Standing Up for Racial Justice

BLMphoto: Chris Henry, Unsplash

Over the past month hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, along with millions of others around the country, have taken to the streets demanding an end to anti-Black police violence along with the systemic racism permeating the nation’s criminal justice system and woven into the very fabric of our country.

This national uprising comes on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, along with far too many others. But the scale and intensity of these demonstrations is the product of longer-standing outrage over the hundreds of Black lives stolen every year by police violence, organized and channeled through the Movement for Black Lives.

One of the labor movement’s bedrock principles in that an injury to one is an injury to all, and the Labor Education and Research Center stands in solidarity with all those on the frontlines in the current fight for racial justice and the end of anti-Black police violence. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass recognized over 150 years ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

We also recognize that this is a pivotal time for U.S. unions. Even before this national uprising for racial justice, COVID-19 has thrown the nation into the deepest economic collapse since the Great Depression. Upwards of 20 percent of the workforce is out of work, including nearly 3 million union members.

This pandemic has also laid bare our nation’s broken social safety net, alongside the glaring racial inequalities on the job and throughout our healthcare system. Not only are Black and Latinx workers more likely to be exposed to COVID-19, as they comprise a disproportionate share of the nation’s essential workforce, they also face higher rates of retaliation for raising COVID-related safety concerns. Black and Latinx workers are also dying from COVID-19 at much higher rates than white workers. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, for example, show that Blacks between the ages of 35 and 44 are dying at a rate 10 times that of whites, while Latinx residents in the same age group are dying at a rate 8 times that of whites.

If we ever hope to rebuild labor’s power we must address the overlapping crises of COVID-19, systemic racism, and economic collapse and make the fight for social and racial justice as central to our movement as the struggle for economic justice. For labor, the fight against racism is essential, not just because it’s morally correct, but because it’s in our collective self-interest. No one in this country can be truly free until all of us are. And as a working-class movement we will continue to be hobbled so long as anti-Black racism, along with other racial divisions, remain unaddressed.

For over forty years the Labor Education and Research Center has been a critical resource for Oregon unionists working to build a more inclusive labor movement.

We recognize that we at LERC still have much to learn, and that being more engaged in the fight against anti-Black racism will require institutional changes as well. But we are committed to investing more time and financial resources in the expansion of our racial justice training and education, starting with a Summer Series event July 29th, followed by a more in-depth racial justice training series starting this Fall. In this critical juncture, we must marshal all our expertise and resources to support union members and leaders across the state organizing for racial justice.