“I’m here because my life matters” – that is how one Black woman explained her presence in the thick of the demonstration in New York on 1 June. She added: “I have the right to live. They don’t think so. So I will come here every day until they understand (…). This has been going on too long: you can’t oppress us and then dictate to us how we should react.”
Yes, Black people in the United States have the legitimate right to react as they see fit, to protest the way they want to and to organise as they judge it necessary. For four centuries, they have built America, which has continuously marginalised them; four centuries during which they made its wealth and power in the world; four centuries of institutional racism that is closely interwoven into the foundations of the most powerful capitalist country… Who can question their right to organise at every level as they see fit in order to achieve equal rights, justice and liberty?
Four centuries of institutional racism that endures. To justify resorting to martial law, Trump cited the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which gives any person the right to make use of his/her weapon when feeling threatened, an Amendment which from time immemorial has been invoked by racists and lynch-mobs to justify their crimes against Black people. Trump has also used a famous saying: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”, a rallying cry for racists for two centuries to justify their crimes.
Over the last few days, hundreds of thousands of people – maybe more – have marched in some 200 US towns and cities. Despite the pandemic, despite the curfew established by both Democrat and Republican mayors and governors. On those demonstrations, there were very many youth, Black and White mingling together, many of them from working class neighbourhoods.
As one protestor put it: “Floyd is one death too many, the last straw after so many before him.” The wish to no longer be subjected to racism and racist crimes is combining with the anguish of unemployment: 34 million workers have lost their jobs in recent weeks.
What will the labour movement do? When Trump imposed martial law (by invoking an anti-insurrection decree from 1807!), Democratic presidential candidate Biden – invested in and supported by the top circles of the trade union movement, condemned the recourse to that decree. He added [during a meeting with Black community leaders]: “The idea that instead of (…) teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person coming at ‘em with a knife or something, shoot ‘em in the leg instead of in the heart, is a very different thing”. So, does the difference between Democrats and Republicans come down to how high to aim? In reality, both of those big parties of capital have continuously alternated in government for almost two centuries, engaging in a similar use of the workings of institutional racism.
Trump is using provocations to justify his call to use the army against the American people. But nobody is being fooled by this. The basic issue is knowing if Black lives matter, if young peoples’ lives and workers’ lives matter. Or if capital’s iron law can throw 34 million workers into unemployment in the space of a few weeks and leave Black people to suffer racist murders at the hands of the police.
In this issue of our newspaper, readers will see how Black American organisations are linking their project of building an independent Black political party with the more general perspective for the working class of organising to defend itself as a class. The question of class independence is posed here.
On another level, Black organisations with links to the labour movement have begun to put forward the slogan of “strike one Monday each month” in order to support the civil rights protests via the traditional forms of the class struggle.
In a statement on 1 June, the four AFL-CIO union councils of the San Francisco Bay Area in California (1), representing more than 500,000 working-class families, launched “A Call For Justice” in which they declared: “We are saddened and angered by the recent murder of George Floyd. Unfortunately, we are not surprised. For too long, the plague of systemic racism has ravaged our communities and left despair, poverty and distrust in its wake. Black
men and women have a right to live (…). This fight is our fight. The Brown letter carrier worries not only about Trump’s threats to privatize the US Postal Service, but also worries for their own safety on their route. The Black nurse who worries that their job will be slashed at a community health clinic must also worry about their son facing police brutality on the walk home. (…) We will help the unheard gain a voice (…). The struggles for economic equality and racial equity are intertwined, and so too is our collective fate.”
The demand for equal rights and justice for Black people involves breaking with the Bidens and the other Democrat politicians, soft replicas of Trump. The working class organisations have the opportunity (and therefore the responsibility) to form a bloc of all the workers, youth and Black organisations and to be at the forefront of the independent mobilisation for the lifting of martial law and the curfews, and for the cops who are guilty of Floyd’s murder to be punished. More generally, it is a question of opening up a path to a future, to form a United States rid of racism, oppression and capitalist exploitation. A United States where yes, Black lives and the lives of workers and youth will truly matter once and for all!
Editorial of La Tribune des travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) n° 242