As organized labor grapples with the consequences of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s landslide defeat at the Amazon mega-warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, one potential direction for the labor movement lies in the types of power- and base-building activities of Black worker centers. That African American workers need to amass the power to better their conditions is beyond dispute. The American working class is in serious trouble, and Black workers most particularly. The median net wealth of Black families is just $24,100 (lower than any other racial group in America today), while that of white families stands at $188,200. Ongoing institutional and systemic racial discrimination against Black workers persists in housing, health care, education, and employment.
Black Working Class
Of all the products made at Danette Wilder’s small manufacturing plant near the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the products she depended on most for sales were the O-rings cranked out by her vintage presses. Each month, Wilder’s crew of six people, working at long tables as they listened to a soundtrack of funk and R&B, made thousands of the rubber loops, cut from spools into precise strips and spliced into uniform perfect circles. The work distinguished Wilder’s company, SealingLife Technology, as one of the vanishingly few rubber products suppliers owned by a female engineer — not to mention one who is also Black. It hasn’t been an easy path: Wilder has navigated state and federal set-aside programs, tight-fisted bankers and what she saw as obvious discrimination. But eventually, Wilder built SealingLife into a reliable vendor for all manner of aerospace, medical and other industrial businesses.
The state of Maryland and Baltimore City in particular have been dominated by Democratic Party politics for decades, yet many residents struggle under a repressive police force, a lack of affordable housing, gentrification, inadequate investment in schools and in majority black communities, environmental pollution, and more. Black workers in the state have spent the past ten years building their own political structure, the Ujima People's Progress Party, to challenge the Democrats and now having established a base of support, they are working to achieve ballot access. Clearing the FOG speaks with the state organizer, Nnamdi Lumumba, about building black worker power in the state by engaging with communities around the struggles they are facing, building self-sufficiency and providing political education. He explains why this is necessary at this moment in time and how it fits into the broader picture of building political power on the Left.
Fast food workers in 15 cities across the country went on a one-day strike on February 16, to demand that their employers—including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s—pay them $15 an hour and give them union rights. The effort, which is part of the nationwide Fight for 15 movement, comes as lawmakers in Washington debate enacting a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage as part of President Biden’s first COVID-19 relief package. The strikes also honor Black History Month by emphasizing the generations of low pay and lacking workplace protections among Black workers, historical inequities that have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and which have left Black Americans particularly vulnerable to both the virus and its economic devastation.
For this edition of The Black Agenda Review’s Black Citizenship Forum, political scientist Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni writes on the impact of the ongoing legacy of colonialism – through the idea and practice of “coloniality” – on present-day citizenship in Africa. Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni argues that coloniality provides the basis and justification for European exploitation of the world and that this was done through colonial legal orders, territorial boundaries, racial hierarchies, ethnic and tribal categorizations, and class identifications. Meanwhile, formal decolonization enshrined a neocolonial African comprador class enthralled to global capital and more than willing to exploit Black labor.
As we think, again, about the role of organized labor in the long Black freedom struggle, it is worth noting that in India at this very moment 250 million farmers, workers, students and allies have joined in what had been a three-month long protest against the Modi government’s neoliberal agricultural policies. The new parliamentary bills essentially eliminate state-run regulated agricultural markets, and allow direct transactions between farmers and private corporate interests — namely international commodity traders and conglomerates such as Walmart and Cargill. The new arrangements will destroy small farmers and force those who survive to enter into contracts with corporate global seed and agrochemical suppliers, traders, distributors and retail concerns.
The growing Black Lives Matters Strike Wave has reached over 600 strikes since June 1 got a massive boost of momentum today. A coalition of 150 organizations, including major unions like SEIU, AFT, and Teamsters, all put out a call for #Strike4BlackLives on July 20. Other organizations supporting the strike include the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Center for Popular Democracy. The coalition is calling on workers everywhere to stop work for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd. In some cities, workers intend to strike all day. Many workers may aways start organizing to plan for a short work stoppage, may choose to then extend it into a larger work stoppage as momentum for #StrikeforBlackLives builds.
During George Floyd’s funeral on June 9th, Black dockworkers in Charleston, S.C., shut down the nation’s 4th busiest port and gathered to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. “All operations stopped, the terminals were shut down, no machines were working, trucks were backed up for miles along the interstate because we weren’t moving anything on the terminal,” said Ken Riley, a Black dockworker and President of ILA Local 1422. The actions were part of a nationwide effort in which the International Longshore Association, which is 65% Black, shut down all the ports on the East and Gulf Shore Coasts. “It was a moving event because we were able to show as workers our ability to stop global commerce,” said Riley. “Any responsible manager is gonna look at that and say ‘Look, we are gonna have to deal with these people, or we are gonna have a problem.’ ”
A June 16 action for eight laid-off workers — organized just four days after the announcement they had been fired — drew about 100 people. They were protesting at their place of work, College Bound Dorchester/Boston Uncornered, on a quiet residential street on Tuesday morning. With these latest layoffs, CEO Mark Culliton targeted one-third of the remaining youth services employees working for his company, College Bound, after workers declared their intention to unionize as Uncornered United-Service Employees (SEIU) Local 888 on June 2. College Bound is a “further education” preparation program, while Boston Uncornered hires neighborhood leaders impacted by violence to be mentors in the program. The company website advertises the programs as “opportunities to turn away from the ‘street corners’ for good.” The UU mentors are Black and Brown neighborhood leaders who have demonstrated social influence and skill at developing young people by drawing on their own challenges and experiences. These workers are demanding that Culliton recognize the union and that he reinstate those illegally fired.
Racism is like sewage. Whether we’re currently engaging in a national dialogue about it or not, it’s still there. It runs under our streets, our buildings, our society. Millions of tons of shit. Rarely is racism truly visible to the naked eye. More often, it trickles along beneath our collective consciousness, quietly infecting everything. A lot of people try to claim systemic racism no longer exists. “It’s gone. What systemic racism? ‘Black Panther’ was one of the most popular movies ever, therefore, racism is over,” they claim. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Three studies prove just how many millions of gallons of fetid, systemic racism still fill our country. Let’s start with education. A recent report found a $23 billion racial funding gap for schools.
As police violence against Black people and those who would rise in their defense forces a national engagement—of a sort—with the reality of white supremacy in our institutions, the widening recognition that the batons and tear gas are just one part of it, that there is more than one way to choke the life out of a people, meant that it was just a matter of time before news media would need to acknowledge the call coming from inside the house. So we have the week just past—wherein we learned that numerous powerful media figures have not just tweeted, joked or dressed up as…but have enforced policies and practices and pay differentials that, deepbreath, do not reflect the values they now hold, they now understand to be deeply hurtful, they only wish they’d been alerted to sooner, they are taking time to reflect deeply upon, they are committed to doing better about going forward, they look forward to be challenged on, and about which, heaven only knows, they are listening.
Never underestimate US business community's capacity for hypocrisy. That’s one of the lessons to be drawn from the explosive reaction to George Floyd’s murder. As demonstrators began flooding streets, corporate PR departments flew into rapid response mode, issuing a flurry of agonized, apologetic pledges to do more to combat racism and inequality. Such statements may, on a personal level, be sincere: the depth of righteous pain and anger expressed by African Americans has induced widespread soul-searching, even in executive suites. Yet this high-profile hand-wringing is used to uncouple the outpouring of outrage from capitalist practices that are now, and always have been, at the intertwined roots of racial and economic injustice.
With the overwhelming evidence that the capitalist system is fundamentally antithetical to the realization of human rights, including what should be an elementary right — access to healthcare — the presidency of Donald J. Trump has been a godsend for the capitalist rulers. The obsessive focus on Trump the person, his style, his theatrics, the idea that he represents an aberration, an existential threat, allows for the ongoing structural violence embedded in the DNA of racialized capitalism to hide in plain sight. But for the Black working class and poor it is suicidal to embrace this illusion. Maintaining a clear understanding of our situation, unimpeded by illusions and ideological mystifications, has always been a tool we used to ensure our survival before the ideological swing to the right over the last decade and a half.
April 14 — Just last week, U.S. bourgeois papers — the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and others — published major articles on the devastating numbers of confirmed infections and deaths of African Americans caused by COVID-19. The articles emphasized the numbers were disproportionate compared to the percentage of African-American people in the U.S. population. And in this tragic way, the virus is helping to publicize on a wider basis the racial inequality that has been the foundation of capitalism in the U.S. An April 6 WW article, “Racism, COVID-19 and Black people,” pointed to the institutionalized racism — including after the Civil War and the era of “Jim Crow” laws — that has been the underlying cause of suffering by Black people as a nationally oppressed grouping in the U.S.
We are supposed to be thinking this week about the health disparities in the United States based on race and ethnicity, since the New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and even USA Today are going on about it. This is the hot topic presumably because of a recent analysis of the demographics of COVID-19 deaths by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Such an analysis, however, cannot be found. Instead, the public health departments of several US states simultaneously published their COVID-19 racial breakdowns. One cannot help but suspect that this orchestrated and sudden discovery of the institutional racism of the US is nothing but an election-year ploy to sway Black and Hispanic voters from one to another of two political parties that care nothing about them.