Afscme Local 444, retired
In a previous post, I commented on the events surrounding the eviction of the National Guard from
the St. Paul MN Labor Center by a group of rank and file union members. A video
and commentary on the event was included in the post and the person that posted
the video, Cliff Willmeng, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota
Nurses Association (MNA). He is now under attack from many quarters including from
his own executive board.
Recognizing that I am commenting from afar and re-watching the video, I do think that there could have been more fraternizing with the men and women in the NG and a stronger effort at making a class appeal. It appears there was no attempt to fraternize with the NG members at all. As I pointed out in the earlier piece, many National Guard members are union members and certainly workers. I say this as someone who is not on the ground in a very critical situation.
Here is a statement that the MNA Executive Board has released to the public and I comment on this below:
On: April 17, 2021
Statement on actions of 4.15.21 at St.Paul Labor Center
“The Minnesota Nurses Association represents 22,000 Registered Nurses from diverse backgrounds, including those from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. We are Midwesterners, immigrants, native-born Americans, and Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color and veterans of our armed forces. MNA embraces and supports all of our members.
The staging of the Minnesota National Guard at the St. Paul Labor Center occurred without the approval or discussion amongst the unions that own the building regarding the Guard’s request to utilize the building. MNA, like many unions, has a position against the militarization of police and the use of military force against protestors. The property itself is owned by a group of Minnesota unions, including MNA. Upon hearing that the Guard were staging out of the Labor Center, members from a number of these unions, including one member of MNA’s Board of Directors, independently arrived to determine who had authorized permission for the National Guard staging to take place.
A difficult and serious conversation should then have occurred about why the National Guard staging was taking place at the Labor Center and whether it should be allowed. However, we became aware from an online video posted by the MNA Board member, the actions that took place appeared to be a disrespectful mocking of our fellow Minnesotans in uniform. MNA acknowledges the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform and their families. We believe they should be treated with respect, and we are grateful for their service.
MNA also acknowledges the pain and trauma being experienced by the BIPOC community. MNA believes people have the right to protest and participate in causes they believe in, and nurses stand unwaveringly in support of the BIPOC community, including their rights to peaceably assemble. MNA expresses its sympathies to the victims and families of systemic racism, and MNA regrets the actions of an individual member leader that evidently brought embarrassment, anger, or frustration to those National Guard members”END
What is striking is that this statement from the MNA Board of directors makes no attempt at all to defend a union member, not just any member, but a member of their own board. Just the opposite. the MNA Board of Directors joins with Republican and Democratic Party politicians, right wing forces and no doubt the police, in attacking a worker and union member who lost his job defending front line workers and is known as a strong fighter against racism in the community.
This MNA Executive Board statement says the Board, “acknowledges the pain and trauma being experienced by the BIPOC community.", but makes no mention as to the source of that pain and trauma which is the militarized police force that murders workers, and particularly workers of color with impunity. The MNA board could have raised, in an honest way any criticism it may have of Cliff Willmeng’s actions and then gone on to defend him and his righteous defense of communities of color against police violence. The MNA board could have opened up a debate about police violence, the attacks on workers and our unions. Instead, the Board is outraged that an elected member, acting as an individual, “…. evidently brought embarrassment, anger, or frustration to those National Guard members”
I can assure the MNA Board that any embarrassment any of those NG personnel felt at being evicted from a labor hall by a group of rank and file union members, pales in comparison to the pain and suffering experienced by victims of police murders and an increasingly militarized state.
Were the MNA Executive Board and the leadership of the wider union movement in general, taking the correct position and going on the offensive with regards to police violence and all the assaults working class people are facing on the job and in the communities, the balance of class forces would shift dramatically in our favor. Offering constructive criticism is one thing, throwing a genuine dedicated union fighter to the wolves is another. The statement from the MNA is a cowardly attempt to rid themselves of a threat from the ranks and obscure their own role as passive complainers.