Organized Labor Takes on Race and Michael Brown’s Cause

By Carla Murphy

Colorlines via Portside Labor

Oct 2, 2014 – Back in 1999, Victor Narro co-organized* up to 100 Los Angeles-based day laborers—mainly Latino and many undocumented—to attend the AFL-CIO convention, the nation’s largest labor gathering. Now, he admits, they were all a little naïve. Without affiliate status, the group learned at the entrance that they could not share the hall with the representatives of 12 million union workers. “We felt like, ‘Why would [certain] workers not be allowed into the AFL-CIO convention?’,” Narro says.

What Narro, who is now a project director at the UCLA Labor Center, recalls more vividly though, is the unofficial greeting: A grip of ironworkers and others in the construction trade formed and, “basically told us we had no business being there. We’re not a union. We take away union jobs.” Echoing a sentiment shared by many working people of color today, Narro says, “We felt that we were not part of the labor movement.” The last decade has given Narro hope however that an unprecedented all-workers movement, not just a union member-only movement, could one day become a reality.

There are signs that traditional labor leadership, if not its dwindling white male rank and file, is taking steps to better include workers of color. Not only has it recognized the growing strength of alt-labor [1] models like those built over the last 15 years by veteran organizer Narro. It’s slowly beginning to address the racial justice concerns of workers of color, too.

The latest indicator, labor observers say, was provoked by Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson. It came three weeks ago in the form of a little-publicized but powerful speech [2] by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. During his remarks Trumka—a former mine worker from western Pennsylvania—urged the mostly white audience attending their St. Louis convention to honestly tackle racism. “We cannot wash our hands of these issues,” he said, before recounting how local labor had instigated a 1917 pogrom against African-American migrants in St. Louis. “Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement.”

After watching Trumka’s speech on YouTube (his second on race [3]), Atlanta-based organizer Tamieka Atkins says she is more inclined to count herself as part of the labor movement. “I generally say that I belong to the domestic workers movement—or the workers rights movement because I haven’t felt represented by labor,” says Atkins, director of the first and largely African-American chapter [4] of the Latina and immigrant National Domestic Workers Alliance. As a sign of their growing strength, the 10,000-member alliance boasts a newly announced MacArthur “genius” grant winner in Ai-Jen Poo and domestic workers’ bills of rights wins in four states.

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Victory: Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin’s Reactionary Voter ID Law

By Todd Richmond and Steve Karnowski
Huffington Post

Oct. 9, 2014 – MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing a law requiring voters to present photo IDs, overturning a lower court decision that would have put the law in place for the November election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law constitutional on Monday. The following day, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to block the ruling.

On Thursday night the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one-page order that vacated the appeals court ruling pending further proceedings. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the application should have been denied because there was no indication that the 7th Circuit had demonstrably erred.

"Obviously we’re thrilled that people are going to be able to vote in this election," said Molly Collins, associate director for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The ACLU, the Advancement Project and their allies now have 90 days to file a formal petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, Collins said, noting that the deadline lies well beyond Election Day so the law can’t be reinstated by Nov. 4.

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