As was widely reported, white nationalists gathered on August 19 for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville. The rally was organized in opposition to a plan by local officials to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top general, from the city’s Emancipation Park. However, it is also clear that the forces behind the Charlottesville rally run much deeper than the removal of statues.
Right-wing extremism, including white nationalism and white supremacy, is on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And a string of killings in recent months raised the specter of far-right violence well before that weekend.
While the response to the violence has been both powerful and swift—with tens of thousands of demonstrators surging into the nation’s streets and parks on August 19 to denounce racism, white supremacy and Nazism, the Labor Fightback Network believes that the Labor Movement must play a leading role in responding to the increasing targeting and violence towards vulnerable populations as the Far Right continues to act in a new and emboldened way, with the support of the White House.
It must also be noted that institutionalized racism—such as the continued police killings of Blacks and Latinos, the “New Jim Crow” prison-industrial complex, the cuts in public services that are driving Blacks out of the organized labor force, the redistricting that is gutting Black people’s voting rights, as well as a host of other attacks—continues to divide the Labor Movement, pitting more skilled white workers against Blacks and Latinos. The fight against institutionalized racism, therefore, needs to be championed by organized labor.
It’s not just about the fight against the white supremacists. The problem goes much deeper. For example, just about every right-wing Republican—from Sessions to Ryan to Graham—are denouncing the white supremacists while continuing to advocate cuts in Medicaid (which would affect people of color disproportionately), supporting the mass deportation of so-called “illegal” immigrants, privatizing public services, and more.
The Labor Movement must play a leading role in exposing this hypocrisy, which also involves all-too-many Democrats.
From Counter-Protest Participation to Movement-Building Strategy
Labor unions and their members from throughout the United States participated in the counter-protests but more is needed. The Labor Movement must unite on a national basis and say: “No to the KKK, the Nazis and the White Supremacists.” ILWU Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area is an example. Recently, Local 10 passed the following resolution in response to Charlottesville and to a new-Nazi assembly scheduled to take place on August 26:
“Whereas, the fascists, the KKK, Nazis and other white supremacists rallied and marched by torchlight in Charlottesville, whipping up lynch mob terror with racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic slogans, and
“Whereas, that attack resulted in one anti-racist counter-demonstrator murdered and many others injured when one of the fascist bullies ran them down with a car, and
“Whereas, President Trump’s whitewashing this violent, deadly fascist and racist attack saying ‘both sides are to blame,’ and his attacking anti-racists for opposing Confederate statues that honor slavery adds fuel to the fire of racist violence, and
“Whereas, the Klan, Nazis and other racist terrorists represent a deadly threat to African Americans, Latinos and immigrants, as well as Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people among many others, and directly to members of our union and the labor movement as a whole, and
“Whereas, the fascist ‘Patriot Prayer’ group that staged violent racist provocations in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere, attracting Nazi and other violent white supremacists, has announced it will rally on Crissy Field on Saturday August 26, and
“Whereas, far from a matter of ‘free speech’, the racist and fascist provocations are a deadly menace as shown in Portland on May 26 when a Nazi murdered two men and almost killed a third for defending two young African American women he was menacing; and our sisters and brothers in the Portland labor movement answered racist terror with the power of workers solidarity, mobilizing members of 14 unions against the fascist/racist rally there on June 4, and
“Whereas, ILWU Local 10 has a long and proud history of standing up against racism, fascism and bigotry and using our union power to do so; on May Day 2015 we shut down Bay Area ports and marched followed by thousands to Oscar Grant Plaza demanding an end to police terror against African Americans and others; the San Francisco Bay Area is a union stronghold and we will not allow labor-hating white supremacists to bring their lynch mob terror here,
“Therefore, ILWU Local 10 in the best tradition of our union that fought these right-wingers in the Big Strike of 1934, will not work on that day and instead march to Crissy Field to stop the racist, fascist intimidation in our hometown and invite all unions and antiracist and antifascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”
Local 10 has set an instructive example in the following ways:
- ILWU Local 10 is LEADING THE WAY—not waiting for others to do so—or simply participating in a protest planned by others;
- ILWU Local 10 is issuing a formal resolution on Charlottesville, rather than simply supporting its members’ participation in a protest event;
- ILWU Local 10 is instituting the power of the STRIKE to directly link its protest of white nationalism with power of working people to withhold their labor in protest of intolerable conditions.
By taking the lead in all of these ways, ILWU Local 10 shows the way forward for building a contemporary mass movement of working people. Just as the rise of the far right is linked to the crisis of U.S. capitalism, the response to the crisis can only be one that successfully builds a labor movement that is democratic and anti-white supremacist.