By Leo Blain
Racial justice advocates often say that in order to achieve a racially equitable society we cannot just be “not racist,” but that we must be actively anti-racist. Ibram X. Kendi, a preeminent antiracism advocate and historian said that “Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”
Unions have been partners in the fight for racial justice for decades. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders of the 1960s often emphasized the need for strong unions in the struggle for equal rights in and outside of the workplace. In an October 1965 speech to the Illinois AFL-CIO convention, King said that “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”
Amidst the Movement for Black Lives and the desperate need to change our country’s policing practices, many of us in the labor movement are asking ourselves: how can we put the indomitable force of the labor movement behind the words of Kendi and King? How can we use our collective power in the labor movement to dismantle structural racism and police brutality?
At the Labor Network for Sustainability, we’ve found inspiration and leadership on how to best advocate for Black lives from leaders in the Movement for Black Lives and unions that are prioritizing this work. Below are some of the resources that have shaped and continue to influence our thinking, organizing, and communications.
This extensive compilation of resources for anti-racist allies, created by Tatum Dorell, Jourdan Dorell, and Matt Herndon includes short essays and articles, books, PDFs, podcasts, videos, teaching resources, and more on anti-racism and safe and responsible anti-racist allyship.
We’ve been particularly inspired by our union brothers and sisters that have already taken tangible action for Black lives by leveraging their power as workers. In Minneapolis, members of ATU local 1005 denied their labor from law enforcement seeking to use members busses to transport arrested protestors. In D.C., the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades has set up support booths for protesters.
While many unions have been and continue to be engaged in anti-racist work, racism needs to be called out and eliminated where it persists in the labor movement. Here is an article from Amnesty International that provides a guide on how to effectively call out and engage with people that have made racist or bigoted remarks. In some cases though, a person or institution’s racist words and actions necessitate their removal from the communities they exist in so that they do not continue to harm others. For example, Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll has a documented history of supporting institutional racism and violence. Many Minneapolis-area unions have called for his resignation.
We know there’s a lot more work happening out there as the labor movement re-commits to racial justice. We’d love to hear about it and uplift it in social media. If you’re interested in sharing effective racial justice work that you’ve seen in the labor movement and beyond that deserves to be uplifted, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us on Social media at @labor4sustainability on Facebook and Instagram and @LN4S on Twitter.
Leo is the Social Media and Online Community Manager at LNS.