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The organized working class can beat the bigots

 Reverend William Barber addresses a United Steelworkers convention
Carolyn Egan

August 24, 2017

Charlottesville had made the decision to remove a Confederate statue and brought on the wrath of the white supremacist movement. It had been planning for months to rally the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis and all manner of alt right bigots to make a stand in that university town. Richmond, Virginia had been the capitol of the Confederacy and the racists and anti-semites viewed the state to be the perfect venue to put their reprehensible politics on view. They drew supporters from all over the US who came pumped up to spew their hate and try to intimidate anyone who opposed them. They intended their actions to be the spark which would draw others to their cause.
The Friday night march through the campus of the University of Virginia with torches held high was reminiscent of the heyday of the Klan, and chants of ‘Blood and Soil’, ‘Jews Will Not Replace Us’ were chilling. There is no doubt that the election of Donald Trump has emboldened these groups and we are seeing them take to the streets in the US and Canada.
But in Charlottesville the residents began to organize as well. The local Black Lives Matter group joined with others and began to mobilize a response to the bigotry. The people of the city were not prepared to allow the forces of reaction to have their rallies unchallenged. As national and international media covered the events it was clear that ordinary people were speaking out and fighting back together, refusing to allow their home to become a symbol of white supremacy. Sadly their response so enraged one neo nazi participant that he plowed his car into the crowd and killed Heather Heyer and injured many others.
No economic justice without racial justice
At a United Steelworkers convention in the US last spring a keynote speaker was Reverend William Barber, head of the NAACP in North Carolina and the founder of an organization of Black and white people fighting together against racism and poverty in his state. He said in no uncertain terms that you cannot fight for economic justice without fighting for racial justice at the same time. He implored the thousand of working class delegates of every race and background that they must build the unity necessary for the workers movement to fight back and win against the elites who are trying to divide and weaken us. His words were met with a standing ovation.
He made it clear that the organized working class has a huge responsibility to take on bigotry where ever it appears, and that the collective power to fight and overcome is there if we do not allow people like Trump to divide us one from another. Unions from across the US and Canada came out quickly with statements condemning the white supremacists and bigots who gathered in Charlottesville. This was very important and we must continue to push our unions to take concrete steps to continue that fight against racism and bigotry.
The people of Boston and Vancouver showed how that can be done by rallying thousands in response to actions by the far right. Both demonstrations showed that progressive people will respond and challenge the bigots. The Boston rally was led by a banner saying “Which Side Are You On”, an old labour slogan which called for a broad based response. It’s a simple question and 45,000 responded. It shows that when masses of people come out they can shut down the message of the right and demoralize them. The Battle of Cable Street in the United Kingdom during the thirties is a model of how thousands of anti-fascists came out in support of the Jewish community when it was under attack.
Labour is playing an important role. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has formed a Rapid Response Team which challenged the right wing haters when they tried to rally at city hall and the Hamilton District Labour Council is doing the same. In Toronto labour called a mass meeting which packed city hall chambers with trade unionists on March 21st, the Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Society of Energy Professionals has started a well resourced campaign against Islamophobia among its members. Other unions must do the same showing that they will not tolerate racism and bigotry, and work with all of its members to do the work necessary to build a more just society.


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