sanctioned acts of violence—and their attempted cover-ups—committed against George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many other Black men, women and children reflect historic and systemic racial injustice and inequality, specifically anti-Black racism, in the United States. The effects of such inequality are evident today as Black communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and Black workers, many on the front lines, are hit hard by the economic downturn. The lack of access to decent social services continues to relegate Black communities to the fringes of society. Black women’s economic prosperity and freedom are doubly jeopardized by racism and sexism.
Sadly, we know that this is not unique to our country. Anti-Blackness is global, and all countries around the world have their own histories of oppression rooted in white supremacy, sexism, orientalism, colonialism, economic exploitation, classism, homophobia, ethnic and cultural tension, religion and xenophobia. These systems are distinct but interrelated and have been used for generations to shape societies, exploit resource-rich countries, entrench poverty and dependency, and deny fundamental human rights.
These same systems lead to discrimination and marginalization of whole communities and normalizes the exploitation of immigrants and dehumanization of those seeking asylum in our country. These systems cause pain and division among and harm to all people. Because of this, the Solidarity Center stands with the global labor movement to reject racism, discrimination in all its forms and police brutality in the United States and everywhere around the world. Dismantling systemic racism, discrimination and inequality are vital to ensuring workers everywhere are empowered to create just and enduring democratic societies.
Around the world, protesters, trade unions, civil society and human rights organizations are calling for a new economic and social order centered on equality and justice. Solidarity Center union partners in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, among others, have initiated solidarity rallies, written letters of support and taken to social media to call for change—in the United States and in their own countries.
Brazil’s General Union of Workers (UGT) called George Floyd’s killing, a “tragic action that has an international context, as discrimination is a crime that does not respect borders, languages, religions or social status.”
To protesters in U.S. streets, the Bangladesh Sommolito Garment Sramik Federation tweeted, “What you are doing is necessary and vital to dismantle the oppression that saturates our world and deliver a future where justice prevails.”
The South African Federation of Trade Unions wrote: “Saying ‘Black Lives Matter!’ is not just about opposing police brutality though. It is also about the structure of society: the political and economic systems that devalue black lives, black land, black culture, and blackness.” And the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions said, “We recognize that anti-blackness is an injustice that must continue to be addressed fearlessly in the United States and around the world. We strongly believe that labor unions have a crucial role to play in this fight.”
The labor movement, globally, protects and defends the human rights of workers. This must include joining the fight for racial justice and confronting racism and all forms of discrimination, especially within union ranks. Unions have the most racially diverse membership in the world and cannot afford to uphold discrimination or reinforce racist viewpoints and beliefs. Because of their ability to bring workers together across race, unions are uniquely positioned to reduce racial resentment and become a leading force for racial equality and inclusion. At a time when the United States is reconciling with its history of genocide, slavery and exclusion, other countries are grappling with similar or parallel histories–or, in the Global South, still living the experience of fighting colonialism, racism, abuse and exploitation. The labor movement has the opportunity to help shape a society that is anti-racist, free of exploitation, explicitly intersectional feminist, pro-worker, pro-migrant, class conscious and that values the dignity of Black lives. And we join our sisters and brothers in trade unions all over the world who are protesting right now demanding the same from their countries, and their labor movements.
To achieve real power for workers, the Solidarity Center supports the right to free speech, assembly and protest, calls for the demilitarization of the police and the active prosecution of police officers who use excessive, brutal and unjustified or illegal force. These acts are a threat to workers everywhere. There cannot be justice in a society in which democracy is threatened and where protest is met with state violence. Nor can there be a true democracy without racial justice. The labor movement must be a consistent force for racial equity, which goes hand-in-hand with economic justice and dignity for workers.