Sunday, June 10, 2018

Kentucky Teachers Stress the Need For Union and Community Links

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The two union sisters in this video are both Kentucky teachers who have been involved in the recent struggles. They are speaking at an event organized yesterday (June 9th) by the Oakland Education Association that represents Oakland CA schoolteachers.

These two women touch here on a crucial issue for working people from all backgrounds and an issue that the present conservative and pro-management leadership of organized labor has tragically failed to take up to any serious degree, and that is linking labor struggles with the communities in which we live and work.

I have a long experience with this as I worked in the streets of Oakland CA and at times in severely economically depressed areas.  Myself and other leaders and activists of Afscme Local 444 always made this point. We worked in communities where as many as 50% of 18 to 24 year olds may be unemployed or under employed. These were overwhelmingly communities of color, Black and Latino working class people.

As is the case throughout the country as the sisters above explain, the police behave as an occupying force in these communities and act almost without impunity. I need not go in to details or raise the numerous individual cases of unarmed black workers and youth who are murdered by the police here in Oakland and throughout the nation.

I always raised in my local union and during and before our 1985 strike, the need to reach out to these communities in which we worked and, I should add, earned a very decent wage compared to most workers black, white or otherwise. It is in our self interest to speak up for and and join with the community on issues important to them. Workers have the power to stop production and we must bring that power to improve the lives of all workers. It is in our self interest to do so as the very youth and young men that are unemployed and are portrayed as thugs and our enemies, the bosses would use against us with no hesitation if it suited them. They would be reaching out to them if we don't.

The capitalist media blames GM workers for that company's  failures, meat packers for theirs, transport workers for poor transportation in this country and they blame the poor and wage a racist campaign against black folks in particular blaming them for their own condition which is a product of the savagery of the so-called free market.

The bosses have always appealed to the unemployed as strikebreakers and I urge readers to read labor history the Toledo auto lite strike for example when the unemployed were organized and joined picket lines. If we want the unemployed not to cross our picket lines and support us we'd better have a reason for them to do so, not some moralistic whining, but real material reasons---a job might be a good start. The unions due to the policies of the leadership, have failed them miserably too.

In the particular case of myself and my co-workers, we were vulnerable, as we worked in these streets. And no matter what the nationality, color or religion of a group of people, you can't have a huge percentage of them on the streets with no prospects of a decent job, a decent place to live, facing police violence, and no future without trouble. It doesn't matter what their background.

After the Rodney King beating and subsequent events we had a meter reader badly beaten by I think it was four black youth. The police can't protect us from this, they are used to break our strikes. We can protect ourselves by reaching out through our organizations, to those in desperate straits, suffering not only from economic repression but racial, sexual and other forms of discrimination from society as a whole. Recognizing their struggle as our struggle will draw them to us and our organizations and help build working class unity in the struggle against this capitalist offensive.

I am proud that when I was active in my local it took up these issues. We supported imprisoned and framed gang leaders, one who was a main organizer of the gang truces after Rodney King. We supported the right of the guys that badly beat the Teamster and truck drive Reginald Denny during the King riots and their right to a fair trial. We made the connection between the riots and the social conditions in LA communities. The beating of Rodney King was just the spark that set it off.

During our strike we had demands that applied to the community like for 50 jobs. We started with a shorter workweek to create jobs and backed off to demanding the public utility we worked at create 50 jobs and never dropped it. We also went to welfare offices and had a caravan through a predominantly black community trying to draw them in to our strikes and bring their demands and resources with them.

We supported workers and union activists in other countries.

Lastly, the truth of it is the present union hierarchy has failed us and all working class people miserably. West Virginia showed that the way they would win would be to remove the obstacle of their own leadership and let the rank and file lead. It is not an accident that these teachers struggles took place where the union hierarchy is weaker or hardly present at all. They would have stepped in as they tried to do in West Virginia to pacify the movement and appease and trust the bosses and their politicians. The workers knew better. After the Rodney King events I urged my Central Labor Council to organize a mass rally in Oakland for jobs and against racism and police brutality. I could have been talking to myself. But imagine what that would have done in the minds of the black youth. They would have seen unions as on their side, as fighting for them. We would have all been safer.

The union hierarchy has helped organize and provided some resources and financial help some of the teachers have said. But the time now is to be diligent and wary. The officialdom has the view that concessions must be made, the Democrats too. As the woman from West Virginia pointed out in the last blog post, both Democrats and Republicans favor the wealthy.

The officialdom could have brought all these struggles together and this can be done still by the new rank and file leadership that is emerging.  Organize a conference with all the teachers fighting back, Puerto Rico has been in a state of civil war practically and followers of this blog should read the reports we get from Puerto Rico teachers leader Mercedes Martinez. Such a conference can have a serious debate  on what is needed to build this national movement. Strategy and tactics can be debated and representatives form many other groups from those fighting the poisoning of urban water supplies, to those fighting the poisoning of the land (the indigenous communities are in a catastrophic state), the Black Lives Matter Movement, the struggles against high rents, for affordable housing, transportation, health care  and gentrification. There are struggles everywhere.

The very leadership that has refused to lead for decades instead supporting concession after concession will not do so, they will try to undermine the militancy and fight of the movement and try to direct it in to the party of their allies, the Democrats who act as agents within the workers' movement. They see no alternative to the present economic state of affairs and are terrified of any serious victories because for them a movement of the working  class can only lead to chaos and the end of the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace.

As the movement grows then independent candidates can run our of the movement rooted in it. This is how a healthy part of the working class can develop.

Again, it was refreshing to hear the teacher from West Virginia say at this OEA event that "we're all working class".

Indeed we are.

More reading on the recent teachers struggles:

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