Banner of Rio de Janeiro CUT union federation announces one of demands of November
10 work stoppage was for freedom for black radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, on
death row in Pennsylvania. Mobilize workers power to free Mumia now!
In a stirring demonstration of international working-class solidarity, over the last month Brazilian workers have repeatedly mobilized to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. This series of strikes and marches marks a vital step forward in the struggle to save the renowned black radical journalist on Pennsylvania's death row. It also poses a challenge to labor worldwide to use its tremendous power to abolish the racist death penalty.
The League for the Fourth International has been in the forefront of recent efforts to mobilize the power of the working class to stop the machinery of capitalist state murder. The comrades of our Brazilian section, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, initiated the April 23 teachers work stoppage as well as the recent actions by Rio unions demanding Jamal’s immediate release. Around the world, unions representing millions of workers have come out for Mumia’s freedom. The key is to turn these calls into powerful labor action, as Brazilian workers have begun to do. Time is pressing. In October, Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge for the second time signed a death warrant for Jamal. The habeas corpus appeal by Mumia’s lawyers to the federal district court won a stay of execution until a decision is handed down. But that only gains a little time, and we must use that time effectively to mobilize international working-class defense of Mumia.
During the November 10 national work stoppage protesting the anti-working-class "austerity" polices of Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, journalists in the capital of Brasilia carried signs with Mumia’s picture calling for his freedom. The strongest showing by unions in Rio de Janeiro came from the teachers (which shut down 61 of 89 schools in Rio), bank workers, social security workers and oil workers – the same unions which prominently championed the cause of Mumia. During the Rio march, the sound truck of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores carried a CUT banner declaring: "Workers of Brazil Also Demand in the General Strike: FREEDOM for Mumia Abu-Jamal! Long live Zumbi and João Cândido!" Zumbi was the leader of the quilombo (community of escaped slaves) of Palmares who was murdered by colonial mercenary troops on 20 November 1695. A march is held yearly to commemorate the death of this champion of black freedom. João Cândido was the leader of the Revolta da Chibata (whipping revolt) by black sailors in the Brazilian navy, which broke out on 22 November 1910.
Following the November 10 work-stoppage, a meeting of the Conexão Zumbi (Zumbi Connection) at the CUT offices in Rio de Janeiro voted to include the demand for Mumia’s freedom as a focus of this year’s "black consciousness" march on November 22. A Conexão Zumbi leaflet announced that the struggle was against racism, sexism, Cardoso’s economic policies and "for the liberation of the great black African American leader Abu-Jamal." In its daily bulletin (Rápido, 16 November), the CUT called attention to the fact that this year’s march in honor of Zumbi was also demanding "the freedom of the American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row. A couple of weeks ago, Mumia’s lawyers won from Philadelphia judge William Yohn a stay of execution, which had been set for December 2. This will keep him alive until March, but still under the death threat."
In the following days, CUT bulletins repeatedly highlighted the demand for Jamal’s freedom, and the November issue of its newspaper Conquista headlined: "CUT Wants Freedom for Abu-Jamal." The article noted: "The black movement in Rio de Janeiro and the Rio CUT are involved in a campaign for freedom for Abu-Jamal. This was in fact one of the axes of the national day of work stoppages and protests on November 10." After noting the political character of the death sentence against Mumia and the countless "irregularities" in his 1982 trial, Conquista concluded: "In these cases it is always worth recalling the martyrs of Chicago, who were later found to be innocent after they had been executed," referring to the labor militants sentenced to death after the Haymarket Square bomb provocation in 1886, who are commemorated every May Day.
The November 22 march in Rio drew some 500 participants, including João Cândido’s son and daughter (who gave a speech at the closing rally). A letter was read from Mumia to the Brazilian workers thanking them for their November 10 work stoppage and underlining the importance of such actions of international solidarity. Among the unions present, several highlighted the call for Mumia’s freedom. The Rio bank workers’ daily, Diário BancáRio (16 November), included a box on "Abu-Jamal: Black Journalist Is Condemned to Death in the Land of Uncle Sam." The oil refinery workers union (Sindipetro) bulletin Surgente (18 November) article announcing the march ran a photo of Mumia underlining the call for freeing the "anti-racist militant condemned to death." The postal workers union also called for Mumia’s freedom in the November issue of its union paper, O Grito Ecetista, as did the social security workers union (Sindiprevi).
In addition, supporters of the United Black Movement, the Commission for Proletarian Culture, Anarchists Against Racism, the PSTU (United Socialist Workers Party – followers of the late Nahuel Moreno) and Ação Socialista (a split from the Morenoites) had leaflets, signs or banners calling for freedom for Mumia.
The Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil had a contingent of some two dozen supporters wearing T-shirts reproducing our multilingual poster calling to "Mobilize the Power of the Working Class to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" Militants of the LQB and the Internationalist Group (U.S.) spoke from the union sound truck during the march and again at the concluding rally on the the neeed for powerful workers action to win Mumia’s freedom. The LFI spokesmen also emphasized the LQB’s fight to expel the police ("the armed fist of the bourgeoisie") from the labor movement, warning against illusions in bourgeois "justice" and calling for sharp class struggle against the popular front of class collaboration. The LQB speaker stressed that the fight for Mumia’s freedom was part of the struggle for black liberation through socialist revolution. Hundreds of copies of LQB Vanguarda Operária leaflets on Mumia and calling for a revolutionary workers party built in struggle against the popular front around Lula’s social-democratic Workers Party (PT) and the reformist CUT tops were distributed to the participants.
The fight to mobilize the working class to win freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal was a central focus of the November 22 march, and the struggle continues. On November 24, some 600 Rio bank workers in two union assemblies enthusiastically voted to include the call to free Jamal as one of the official demands of their strike the next day. Diário BancáRio (26 November) noted that "Banco do Brasil workers approved at their Wednesday union the inclusion of freedom for black American Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal as one of the demands of the strike movement." On November 25, the Agricultural School in Pinheiral, part of the Fluminense Federal University, held a forum sponsored by the LQB on Mumia’s case which drew more than 50 students. The school shut down both in the April 23 teachers work stoppage and again on November 10 in solidarity with Mumia.
On Saturday, November 27, the SEPE teachers union began its educational conference with a special agenda point on Mumia. At the end of the day, the more than 400 delegates voted to hold a half-day strike December 7, in the middle of exam period, protesting the privatization and layoffs policies of the popular-front state government and demanding freedom for Jamal. The Rio teachers' strike was held the same day that Mumia's lawyers handed in legal papers to the federal district court in Philadelphia for his habeas corpus appeal.
Over the last decade, the fight to save Mumia from the executioner has become the focus of the struggle against the barbaric death penalty internationally. The determination of U.S. rulers to silence Jamal is a continuation of the bourgeoisie’s drive to banish the spectre of black revolutionaries, from the assassination of Malcolm X and scores of Black Panthers under the FBI’s COINTELPRO provocation and extermination program in the 1960s to the decades-long attempt to murder former Philadelphia Panther leader Jamal. Thus it is crucially important that this struggle for his freedom be correctly focused against the racist, capitalist injustice system, which particularly targets minorities, immigrants and working people. Various reformist leftists have called for a "new trial" for Jamal, hoping to appeal to liberals who believe that his death sentence was an aberration. Against this, the LFI has insisted the fight must be for "freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal," and that the working class and oppressed must have no illusions in bourgeois "justice."
In the recent Brazilian workers protests, supporters of the social-democratic current led by the French Parti des Travailleurs (Workers Party) of pseudo-Trotskyist Pierre Lambert initially proposed that the November 10 work stoppage call for a "new trial" for Mumia. At a meeting of the Conexão Zumbi movement linked to the CUT, LQB spokesman Cerezo objected that this would represent a step backwards from the April 23 Rio teachers work stoppage which unambiguously called for Mumia’s freedom. Moreover, the call for a new trial would inevitably foster illusions in the capitalist courts, which from the beginning have sought to silence the "voice of the voiceless" through state murder. The issue was posed sharply in a vote counterposing "new trial" to "freedom" for Mumia, and the call to free him won. Two days later at a November 6 CUT meeting the issue was again debated, and again the motion for Jamal’s freedom won out.
The events of the last three weeks must be a spur to even more powerful workers action in the spirit of the International Red Aid in the 1920s. The internationalist spirit of the Brazilian workers mobilizing in solidarity with Jamal, and the political battle waged by the LQB/LFI for independent labor action to win freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal, should serve as an inspiration to class-conscious workers around the world, from South Africa,where the death penalty was a key component of enforcing apartheid slavery, to Europe and the very heartland of Yankee imperialism.
–updated 9 December 1999