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Trade unionists stand up against racism

Members of the Longshore workers union shutdown the west coast ports to protest anti-black racism
Carolyn Egan

June 23, 2020

Over the past weeks, we have seen the largest protest movement in US history which has sparked similar demonstrations around the globe. The revulsion that so many felt at the brutal murder of George Floyd could not be contained. The anger roared out of cities and towns because so many could no longer accept the systemic racism that has caused the deaths of Black people for centuries. The colonial legacy in Canada has also allowed for the murder and abuse of Indigenous peoples by police forces, and the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Multiracial marches, some organized, and others spontaneously erupting in areas that have never had anti-racist protest, have continued day after day. Courageous young people are standing up against heavily armed riot police using clubs, tear gas and stun grenades. They refuse to step back and are demanding the defunding of the police, and an entirely new system.

Rank and file trade unionists are standing with the protesters. It was a strong statement when Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) members in Minneapolis and New York City refused to allow buses to be used to transport arrested demonstrators to detention centres. This had a significant effect on the numbers that police could detain. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) organized a shut down for June 19th in twenty-nine cities on the west coast, and previously had a work stoppage for nine minutes on June 9th.  This is the same union that stood in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people by shutting down the Delta port in Vancouver supporting a picket line that had been put up in solidarity.

Many individual trade unionists have been taking part in the protests. In Toronto, flags from the United Steelworkers (USW), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) could be seen in the marches. A strong policy paper to confront racism has been put out by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council after a full discussion at a recent zoom delegates meeting, with over eighty taking part. The Hamilton District Labour Council passed a motion calling for the defunding of the police.

Teachers have been demanding the removal of the police from schools and staff at universities have called for the same. Many unions in Canada have put out statements, and discussions have to take place in workplaces and at meetings which will hopefully lead to action. The statements are a first step – but unions have to throw their weight behind the continuing protests and mobilize their members to be an integral part of this ongoing struggle.

What is happening today is being likened to 1968, and there is no turning back. The millions who have gone into the streets are shaping a new movement. Coming during the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that has devastated the poor and the working class – with racialized people bearing the brunt – so many are seeing the starkness of the class divisions and the growing gap between the haves and the have nots. So many are now saying, the system isn’t broken, it was built that way. Ideas change in struggle, and we are seeing this before our very eyes. Socialists have to continue to organize trade union class involvement in this movement, as we work shoulder to shoulder with others to take on racism and all the horrors of capitalism and build a new the system from the bottom up.

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