By: Kjell Sivertsen, Uber/Lyft Worker Organizer
In the wake of the police-sanctioned murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the attempted murder of Jacob Blake, members from multiple labor unions across trade are calling for the expulsion of police. These calls have been met with hostility both from police and from liberal union executives, highlighting the developing rift between leadership and members highlighted most recently in the UAW strike of 2019.
The vast majority of union police officers in the United States are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, an independent union unaffiliated with any labor federation, which has allowed them to cross picket lines and crush strikes without any consideration. However, small pockets of police and correctional officers hold rank in broader labor unions, particularly the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has come under particular fire for their police membership.
The headquarters of the AFL-CIO were vandalized during riots in late May, for its perceived institutional place in American democratic party politics. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, fitting the mold, has only offered weak sentimental support for the Black Lives Matter movement, while vocally opposing calls to expel police and correctional officers within AFSCME, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and other affiliated unions.
Likewise, AFSCME president Lee Saunders has claimed that police brutality must be fought through reform and collaboration with police unions, rather than through ‘alienation’. Saunders allegedly scorned an AFSCME staff member before kicking them off a conference call this summer after the employee proposed expelling police and correctional officers from the union. We know that police unions are some of the most corrupt organizations in the country, and can never be trusted to police itself. Police unions serve more as a cartel or a gang than a working-class organization, protecting its own at the expense of others.
Police repression of labor isn’t unique to Trump, it didn’t start under Trump, and it won’t end even if Biden defeats Trump in two months. Police in capitalist society fundamentally exist to protect the interests and property of the ruling class. Police have a history of harassing, stalking, and murdering labor union activists. It is no question that the presence of LEOs in labor unions has a negative effect on their power to represent real workers, and waters down the radical solidarity at the heart of the American labor movement since its beginnings. Removing cops from our unions is not a move of the moment, or a surface level band-aid to real problems—it represents a radical change to orient organized labor towards its original purpose: uniting workers under one banner to fight against racism, separatism, and all other forms of hatred that keep us from facing our common foe, those who have grown even richer during pandemic and crisis.
Categories: U.S. News