labor Work Stoppages for Black Lives
* * *
by Peter Olney
August 31, 2020
In the aftermath of the August 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team shut down their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in protest. This triggered shutdowns of other NBA games and negotiations with the owners on practical steps that could be taken to deal with systemic racism.
Superstar LeBron James has long been leading a campaign to promote voting. The NBA players got the owners to agree to use their arenas as giant polling places. THIS IS BRILLIANT! In the center of mostly urban areas there will be giant public polling places that can be sanctuaries for unimpeded and unintimidated voting, in buildings designed to handle large crowds quickly and efficiently. Imagine NBA stars outside as poll watchers insuring that urban voters, Black and brown folks, can file in unsuppressed by armed para fascists.
This kind of resistance to voter suppression is crucial to winning the swing states that Trump carried in 2016 and where enthusiasm for him is still riding high. The margins in each of those states would have been overcome if Black people had voted in numbers that can be attained in 2020. Here are the margins for Trump and the numbers of Blacks who did not vote in 2016:
Trump won Wisconsin by
… but in Milwaukee,
93,000 Black people didn’t vote
Trump won Florida by
… but in Miami,
379,000 Black people didn’t vote
Trump won Michigan by
… but in Detroit,
277,000 Black people didn’t vote
Trump won Pennsylvania by
… but in Philadelphia,
238,000 Black people didn’t vote
Trump won North Carolina by
… but in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Durham,
233,000 Black people didn’t vote
Trump won Georgia by
… but in Atlanta 530,000 Black people didn’t vote
(By The New York Times | Source: analysis of Black citizen population estimates (2016 American Community Survey) and Black citizen non-voting rates by state (2016 Voting and Registration Supplement to the Census Current Population Survey) by Karthik Balasubramanian, Howard University)
Now imagine if football players and their union follow suit and liberate their giant stadiums as polling places monitored by hulking offensive linemen. Seems far-fetched in a league that did not back Colin Kaepernick in his protest for Black Lives Matter in 2016. But the times they are a changing and swiftly. Check out Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll’s moving interview calling out systemic racism.
And what could be the role of the rest of the U.S. labor movement? The pro athletes have 100% membership in their associations (unions). The rest of organized labor – public and private sector combined – is at 10%.
There is talk about national strikes and those should not be ruled out, but a more plausible course of action in every major American urban center would be to join with NBA stars and provide a cordon sanitaire of safety for voting at arenas. This plays to labor’s continuing urban presence in many of these urban centers and to the fact that a large part of its public sector urban membership is people of color. How can labor play a role in fighting voter suppression? Labor can mobilize its ranks to provide massive security squadrons for urban arenas and maybe even some football stadia on November 3!
Call to Arenas and Dump Trump!
This article is being published jointly by Organizing Upgrade and The Stansbury Forum.
Last week’s actions by professional athletes in the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, and professional tennis are a call to action for all of the labor movement.
They remind us that when we strike to withhold our labor, we have the power to bring an unjust status quo to a grinding halt. The status quo--of police killing Black people, of armed white nationalists killing demonstrators, of millions sick and increasingly desperate--is clearly unjust, and it cannot continue.
As unions representing millions of workers across the country, we stand in solidarity with our comrades on the courts, on the fields, and in the streets. We echo the call to local and federal government to divest from the police, to redistribute the stolen wealth of the billionaire class, and to invest in what our people need to live in peace, dignity, and abundance: universal health care and housing, public jobs programs and cash assistance, and safe working conditions.
Progressive labor leaders stood with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. We have a long history of supporting the Black Freedom Movement and we will not stop now. The labor movement and the Movement for Black Lives are each other’s keepers, and we are ready to work together to do what we must to win justice for our people. We support the demands for racial justice echoing throughout this nation, and the simultaneous call for a more just economy. We will use our strength and influence to make sure organized labor is on the right side of history in this moment.
Labor Unions in Support
AFSCME Local 526
AFSCME LOCAL 2822 Hennepin County Clerical
Berkeley Federation of Teachers
Campaign Workers Guild
Chicago Teachers Union
Committee of Interns & Residents/SEIU
Cook County College Teachers Union - Local 1600
CWA Local 1298
Detroit Federation of Teachers
Massachusetts Teachers Association
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association
Minnesota Workers United
National Union of Healthcare Workers
New Haven Teachers Association CTA, NEA
NPMHU Local 322
Oakland Education Association
Racine Educators United (REA-REAA)
Restaurant Opportunities Center of Pennsylvania
Saint Paul Federation of Educators Local #28
SEIU Healthcare IL/IN/MO/KS
SEIU Local 509
SEIU Local 73
Teamsters Local 251
UFCW Local 7
Unemployed Workers United
UNITE HERE Local 274
UNITE HERE Local 2850
United Auto Workers Region 9A
United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
United Teachers Los Angeles
United Teachers of Richmond
United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 36
Young Workers Committee of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council
Individual Labor Leaders in Support*
Kathy Black, CLUW, Philladelphia Chapter (Treasurer; President Emerita)
John Braxton, American Federation of Teachers Local 2026 (Co-President Emeritus)
David Bacon, Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA Local 39521 (Co-chair, Guild Freelancers)
Doug Bullock, Albany County Central Federation of Labor (First Vice President)
Josh Downey, Denver Area Labor Federation (President)
Paula Lukaszek, Local 1488 WFSE (President)
Nicole Marie Masika, AFSCME 3937 (Secretary)
Heather Messner, DUEA (President)
David Newby, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO (President Emeritus)
Jay O'Neal, Kanawha County Education Association (Treasurer)
John Paul Patafio, TWU Local 100 (Vice President, TA Surface (Brooklyn Buses))
Monica Robinson, AFSCME Local 810 (Secretary Treasurer)
Edgar Romney, Workers United (Secretary Treasurer)
Jeff Sanceri, Peralta Federation of Teachers, Local 1603 (Secretary)
Jennifer Shanoski, Peralta Federation of Teachers (President)
Grace Sweeney-Maurer, Veterans Union Council (Colorado Vice President)
Laura Zucker, Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers (Vice President)
*For brevity, only officers of unions that have not already signed on as unions have been listed here.