May 1999   
ILWU, SEPE: First Labor Stoppages for Mumia

Brazil Education Workers Stop Work
Demanding: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Students at Ernesto Faria School, Rio de Janeiro, join teachers
union stoppage for Mumia. (Photo: Vanguarda Operaria)

Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!

Demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and protesting against racism and the death penalty, workers in Brazil and the United States carried out work stoppages on April 23 and 24. In Brazil, schools in the city and state of Rio de Janeiro stopped classes for one hour on day and evening shifts in defense of the former Black Panther and renowned black journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row. The April 23 stoppages were called by the assembly of the State Teachers and Education Workers Union (SEPE–Sindicato Estadual dos Profissionais de Educação do Rio de Janeiro), which also co-sponsored a demonstration outside the American consulate that afternoon. 

In the U.S., the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down ports all along the West Coast from 8 am to 6 pm on April 24 demanding freedom for Jamal in an important display of labor’s muscle. A sizeable contingent of ILWU dock workers also led off a protest march in San Francisco that afternoon, chanting: "An injury to one is an injury to all, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" The actions by the SEPE and ILWU were the first union work stoppages for Jamal, a key step in mobilizing the power of labor worldwide in political strike action to win his freedom from the capitalist injustice system. 

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal–known as "the voice of the voiceless" because of his writings and radio broadcasts in defense of the oppressed–has become the focus of struggle against the racist death penalty in the U.S. and internationally. The urgency of this struggle was further heightened after Jamal’s appeal for a new trial was rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in October 1998, despite the fact that the original "trial" was a notorious police frame-up. 

Mumia has already spent 17 years on death row. On April 24 thousands of people marched for Jamal from San Francisco and Philadelphia to London, Madrid, Dublin, Amsterdam and other cities internationally. Around the world, Jamal has received support from powerful labor federations including the Brazilian CUT, French CGT, Italian CGIL and South African COSATU. Now this support is beginning to be translated into labor action, from Rio education workers to 10,000 West Coast longshoremen of the ILWU. 

While liberals and reformists urge a "new trial" for Jamal, looking to the same bourgeois tribunals which railroaded him, the League for the Fourth International emphasizes that there can be no justice in the capitalist courts for this class war prisoner. The LFI calls to "Mobilize the Power of the Working Class to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!" And we have actively sought to translate this call into class-struggle actions, in Brazil, the U.S. and elsewhere. 

The resolution for the work stoppages in Rio de Janeiro was passed unanimously by the statewide assembly of the SEPE on March 13. It was presented by Marcello Carega, a SEPE activist and spokesman for the Class Struggle Caucus (CLC–affiliated to the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the LFI). Earlier a CLC resolution for Mumia’s freedom was adopted by the congress of Brazil’s National Confederation of Educational Workers (CNTE) in January. 

Carega noted that in the 1920s and ’30s hundreds of thousands of workers internationally came out in opposition to the death penalty in the U.S. and to demand freedom for the anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti and for the nine black youths victimized by a racist frame-up in Scottsboro, Alabama. "The international outcry and mobilizations of working-class power stopped the executions of the Scottsboro youths, and we must bring out that kind of power today in the struggle to free Mumia," Carega said. 

The April 23 stoppages in Brazil were announced in the Jornal do Brasil, Rio’s leading daily newspaper, on Rádio Globo, part of the leading national radio network, and in an interview on Rio’s popular Rádio Guanabara with activists from the SEPE and the international campaign to free Jamal. 

At  the Paulo de Frontin school, a large secondary school in the city of Rio de Janeiro, during the first-shift stoppage on April 23 teachers and students gathered in the school patio with signs, among them "Teacher and student stoppage to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal," "Down with racism" and signs in both Portuguese and English demanding "Free Mumia!" One sign read "SEPE and ILWU Together Demand Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal." A woman SEPE activist spoke of the importance of students acquiring social consciousness, stressing that "consciousness is something that must be won" in key struggles against racism and other forms of social oppression. 

The same idea had been stressed in a letter from Jamal to the Rio state education workers, reproduced in a 4-page, newspaper-format SEPE bulletin on the work stoppage for Jamal’s freedom, which the union sent to 4,000 schools throughout the state. In his letter, the radical black journalist spoke of his admiration for Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and for Zumbi de Palmares, leader of Brazil’s largest slave revolt. A student leader at the Paulo de Frontin school linked Jamal’s case to the Candelâria massacre of street children in the city of Rio, as well as to the growing difficulty students from poor and working-class families face in gaining admission to the country’s universities. 

Today, the struggle against racism is more than ever a question of life and death, as a teacher noted during the first-shift stoppage at the Ernesto Faria school, located in a section of the city of Rio de Janeiro with the highest concentration of schools in all Latin America. The teacher linked the struggle against the death penalty and for Mumia’s freedom to the recent incident in Littleton, Colorado, where two youth shot other students as an expression of neo-Nazi racism. Students and teachers rallied in front of the Ernesto Faria school chanting "Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal!"

During the stoppages at schools in the city of Barra Mansa, SEPE and LQB/CLC activist Sílvia Odorizi noted that students were particularly interested in the link between Jamal’s case and the fight against the racist murders of street children in Brazil. She noted that at her own school in the Santa Rita neighborhood, maintenance, cafeteria and clerical workers were the "backbone" of the stoppage. In an interview on Rádio Cidadania the day before the work action, Odorizi stressed: "The fight to save this black leader is a fight against capitalist oppression, against the oppression of women, of Indians." 

 At the Educational Institute in downtown Rio de Janeiro, SEPE activists gathered with students holding placards beneath a large banner demanding freedom for Jamal which was signed by the SEPE, CNTE national teachers union and CUT labor federation. A black teacher related her own experiences with racist discrimination in the city of Rio, and SEPE leader Luciene Lira Campos spoke about the murder of the Patoxós Indian man Galdino, who was burned alive by racist youths in Brasília, the nation’s capital. 

Reports noted particular enthusiasm for the SEPE’s Mumia action in the city of Valença. At Public Education Center No. 311 in the Santa Cruz region of Rio, 80 students joined the stoppage organized by teachers union activists, putting forward slogans from the union’s special bulletin on Jamal. In the town of Pinheiral the stoppage was extended from the state school system to the federal Agricultural School. 

Students at the Agricultural School played the central role in getting teachers to stop work and join a militant demonstration of 170 people demanding Mumia’s freedom. A student leader, Nelson, emphasized "we have to introduce the international struggle against racism among the youth." LQB activist Célia spoke of the need to defend Indians, women, homosexuals, immigrants and all the oppressed. The work stoppage was also extended to students and teachers at the FERP, a private university in Volta Redonda, during the evening of April 23. 

Wall in Volta Redonda announcing teachers union stoppage for Mumia.

During the afternoon, a demonstration of over 100 people–including many high-school students–was held outside the U.S. consulate in Rio to demand Jamal’s freedom. There were speakers and participants from the CUT labor federation, the SEPE, SINTRASEF, SINDISPREV social-security workers and other unions, the Rio de Janeiro State University student government and National Student Union (UNE), the LQB and CLC, the Unified Black Movement (MNU), Proletarian Culture Center (CCP), Anarchists Against Racism (ACR), Fórum de Ação Socialista, Juventude Revolução, the youth group of the PSTU (Unified Socialist Workers Party) and others. Five large banners demanding Mumia’s freedom dominated the street in front of the consulate. Mumia’s letter to Rio teachers as well as a message on the West Coast U.S. longshore stoppage were received with great enthusiasm.

A young black woman from an area high school read out the text of the LQB’s leaflet on the work stoppages and the struggle for Mumia’s freedom, several thousand copies of which were distributed to steel, municipal and other workers and at labor rallies. The leaflet stressed: 

"In countries like the U.S. and Brazil...which were founded on slavery, capitalism is intertwined with racial oppression, from extensive discrimination in jobs and housing to murderous police terror, the extermination of street children and forced sterilization of black and Indian women. Brazil also has the world’s second highest number of murders of homosexuals." 
The LQB and CLC also put forward their revolutionary program in speeches on Jamal, the war in Yugoslavia and other crucial issues. LQB/CLC signs proclaimed: "Black liberation through socialist revolution," "Defeat the imperialist attack, defend Yugoslavia–For a socialist federation of the Balkans," "Police out of the CUT and the unions," "Proletarian mobilizations against the Cardoso/IMF hunger plan, yes; Class-collaborationist fronts with bourgeois politicians (Itamar, Brizola, etc.), no" and "Mobilize the power of the international working class to free Jamal now." 

Significance of the Struggle

In an interview, Luciene Lira Campos, the SEPE’s Director of Gender, Anti-Racism and Sexual Orientation Issues, said: "The importance of this action for a union such as that of the education workers is that it takes on the question of fighting against racism. This has been discussed at the city, state and national levels, but now for the first time it’s being done at the international level. What’s also important is the way people have embraced this cause and the example of Mumia, and the fight to free someone who is facing injustice and the racist death penalty."

Education Institute in Rio de Janeiro. Banner signed by SEPE, CNTE and CUT unions.

According to SEPE state executive board member Sérgio Auernheimer, "The work stoppage of April 23 is important because it shows that around the world, there’s a constant struggle against racism and political persecution. The example we took up on this day was the case of Jamal, which combines racism with political persecution. I think other sections of the labor movement, both in Brazil and in other countries, should devote themselves to carrying out actions similar to what the SEPE did on April 23, as a way of building a movement of international solidarity which aims to combat all forms of bigotry and to build a society based on solidarity."

In the opinion of Jacira da Silva, former president of the Brasília Journalists Union and member of the Unified Black Movement who has been one of the organizers of Mumia defense activities in the Brazilian capital: "The SEPE work stoppage is a militant and unprecedented initiative. It goes beyond education workers and encourages other sectors of workers as well to carry out stoppages demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is an important figure for blacks and workers internationally. The leaders and the rank and file should get a discussion going on carrying out actions against racism." 

For his part, Marcello Carega of the CLC said: "This action was an important step in the struggle to mobilize the workers for Mumia’s freedom as part of an internationalist fight by the working class against all forms of social oppression around the world. We must use this, together with the dock workers’ stoppage in the U.S., to organize more and ever more extensive and powerful stoppages, strikes and mass street protests to win Mumia’s freedom and against the racist death penalty. The international struggle of the workers and oppressed requires an international revolutionary leadership, reforging the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution." 

As Sílvia Odorizi noted on Rádio Cidadania: "It is necessary that we workers, not just in education but in other sectors as well, join this international campaign. The working class has enormous power. If the workers join in this fight, we will move forward in putting an end to the racist death penalty and freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal." n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com