Labor Can Stop the White Supremacists in Their Tracks

by John Reimann, North Star editorial board member on August 22, 2017

Scenes from Oakland’s General Strike of 1946. This strike was organized out of the Central Labor Council. It did it then; it can do it again now.
Even in their weakened situation, the unions have the power to stop the white supremacists in their tracks. Instead of putting out an occasional statement and occasionally endorsing a march or rally, the union leaders can call out their members and families to lead a real united, working class opposition to the white supremacists.In Berkeley CA, for example, the white supremacists are supposed to be trying to make a statement on August 27. A “March Against Hate” is planned in response. The Alameda County Central Labor Council has endorsed this march as have a few local unions. But how many of their members will know? What will the Central Labor Council actually do to get its affiliated local unions involved? What will the leaders of the affiliated locals do to get their members involved?

We should be clear: These white supremacists are not just a threat to people of color, not just a threat to left protesters (such as the young woman who was murdered by them in Charlotsville); they are a threat to the entire working class and to the only working class organizations in the US – the unions. In the past, these groups have been used to attack workers on strike and to attack union organizers. They will do so again.

In 1946, the Alameda County Central Labor Council organized the Oakland General Strike. It can do so again, along with the active support of the affiliated local unions. But, realistically, we know that this leadership is not going to do that. They won’t even organize a fight for the most immediate interests of their members. So it is up to the rank and file members to organize to make their unions do what they were built to do: Fight for working class people.

Trump at his press conference on Charlotsville. He blamed the protesters equally with the white nationalists. He pleased the neo-nazi “Daily Stormer”, which wrote: “When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

The fight against the white supremacists is linked with the fight for jobs and wages for all.

  • For a union campaign to stop the white supremacists! Labor to shut down the city of Berkeley on August 27.
  • Link the fight against white supremacism with the fight against Trump’s drive to war and the fight for decent jobs and wages for all!
  • Build a mass working class party with socialist policies!

We urge union members to get active and organize with their fellow members to make their unions really build the fight against the white supremacists. Others, outside the unions, can directly contact union workers by leafleting union work places. It’s all very well and good to get the leadership to pass resolutions and endorsements of events like the August 27 “March Against Hate” in Berkeley, but that is not enough. We have to go directly to the union rank and file to get real action.

 

 

 

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

S. Artesian August 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

Yes, Oakland ALMOST experienced a general strike– one that the AFL kept at arms length, and the CIO paid lip service to, until it was safe to endorse it, meaning it was well on its ways to being defeated.

And yes the workers of Oakland, led by the department store clerks, mostly female, brought the city to a standstill, but………..the strike was settled on the pettiest of terms– winning exactly NOTHING for the department store workers; making exactly no change to the organization of power in the city. So before we all tear up and get nostalgic for the good old days of 1946, we need to assess the limitations to the power of labor as a class that the power of unions– representing but a fragment of that class– represents.

On the good foot, however I read that ILWU Local 10 was undertaking the formation of a defense group to counter the alt-neo-right-nazis.

Reply

SocraticGadfly August 22, 2017 at 9:28 pm

Per Artesian, WHICH labor? The AFL-CIO whose head, Trumka, sat on Trump’s biz council until Charlottesville?

Reply

Reza August 23, 2017 at 1:37 am

SocraticGadfly,

The author does say, “But, realistically, we know that this leadership is not going to do that. They won’t even organize a fight for the most immediate interests of their members. So it is up to the rank and file members to organize to make their unions do what they were built to do: Fight for working class people.” So, he concedes that point, as far as the LEADERSHIP of the union is concerned. That’s why he urges the rank and file to do something.

Maybe the rank and file’s struggle to change their union leadership structures should be combined with the antifascist fight that will be necessary if unionized workers want to preserve the mere existence of their unions. Also, for both struggles to have better chances of success, they need campaigns to recruit more workers into unions.

If upwards of 85% of the workforce is not unionized, that means there are millions of workers to be unionized still! All the workers in service industries that pay shitty wages, for example, workers who are struggling for a $15/h minimum wage, are the obvious potential recruits. There are millions of opportunities for positive developments, in other words.

Reply

S. Artesian August 23, 2017 at 11:20 am

Reza,

I think this: “In 1946, the Alameda County Central Labor Council organized the Oakland General Strike” condenses the issue for me (and maybe for SocraticGadfly?).

That claim is wildly inaccurate. The Alameda County CLC did not organize the Oakland General Strike. See http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt2h4n993g;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=d0e872&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calisphere- the interview with Robert Ash who was secretary of the CLC (1943-1967).

The actions taken to shutdown downtown Oakland were indeed spontaneous actions taken in response to the police clearing the retail clerks picketing Kahn’s department store. That is not to glorify spontaneity, but as Ash himself puts it, the CLC had not the slightest intention of organizing a general strike.

Secondly, the CLC was an AFL organization at that time, and steadfastly refused for “tactical reasons” to reach out to the CIO or CIO affiliated unions. Pretty hard to credit a labor council with organizing a general strike, when that organization excludes the critical industrial unions from a “united front.” Nor can we claim that the actions of the CLC provide in any way, shape, or form, a model for future actions.

Thirdly, the record of the CLC during the strike itself is hardly unambiguous. Besides not reaching out to the CIO unions, the CLC was torn by internal disputes, which came to a head, when the Beck, head of the Teamsters order the Teamster representative on the CLC to withdraw support. Beck ordered Teamsters to go back to work, and denounced the strike as an assault on the government of the United States. “If only” is all one can say to that. The teamsters, following the discipline of their union, did go back to work.

And finally, what did the CLC “get” out of its agreement not to end, but to OPPOSE, to end the general strike? A promise from the city of Oakland not to use cops to break strikes.

What did the (mostly female) retail clerks, whose struggle initiated in the month prior to the CLC “actions,” actually brought about the general strike, get from their strike. Nothing.

So does anyone think that worked out well for the workers in the Bay Area?

Claiming, “In 1946, the Alameda County Central Labor Council organized the Oakland General Strike. It can do so again, along with the active support of the affiliated local unions.” while at the same time acknowledging that “But, realistically, we know that this leadership is not going to do that. They won’t even organize a fight for the most immediate interests of their members. So it is up to the rank and file members to organize to make their unions do what they were built to do: Fight for working class people”… and then concluding “We urge union members to get active and organize with their fellow members to make their unions really build the fight against the white supremacists” is not a practical strategy. It a self-contradiction built upon the original false notion that the CLC “organized” the general strike, or maybe wishful thinking. It sure isn’t built on a grasp of the history of the CLC.

The way forward, for workers to organize against white supremacy, will have to take the path that is the path the general strike in Oakland was blocked from taking by the unions themselves, which is found in organizations with the potential to reach beyond craft, or trade, or “industrial” union fractions.

That much is made painfully clear by an accurate investigation of the real “general strike” in Oakland in 1946

Reply

Reza August 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

S. Artesian,

Thank you for providing the historical background; I lack any depth of knowledge regarding this historical episode of American labor. So, your point well taken. Part of the point you illustrate, however, is how screwed up the union leadership was/is. So, it seems that a huge task of the labor *remains* the struggle to change their leadership structures.

That struggle is now made even more urgent and has taken on an additional task of having to start thinking of ways to combat the mobs that will be getting increasingly more vocal and will be gunning for unionized workers.

I see your point. Despite this short article’s shortcoming that you point out, and at the same time, I can see why the author is urging action from below in the unions.

Reply

SocraticGadfly August 23, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Now, if we had somebody like the longshoremen doing the organizing? I mean, the AFL-CIO today is bad enough, people like SEIU are worse.

Agreed on actions from below. That includes unionized workers joining new unions.

It should also be remembered that, in the 1950s, organized labor of the centrist type joined the AMA and the US Chamber in opposing single-payer.

Reply

Kurt Hill August 25, 2017 at 12:16 pm

I don’t think that Trumka et. al have the stones for a nation-wide General Strike…Maybe some local strikes…

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Reply

S. Artesian August 25, 2017 at 5:37 pm

Don’t think it’s a “stones” or courage thing, Kurt. Trumka after all did start out in the coal mines, in 1968. Going down into those mines every day takes more courage than most people can ever imagine. I know I couldn’t do it.

Think it’s a material interest thing. Trumka did become a lawyer; does represent a segment of the working class fundamentally tied to keeping the bourgeoisie in power– as the CLC in Alameda was so tied in 1946.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: