Rio Strike Demands
Over the last decade and a half, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has become the focal point of the fight against the racist death penalty in the U.S. and internationally. Hundreds of thousands around the world have come out in defense of the former Black Panther and renowned radical journalist sitting on death row in the state of Pennsylvania. In the last month, the legal battle in the capitalist courts over Mumia’s fate has sharply accelerated. So, too, must we escalate the struggle in the streets, in the factories, in the ghettos and barrios to free this eloquent fighter for the oppressed.
On October 4, the United States Supreme Court turned down Jamal’s certoriari petition for a review of his frame-up conviction and death sentence. On October 13, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant, setting the date of execution for December 2. Two days later, Mumia’s lawyers filed a habeas corpus appeal in federal district court demanding a hearing to present evidence of his innocence and of how his 1982 trial was blatantly rigged. On October 26, the federal judge granted a stay of execution until a decision is handed down.
This is an important development, but it only buys a little time, which Mumia’s defenders must use to organize. The question is how? Mumia’s defenders must not be lulled into passivity. There have been innumerable petitions, resolutions, demonstrations and other expressions of opinion. These are important, but far from sufficient. Mumia has been targeted by the capitalist state of the leading imperialist power in the world today. What is necessary to save him from the executioner and win his freedom is to mobilize in action an even greater power, that of the working class which makes capitalist society run and which can also bring it to a grinding halt.
Unions representing millions of workers have taken up Jamal’s cause. What’s needed is to turn this support into action. This has already begun. Last April 23, at the initiative of our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil (LQB), the teachers union (SEPE) of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, representing some 120,000 educational workers, held a statewide work stoppage of two hours to demand freedom for Mumia. On April 24, the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) shut down every port on the U.S. West Coast for ten hours demanding, "Stop the Execution! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!"
Recently, the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico introduced a resolution to the general council of the student strike, which for the last seven months has fought the government’s move to purge poor and working people from the National University (UNAM), calling for working-class action for Mumia’s freedom; a demonstration is now being organized. And this last week, again at the LQB’s initiative, the Rio de Janeiro state CUT labor federation, representing hundreds of thousands of workers, has made freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal one of the official demands of its day-long work stoppage on November 10. The strikers will also march to the U.S. consulate to demand Mumia’s freedom. This dramatic new step underlines the need for the international workers movement to use its tremendous strength to force the capitalist state to release Jamal from its death grip. But in order to mobilize the power of the working class, it is urgently necessary to break from the popular front which "unites" the workers with capitalist politicians (such as those who are part of the "National Forum") and their nationalist demagogy.
The relentless clamor of the bourgeois media and the bosses state for Mumia’s death continues unabated. Already, more than 80 prisoners have been executed this year in an orgy of death by the machinery of state murder. The drumbeat of death comes straight from the White House. Democratic president William Clinton rode into office after executing a brain-damaged black man in Arkansas. In 1996, Clinton pushed through the "Effective Death Penalty and Terrorism Act." Under this draconian legislation Mumia’s present appeal to the federal district court is the only legal opportunity he will have to demonstrate with new evidence that he was framed. After that, appeals will only look at the trial records. And this judge doesn’t even have to grant him a hearing!
Mumia’s trial was a travesty in every respect. Sentenced to death by "hanging judge" Sabo, who sent more men to the execution chamber than any other sitting judge, Mumia was denied the right to legally represent himself and was barred from the courtroom for most of the proceedings. Eleven blacks were eliminated from the list of jurors by the district attorney, whose office even prepared a video showing new prosecutors how to get convictions by keeping minorities off juries. The state forced witnesses to recant their testimony and suppressed other evidence from eyewitnesses which would have absolved Jamal. It hid the cop whose report gave the lie to a supposed "confession" by Mumia, and prevented the hiring of ballistics and medical experts who could have shown the blatant inconsistencies in the state’s account.
Instead, Jamal was convicted because as a teenager he was a spokesman for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, and because he continued as a crusading journalist to expose the corruption and brutality of the Philly cops and city government. He was the target of a vendetta by former police chief and Republican mayor Frank Rizzo, defending the radical MOVE group against Rizzo’s cops. Years later, in 1985 black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode ordered a police bombing of the MOVE commune, leaving eleven black people dead, including five children, and 62 homes burned to the ground.
Mumia became known as the "voice of the voiceless" and the racist rulers were and are determined to silence that voice. Yet even on death row, Mumia has courageously continued to champion the cause of the oppressed. Only the executioner can stop him, and it is up to us to stop the executioner!
In the fight to save Mumia Abu-Jamal it is crucial to be clear on what we are fighting for, and who we are fighting against. Many of those who defend Mumia have focused on a call for a "new trial." Others only demand that he get "due process." Some call vaguely for "justice" for Mumia and even avoid opposing the racist death penalty. Why? They are appealing to those who have illusions that a fair trial for Mumia is possible under this system, that his frame-up was only an aberration. And by doing so, they foster such dangerous illusions. Jamal got the same kind of frame-up injustice that blacks get every day under capitalism.
While many liberals and reformists chant, "No justice, no peace," the Internationalist Group, section of the League for the Fourth International, says that there is no justice for the oppressed, and certainly not for a black revolutionary, in the capitalist courts. We insist that the fight must be to free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
The courts are not "neutral"; along with the cops they are part of the machinery of the bosses’ state whose job is to ferociously defend the interests of the ruling class against its victims. That is why we say: police, judges, prison and security guards have no place in the labor movement. They are the enforcers and iron fist of the class enemy. Mumia Abu-Jamal will not be saved by bourgeois pressure politics, but only by mobilizing the working class and minorities in sharp class struggle that can defeat the capitalist state death machine.
This program of international labor defense goes back to the early years of the Communist International, founded by Lenin and Trotsky, and the International Red Aid. In the 1920s hundreds of thousands around the world mobilized on behalf of the anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti. In the 1930s, such mobilizations were able to save the "Scottsboro Boys," nine black youth facing the executioner in Alabama. Such a mobilization of workers power is possible today, the first steps have already been taken, but far more is needed.
Just as the railroading of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the intensification of the capitalist state’s drive for death are part of a general reactionary offensive in the U.S. against the oppressed, attacking everything from abortion rights to black voting rights, the fight for Jamal’s freedom must be part of a broader working-class offensive. And just as in semicolonial countries like Brazil and Mexico revolutionaries fight for workers and peasants governments to expropriate the capitalist landowners and sweatshop bosses, in the imperialist countries too the fight against the racist death penalty must be part of the struggle for international socialist revolution.
In the United States, the death penalty is a direct descendant of slavery, when the Supreme Court ruled that black people had no rights that must be respected. It is the legal equivalent of lynching by the nightriders of the Ku Klux Klan. When the KKK staged a provocation in New York City recently, they were besieged by thousands of angry workers, minorities and anti-racist youth, many of whom carried signs for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In South Africa, the death penalty was part of the legal structure of apartheid slavery. In Brazil, the death penalty was part of Portuguese colonial rule. In Mexico, rampant executions were a hallmarks of the brutal dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, overthrown by the revolution of 1910-17. In Russia, the death penalty was one of the most hated aspects of the tsarist autocracy, and was only abolished by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, whose anniversary we celebrate today. Today as well, it will take socialist revolution to uproot forever this barbaric measure of capitalist wage slavery. The urgent task is to construct the revolutionary workers party, section of a reforged Fourth International, to lead that revolution.