Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
(November 2011).
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
(December 2008).
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May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down
U.S. West Coast Ports

(May 2008)
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The Internationalist
July 2020

Cops Out of the Unions – Now!

Washington, D.C., metropolitan police, members of the AFGE, threaten Black Lives Matter demonstrators, May 31. Police are the armed fist of the bosses and enforcers of racist repression. All cops, prison and security guards  must be thrown out of the labor movement.   (Photo: Roll Call)

By Class Struggle Workers – Portland

The following statement was issued by the Class Struggle Workers – Portland on July 7.

The racist police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others have highlighted why police of all kinds have no place in the labor movement. Time and again, the cops have responded to mass protests against racist police murder and brutality by unleashing more racist police brutality and murder. The demand “Police Out of the Unions” is a crucial aspect of bringing the power of the working class into the fight against racist oppression today.

The police, modern descendants of slave patrols, are the armed fist of racist, anti-worker repression. Using the tools and armaments of their trade as professionals of repression, they carry out their job and their function: upholding the interests, property, wealth and power of the ruling class.

The Juneteenth International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shutdown of all West Coast ports pointed to the need to spread workers strikes against racist police terror. It was carried out in memory of George Floyd and against endemic racism. The police, armed enforcers of that endemic racial oppression, are also the bosses’ frontline forces against labor struggles, breaking up pickets, assaulting and arresting strikers and escorting strikebreaking scabs across picket lines.

In Minneapolis, when the city banned “warrior training” for the cops, their “union” stepped in to provide it for free. Such training, also known as “killology,” includes lethal choke holds and restraints like the one Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, backed by three other officers, used when he murdered George Floyd. After Floyd’s killing, the fascistic head of the local police “union” called protesters a “terrorist movement” and stated that he was “work[ing] with” the attorneys for the four cops, to “fight for their jobs.”

Fascistic Minneapolis cop “union” president Bob Kroll, at lecturn, with racist president and “Cops for Trump” cheering squad at Twin Cities campaign rally, October 2019. (Minnesota Public Radio)

George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” hauntingly echoed those of Eric Garner in New York. There, the police “union” vociferously defended the killer cop, while launching racist smears against his victim. For its part, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) campaigned for years for world-renowned radical black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal to be executed. As for supporters of the former Black Panther, who has now spent almost four decades in prison on frame-up charges, the FOP called for them to be executed as well, on an “electric couch.”

Recently, the Writers Guild of America – East called for the removal of the International Union of Police Associations from the AFL-CIO. But the labor bureaucracy has brought the class enemy‘s thugs into our labor movement through many doors. The Service Employees International Union includes thousands of police through its affiliates the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and International Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, while the Teamsters represent tens of thousands of police and sheriffs through the Teamsters Law Enforcement League. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union organizes port police and “harbor guards.”

Also, agents of Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, who round up immigrants for deportation at gunpoint; the Border Patrol, who run detention centers where immigrants, including children, are held in cages; and the Federal Protective Service, who have been used to defend racist mobilizations in the Portland area, are part of the American Federation of Government Employees. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Communications Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers also include police. Class Struggle Workers – Portland demands that ALL police “unions” and locals or affiliates of other unions be removed from the labor movement.

It is also important to emphasize that policing is not solely relegated to police departments. It is also carried out by prison guards, like those who pepper-sprayed federal jail prisoner Jamel Floyd to death on June 3 in New York. Additionally, private security guards and agents have a long history as paid strikebreakers going back to the infamous Pinkerton labor spy and union-busting agency. (Now called Securitas, it is one of the world’s largest security-guard companies.) Killer cop Derek Chauvin was a Wackenhut security guard as a step to becoming a Minneapolis police officer. Rent-a-cops are still functionally cops, serving a repressive function. Often they are used as a cheaper and more loosely regulated substitute for police, employed by government agencies, companies, schools or in privatized prisons. Many unions, from the SEIU to the ILWU and Transport Workers Union include security guards whose job is to protect property, who can be armed and who could be used against fellow union members. Defenders of labor and the oppressed must demand that prison guards and security guards should also be removed from the unions.

Just as racist repression is inherent to the job of police in capitalist America, so too the actions and statements of cop “unions” reflect their job of promoting the interests, and shielding the crimes, of the repressors in blue. They are clearly counterposed to the most basic interests of the working class, and of real workers unions. Seeking to obscure this fact, labor bureaucrats and reformists are coming up with one diversion after another, from the AFL-CIO’s plea to police associations to adopt a “code of excellence,” to calls on them to be partners in “rooting out racism,” to claims that the cops can be “reformed” through “defunding,” “community control,” etc. These are just the latest versions of the decades-old pretense that one or another gimmick can reform away the core functions of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state.

At West Coast port shutdown against police brutality and systemic racism, Oakland, CA, June 19. ILWU banner says “Stop Police Terror.” (Internationalist photo)

Opponents of racist police terror must refuse to be diverted by such deceptions and cop-outs, and carry through the struggle for cops out of the unions – now. This means putting into practice the clear and unambiguous call for police “unions” and associations of all kinds to be ousted from all labor federations and councils; and for cops of all kinds to be ousted from all workers unions. In this struggle, we are inspired by the militant traditions of class-struggle unionism throughout labor history, and by the example of our comrades in Brazil, who over two decades ago carried out a historic struggle to oust police from the municipal workers union in Volta Redonda, Brazil’s “Steel City.”

As the CSWP’s founding program states: “Police, prison guards and security guards are the armed fist of capital, part of the apparatus of anti-labor, racist repression: they must be removed from the unions.” Today, the fight to carry this out is closely connected to urgent struggles to defend workers’ lives and rights, amid the triple pandemic of racism, COVID-19 and economic crisis. It is vital to the struggle to revitalize the union movement and massively organize the unorganized. And it is crucial to showing in practice that the cause of labor and the cause of black freedom are inseparable – and can only win together, in the fight to put an end to racist oppression and capitalist exploitation forever when the multiracial working class takes power into our own hands. ■