Union-led protests express solidarity with Black Lives Matter


Janitors, fast food workers, nursing home workers and concert economy drivers, many of whom are black and Latino, rallied across the country on Monday in protests organized by unions to express their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement which has become a powerful global force for racial justice.

In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and several other cities in California, protests were organized by the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest in the country, whose 1.9 million members include many employees essential to low wages who continued to work during the covid19 pandemic.

The protest, dubbed Strike for Black Lives, was intended to underscore the labor movement’s commitment to racial justice following a powerful calculation of police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, a male black died in the Minneapolis Police Department. custody at the end of May.

A caravan of several hundred cars and trucks drove through South Los Angeles with “Strike for Black Lives” signs in English and Spanish on their windows. A large banner read, “Abolish the USC police. According to organizers, the Los Angeles protesters converged on a McDonald’s on Crenshaw Boulevard, where they blocked the driveway for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time a white police officer allegedly initially held his knee to Floyd’s neck. before his death. .

In San Francisco, several hundred demonstrators marched through Town Hall, beating drums and hoisting banners proclaiming “Justice for Janitors,” “Share the Prosperity” and “Essential Workers for Black Lives Matter”. Several signs read: “SEIU: you shouldn’t have to die to feed your family.

While the Black Lives Matter movement was first launched as an uprising against police violence, unions and progressive organizations that have spent years organizing low-wage workers are seeking to broaden their focus on economic justice. The SEIU has been at the forefront of these efforts, spending millions of dollars in recent years in its “Fight For 15” campaign to raise minimum wages across the country.

“Since the murder of George Floyd, the massive upsurge in racial justice movements has focused on police murders, but also systemic racism more broadly,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, which helped to organize immigrant workers in Los Angeles. for decades. “Low-wage workers who have organized for better conditions also represent large concentrations of workers of color. “

The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted low-wage workers, whether unionized or not, to protest for workplace safety measures, paid sick leave, risk premium and increased screening. infections.

“What the protesters are saying is that if we are to be concerned – and we should be – about police violence and people killed by police… we also need to be concerned about people who die and are taken into custody. by economic exploitation, ”Reverend William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, one of the organizations supporting Monday’s protests, told The Associated Press.

Monday’s protests addressed many of these demands, but bypassed some of the thorny issues involving race in the labor movement. The role of police unions in protecting dishonest law enforcement officials was not mentioned. Apprenticeship systems that tend to favor white workers, especially in unions representing firefighters, dockworkers and construction workers, were also not in the spotlight.

But although racial prejudice persists in the labor movement as it does in American businesses, Wong said, Monday’s protests show “the beginning of a much more comprehensive movement-building strategy that aligns worker justice and racial justice. . Many demonstrations are led by a new generation of young activists. “

The convergence of racial justice and workers’ rights comes at a time when the upper echelons of the labor movement, which have been dominated by white males, are diversifying. The National Association for Education, which has 3 million members, is headed by a Latina, Lily Eskelsen García. Lee Saunders is the first black president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, with 1.4 million members.

Monday’s protests were supported by several other unions, including the Communications Workers of America, the United Farm Workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Amalgamated Transit Union.

“A global health pandemic, economic depression and continued structural and systemic racism have converged into a perfect storm, and the lives of working class people of color have never been more in danger,” said the president of Transit Union John Costa in a supporting statement. Monday demonstrations. “Now is not the time to be observers on the sidelines. Now is the time to stand up together to usher in a new day of racial and economic justice for all. “

Although motorists featured prominently in Strike for Black Lives press releases, not all major motorist groups were part of the protest. Participants were primarily members of groups allied with SEIU, including the Mobile Workers Alliance, funded by Los Angeles SEIU Local 721.

Rideshare Drivers United California, an 18,000-member group that has in the past taken a more militant stance than SEIU against cooperation with Uber and Lyft, has not been invited to protests, according to one of its leaders, Nicole Moore.

“It was disappointing,” she said. “Because we are all united as drivers of how Uber and Lyft circumvent labor rights and harm black and brown communities. We strongly support the people who stand up for black people and indigenous people of color who are the majority of our carpool drivers. “

The Associated Press was used to compile this report.

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