Discussion between Alan Benjamin, member of the Steering Committee of Socialist Organizer (which in the United States supports the positions of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International), and Nnamdi Lumumba, co-convener of the Ujima People’s Progress Party (Black working class organization in Baltimore, Maryland).
A. B.: Last week, Jacob Blake was fired upon by the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin — seven bullets in the back as he was getting into his car, with his children watching. He was unarmed. During the night of outrage that followed this crime, a 17-year-old white supremacist shot two protesters and wounded a third. The Kenosha police ignored the killings and allowed the teen-ager to leave the scene, dancing in the street with a rifle over his head. This self-appointed vigilante is now being hailed as a « hero » and « national treasure » by white supremacists across the country. What does all this mean?
N. L.: This is what’s been happening to Black people over the past 400 years. The police are the arm of the State charged with controlling working-class people, especially Black people. For too long the police terror against the Black community was dismissed, but now with the new technologies, we have been able to capture the police violence for all to see.
In Kenosha, police fired seven bullets into Jacob Blake’s back
A. B.: After the police killing of George Floyd (May 25 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota -Ed.N), this outrage erupted in more than 2,000 cities across the country. It has been estimated that between 15 million and 17 million participated in mass actions in the streets, despite the pandemic, against the police terror and systemic violence. What’s new in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s assassination is the stance by prominent Black athletes against the cop-killings. Golden State Warriors (Californian Basket-ball team) forward Draymond Green expressed the feelings of NBA players and other athletes when he said: “Making headlines is great. The attention has been grabbed. Platforms have been used to get the attention that we all wanted so desperately for such a long time. Now the next steps are more important than ever. But it cannot just be athletes; the next steps must come from the Black community as an entirety. The next steps must come from the white community that supports being a part of the change that Blacks have been suffering for hundreds of years! Now is that time. » What is your assessment of the stand taken by Black athletes?
What’s new is the stance by prominent Black athletes
N. L.: The athletes did not only make powerful statements. They took collective action as workers. They went on strike. They walked off the job to demand justice for all the victims of the police killings. More than 30 sporting events were cancelled in the NBA, WNBA (women basket-ball players), MLB (basket-ball) and NHL (hockey).
Unlike the 1960s —when you had powerful but mainly personal statements from Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, or Juan Carlos and Tommy Smith — you now have the entire NBA players’ union calling to cancel games and demand true change, not just cosmetic change. And, as you point out, the basket-ball players are calling upon the working class and its organizations to take a similar stand, with labor actions against the police violence nationwide.
A. B.: Important sectors of the labor movement, in fact, are responding positively to this challenge. A statement by a number of unions in support of Black Lives Matter is circulating widely. A full list of initial endorsers will be released September 1, but so far endorsers of the « Statement from the Labor Movement in Support of Work Stoppages for Black Lives » include SEIU HCII, SEIU Local 73, United Electrical Workers (UE), United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTA), Oakland Education Association (OEA), and the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT). Their statement reads, in part: « Last week’s action by professional athletes … remind us that when we strike to withhold our labor, we have the power to bring an unjust status quo to a grinding halt.(…) As unions representing millions of people, (…) we echo the call to local and federal governments to divest from the police, to restore 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. (…) 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 at this moment. » Your thoughts?
N. L : This is a significant development. It raises the urgent need for the labor movement as a whole to step up to the plate and mobilize in huge numbers against institutionalized racism. It also raises the point that anti-racism has to be linked to anti-capitalism. Capitalism is what drives anti-racist policies; you cannot fix racism without addressing and defeating capitalism.
The march in Washington had contradictory features.
A. B.: On August 28, tens of thousands of people converged on Washington, DC, to commemorate the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s historic march on Washington. The families of Jacob Blake, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (a young black nurse, 26, who was assassinated by “mistake” by the Louisville – Kentucky – police on March 12 2020 – Ed.N) “ led thousands who marched on this anniversary in Washington, under the banner of Black Lives Matter. “We are tired of the mistreatment and the violence that we, as Black Americans, have been subjected to for hundreds of years,” said a press release for the march. “Like those who marched before us, we are standing up and telling the police, telling lawmakers, telling the people and systems that have kept us down for years, ‘Get your knee off our necks.’” What is your assessment of this march?
N. L.: The march and rally had contradictory features. It was well-attended in the midst of the pandemic, expressing the anger felt by millions of Black people who want fundamental change. Participants in the event made it clear with their hand-made signs that « Enough is Enough! » Their message was powerful.
But the overwhelming message from the organizers and politicians who addressed the rally was, « Get Out the Vote for Joe Biden (the candidate of the Democratic Party at the presidential election– Ed.N) in November! » In that sense, the rally speeches took the fangs out of the moment. The Black mis-leaders who organized the event function as junior partners of neo-liberalism; they are tied at the hip to the Democratic Party.
A. B.: So what is the way forward?
N. L.: The working class, especially the Black working class, has no business supporting the liberal wing of capitalism against the conservative wing of capitalism (meaning the Democrats against the Republicans – Ed.N). Neither wing can provide real solutions to the movement for Black Lives. We need to struggle for working class power. We Blacks and Latinos, who suffer from a specific national oppression, need to wage our own struggles, with our own independent organizations, for national liberation.
The message coming out of the Biden campaign is arrogant to the core. We are told, essentially: “If you do not vote for Biden and the Democrats you are not Black”!. We have to break out of this lesser-evilism, which is still evil. We have to understand that the struggle of the working class against exploitation, just like the struggle of Black people for their liberation, must be a struggle against imperialism and capitalism.
This is why the Ujima People’s Progress Party has joined forces with the Labor Fightback Network (LFN) and Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) to issue a call for the « Break the Grip of the Two-Party System » national conference on September 19-20. It was initially scheduled to take place in Baltimore, but will now be held online because of the pandemic. We urge unionists and activists in the oppressed communities to join us so that we can begin to build the kind of independent working-class power that will be needed to put a stop to systemic racism and exploitation.
August 30, 2020