The following article is not representative of a consensus among the editors of Anti-Capital. As such, it is being published to foster public discussion (that will take place in the Comments section below the article) over the political disagreements concerning the content of this piece.
At the end of August 2017, a petition containing over 300,000 notarized signatures was delivered to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office to place the recently passed ‘right-to-work’ (RTW) law on the ballot in November 2018. RTW was signed into law by Missouri Governor Greitens in February 2017, but this petition has effectively halted the implementation of the bill until Missouri voters decide by referendum next year whether to keep it or kill it.
Three weeks before the petition against RTW was delivered, the national NAACP issued a Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri, warning all black people to avoid the state or at least exercise extreme caution when traveling to, through or within it.
“The numerous racist incidents, and the statistics cited by the Missouri Attorney General in the advisory, namely the fact that African Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers than Caucasians, are unconscionable, and are simply unacceptable in a progressive society”
But the travel advisory was about more than the police. SB43, a recently passed bill that went into effect August 28th, makes it far more difficult to prove discrimination by an employer. The chair of the Missouri state chapter of the NAACP said, “you can’t legalize individual discrimination and call it anything other than Jim Crow.”
For the second time in recent months, the AFL-CIO has made the explicit connection between RTW and Jim Crow by exposing the history of the law and its architect, Vance Muse:
“Muse, who also was rabidly anti-Semitic, saw right to work as a twofer: Right to work would help smash unions and help maintain segregation and white supremacy in Texas and elsewhere in the Jim Crow South…
In 1936, Muse started the reactionary, racist Christian American Association in opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Muse allied the group with the KKK.”
Muse was never shy about admitting in the most brutally frank vocabulary what he was all about– and it was white supremacy and so-called ‘Christian free enterprise’. He correctly saw that the unity of the black community with the labor movement was a threat to the perpetuation of Jim Crow and the unrestrained freedom of capitalists and landowners in the South to do as they pleased with impunity.
Hell, just look at what Muse himself had to say on the subject:
“They call me anti-Jew and anti-nigger. Listen we like the nigger—in his place … Our [Right-to-Work] amendment helps the nigger; it does not discriminate against him. Good niggers, not those Communist niggers. Jews? Why some of my best friends are Jews. Good Jews.”
This is the distillation of the original purpose and perennial effect of RTW: to keep blacks ‘in their place’, to substantially weaken the labor movement and so perpetuate white supremacy.
At the same time that the members of the Missouri labor movement were building a unified program to resist RTW across all organizations, trades and regions of the state, a real connection is left unmade. During a mass meeting following the successful petition campaign, the President of the Greater St Louis Labor Council said:
“Every person in here belongs to a different organization that worked together on this. We had UFCW people working next to Electricians in Springfield. We had Bricklayers going into Phelps and up to Dixon County. We had Teachers running our stuff up from Columbia. We had Pipefitters…. Every organization in our area kicked in.
We’ve seen more togetherness in this campaign than I’ve seen in the 20, 30 years that I’ve been doing this. And I can tell you that that’s the only way that we win. When you see SEIU members next to Pipefitters, when you see Teachers next to Electricians and Teamsters next to UFCW members, that’s the only way that we get this done.”
The connection here is to the concrete origin of RTW as an expression and auxiliary to Jim Crow. Combating Jim Crow necessarily means combatting RTW; combatting RTW necessarily means combating Jim Crow. Despite the liberal narrative that the civil rights movement has essentially won, recent events in Missouri punctuate the fact that this is not true—from the police murder of Michael Brown and ensuing occupation of Ferguson to the rolling back of discrimination protections. This explicit connection of the fight against racial discrimination must be made on the basis of the fight against the degradation of black labor which can be articulated today in the fight against RTW. Unity in the struggle against RTW in Missouri can be extended from the workers in the organized trades and industries to the defense of the black community; from racism, police violence and employer discrimination.
Situations continue to emerge that demonstrate that this connection is a tangible possibility. On August 23rd, members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in San Francisco voted to stop work and march to confront a fascist gathering planned for August 26th (which was subsequently canceled and turned into a victory demonstration by anti-fascists).
When workers found out that a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 6 was a fascist who had participated in the Charlottesville, VA demonstration that ended in the murder of Heather Heyer and dozens wounded, he was chased off the job by union tradesmen and IBEW Local 6 members pressured the local union to expel him and revoke his right to the hiring hall:
“In a formal public statement, [Local 6 Business Manager] Doherty says, “IBEW Local Union No. 6 also condemns white nationalism and white supremacy, as they are in stark conflict with the express goals of our organization.” However, it goes on to say, “The authority of the IBEW Local 6 to discipline or otherwise hold Mr. Ramondetta accountable does not extend to the expression of his views and opinions as an individual outside of the workplace.” Apparently, that authority lies with the workers on the job wearing hard hats, packing tools and not afraid to stand up to a Nazi in their workplace. The statement from the union ends, “Any questions on the views and opinions of John Ramondetta should be directed to him personally.” From Ramondetta’s own account, that is essentially what happened.”
Since then, members of IBEW Local 6 marched in San Francisco on August 26th to protest the same planned “alt-right” demonstration that led the ILWU’s Local 10 to vote to walk-off the job and counter-demonstrate– where the IBEW marched while chanting, “Up with the workers, down with the fascists!”
One of the 2 men stabbed to death by a fascist in Portland in May 2017 was an AFSCME member; he intervened to stop a racist from terrorizing two young Muslim women on a train. A dozen Teamsters in Minneapolis refused to load and ship law enforcement targets featuring pictures of racial minorities to Missouri for the police to shoot at in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder in 2014, under the slogan “Hands up, don’t ship!”
Last week, non-union Target workers in Virginia returned to work after striking for 5 days and launching a boycott against their employer to pressure the company to terminate an abusive manager.
What these recent episodes demonstrate is that the class struggle has not changed; at least not in the ways that so many in the socialist movement believe it has. Some stick to worn out and beat-to-shit cliches about the workers’ leaders (the original sin of Trotskyism); as though and if only ‘we’ were in place of ‘them’ things would be remarkably different. Others continue tilting at the second-biggest windmill on the subject and try to create one stop shop revolutionary mass organizations that fulfill all class functions (the original sin of anarcho-syndicalism). In the end, such efforts deny the class struggle and perpetuate the cul-de-sac of dual unionism as though such an alternative can exist as anything other than a fantasy at best or a costly distraction at worst.
And gnawing at the edges is the absolutist position that the trade unions are organs of the capitalist state or its chic counterpart, the same position all-dressed-up, which proclaimed the illegitimacy of the wage demand; the textual celebration of the End of History (the end of proletarian agency). Liberalism is collapsing, with many now calling themselves socialists (while at the same time denouncing antifa).
The labor movement is the fulcrum for the working-class; it’s the base upon which to build durable structures for resistance to capital in all sectors, on every terrain; it’s where we learn to be revolutionaries by fulfilling a practical use to our fellow workers and make the vital connections among and between living struggles and past experiences to nurture and cultivate real class unity. We used to know that, despite the wide berth of mistaken-to asinine-to utterly bankrupt theories our predecessors often upheld (and many contemporaries uphold).
In the opportunity presented in Missouri, this would mean participating in the petition to place RTW on a referendum, while, in the course of that work, educating our fellow workers on the history of RTW as an auxiliary to and manifestation of Jim Crow. It means using the opportunity to defeat an anti-labor law that will negatively affect every aspect of the wage labor condition in the state (lower wages, reduced access to health care and pensions, weakened occupational safety standards and a substantially higher risk of death on the job) to the intransigent requirement of revolutionaries to consistently fight for class unity by linking the universal degradation of labor embodied in RTW to its specific purpose–to weaken the unity of black and white labor and supplement the institutions of Jim Crow.
It would mean that we build on the example of California trade unionists and support the expulsion of fascists from the trade unions and by extension the workplaces; whether through de jure suspension and expulsion proceedings or through de facto physical expulsion– in every case, every time.
It would mean promoting the construction of tangible links with immigrant workers, as in the recent example of retail custodial workers in Minnesota, to tie the struggle for higher wages to genuine equality between citizen and immigrant within the labor movement.
It would mean consistently challenging the statements and actions of police, jailers’ and border agents’ unions and consistent opposition to their links to the rest of the labor movement. There can be no solidarity between those who incarcerate, intimidate, deport and murder proletarians and the rest of us. We need to consistently stand with those who organize against the police on the job–like the UPS workers in Minneapolis–and never with those who would celebrate “Darren Wilson Day”, or become the backbone and footsoldiers of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, or posthumously nominate Ronald Reagan to be added to the Labor Hall of Honor, or secure salary bonuses for the man who choked Eric Garner to death.
Declarations of “Left Unity” are as cliche and hollow as most of the empty rhetoric that passes for socialist theory and practice. What we need aren’t grandiose regroupment efforts where members of competing sects maneuver to dominate the rest; or ideal-on-paper platforms and programs that have no basis in the class struggle.
What we need are the kinds of workers who chase a Nazi out of the workplace; physically intervene to stop hate crimes; who tear down Confederate monuments; spend their days and hours off from work organizing against RTW laws; who participate in popular movements (Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15); who take their politics to work and organize concerted action among their co-workers; are willing to put themselves in physical danger to extinguish the nascent fascists and Trumpists– to talk to each other, directly.
The socialist movement is the only force capable of unifying the fight against RTW with the fight against Jim Crow, the fight against voter suppression to the fight for trade union rights and the defense of immigrants with the fight for higher wages. That’s only possible if we learn to build broad networks of politicized workers, regardless of their individual politics, for the purpose of sharing experience, information and advancing the purpose of class unity and class resistance in the present.