On 9 June, on the West Coast of the USA, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) stopped work for an eight minute, forty-six second moment of silence (the length of time the cop had his knee on Floyd’s neck). On 19 June the ILWU will organise another Black Lives Matter strike, for a full eight hours.
They picked that day because “Juneteenth” is the date slavery was abolished in Texas at the end of the US Civil War, and now a major commemoration and celebration. To get round anti-union legislation, they are also striking as part of their ongoing fight against privatisation of the Port of Oakland, which will have a major impact on jobs for African-Americans in the area.
More information, links and suggestions for solidarity on the Free Our Unions website here.
Below we republish excerpts from an interview which Clarence Thomas, former Secretary Treasurer of the predominantly African-American ILWU Local 10, did with the US socialist magazine Jacobin (full interview here).
“The most effective way to stop police terror Is action at the point of production”
Fighting police murders and white supremacy is a class question. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of black people, and the vast majority of victims of police repression, are working class.
For many years now, ILWU, and Local 10 in particular, has been protesting the racist policing of African Americans. And we understand that the way these murders can be stopped is when there are economic consequences. The working class has leverage — and we need to use it.
We think that the most effective way to stop police terror is by the working class taking action at the point of production: if the working class is going to be heard, labour must shut it down...
We believe that labour should strive to be at the vanguard of all social struggles, because we understand that labour has a responsibility to fight for those beyond just our own membership. Think about the demand of the eight-hour workday and the elimination of child labour — these were demands that unions a century ago won for the whole working class. It’s that kind of spirit we need today.
That’s why there is such a concerted effort by those in power to give workers amnesia about our own history. Learning about our real past reveals the real contradiction between the interests of labour and those who own the means of production.
Unions should be raising demands for defunding the police and revoking the membership of police associations from our labour councils. The police in many cities are part of the central labour councils — we think this is a major contradiction because cops are not a part of the labour movement. Whenever there’s a strike, the police are called in to defend the bosses, intimidate workers, protect scabs. They always defend the powerful and the privileged.
Unfortunately, labour has forgotten that cops are the enforcers of the bosses. Think about Minneapolis, which has sparked this national revolt. Back in 1934 Minneapolis had a general strike led by the Teamsters, during which two striking truck drivers were killed by cops on Bloody Friday. And in San Francisco in the 1934 general strike led by longshore workers, we had Bloody Thursday, when police shot and killed two strikers.
In many instances, trade unionists just don’t know about that history of police killings. They don’t know how the rank-and-file in places like Minneapolis and San Francisco took on the National Guard, the police, the vigilantes, and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s and ‘40s. The rulers of this country don’t want workers to understand our power, to have class consciousness.
I’m proud to say that ILWU, and Local 10 in particular, has been in the vanguard of the labour movement when it comes to fighting white supremacy and police murder.
In 1967 Dr King spoke to an ILWU Local 10 meeting and became an honorary member. We took workplace actions to fight apartheid in South Africa. And back in 2010 we shut down the ports to demand justice for Oscar Grant, a young black man shot by police officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Eve. To my knowledge, that was the first time in the history of the modern labour movement that a work stoppage was organised against racist police terror.
There is now a widespread recognition among young people and others that we need to fight white supremacy. But it’s one thing to protest, it’s another to build a movement. And we need to be able to engage the working class in struggle. Young people need to know that no matter how many people are out in the streets, to really win big transformational change you need workers. We need to organise in our own name, independent of the Democratic and Republican parties.