1967 was the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was published. Where do we go from here: Chaos, Community?In it, he assesses the state of civil rights movements after the passage and implementation of the Voting Rights Bill. He argued that the movement was at a crossroads in it. Dr. King won civil rights legislation. argued, “The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converging crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge.”
Where did Dr. King go in this impasse? He traveled to Memphis to help sanitation workers. He also followed welfare mothers as he sought to build a coalition — the Poor People’s Campaign — of poor folks. He continued to articulate a politics that combines anti-imperialism with labor and civil rights.
We could be moving towards a similar synthesis. While 2020 was a resurgent year for the movement for Black lives — as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest state violence, advance abolitionist demands to defund the police, and to confront structural and symbolic vestiges of racism and colonialism at the center of our modern world — 2021 was a resurgent year for organized labor and workers.
As labor intellectual Kim Moody reports: “There were 124 strikes by these [private-sector] workers across industries in 2021.” Despite its defeat, the “BAmazonUnion” drive in Bessemer, Alabama, captured the nation’s attention earlier this year. Workers at John DeereThe United Auto Workers represented by a representative of, struck for their first time in over three decades. Graduate students ColumbiaLast month, the strikers went on strike again and sought improvements in their working conditions and pay. Even Starbucks workers at a Buffalo café successfully won recognition as the company’s first union in the U.S. Organizers there built on a two-year effortTo recruit workers to Starbucks Workers United (SWU), by building support and encouraging them join their organizing committee, before announcing its unionization drive for August.
The context of the COVID-19 pandemic, much like the 2020 uprisings for Black liberation makes this strike activity extraordinary. As the labor market tightens, workers and unions are taking action due to increased hiring. “The Great Resignation.”As more workers recognize that their jobs don’t love them back, labor journalist Sarah Jaffe puts it,More people are recognising their individual power to quit, stay out from the job market, and switch careers. According to MoodyIn 2021, 73,320 workers participated in labor strikes. This is far below the average of the 4.4 million AmericansThis September, many people quit their jobs. This is a great opportunity to strengthen solidarity through labor organizing, education, and militancy.
The 2021 labor action, along with the 2020 antiracist and anticolonial uprisings, took place in the context a growing right-wing authoritarian Counterrevolution. The 2020 uprisings seemed like a blow to the reactionary right, but then it was re-energized by then-president Donald Trump deployed federal law enforcementTo cities where antiracist protests were occurring, and members his administration targeted anarchists and anti-fascistsIn cities like Portland, Oregon while denying the existence of structural racism.
Herbert Marcuse argued that counterrevolutions are possible Counterrevolutionary and Revolt, are “altogether preventative.” This seems to be the case in 2021 as reactionaries have launched a broad attack against racial justice by rallying support for law enforcement institutions and individuals like right-wing teenager Kyle RittenhouseThey are willing to kill for the sake of protecting private property. State legislators across the nation are also passing what historians call “historical” laws. Timothy Snyder has called “memory laws”Limiting anti-racism education, not just to critical race theory or The 1619 Project. White power groupsOpen organizing continues. Meanwhile, pro-police Democrats remain instrumental in this counterrevolution as New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams ran on attacking demands to defund the police and promising to strengthen the city’s police forces. Democrats “blue cities,”Such cities as Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., or Oakland, California, have seen their police budgets increase since the 2020 uprising.
Recent support for law enforcement has been bolstered by mainstream media outlets sensationalist coverage of organized robberiesIn a time where property crimes continue to be a problem historic lows. This coverage helps strengthen calls for “law and order,” which threaten to reverse momentum gained by the movement for Black lives in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Capitalists still resort to tried-and true tactics to stop labor organizing outside of public sight, but the counterrevolution is yet to launch such a broadside. But, the congressional Republicans continue to block pathways toward labor action and unionization. with their opposition to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act(PRO Act), which would nullify right-to-work laws and protect workers from employer interference in unionization efforts and institute “card check,” which allows for union certification after a simple majority signs union cards.
While the movements for racial justice and workers’ rights often heavily overlap — most Black and Brown people tend to both express an anti-racist politics and support unionization — there is an opportunity for more coalition building between anti-racist activists and this burgeoning labor movement in 2022.
In 2020, we saw many creative examples of this solidarity. Workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down 29 West Coast ports in June in solidarity with those protesting the police-perpetrated killings of Black people and to commemorate the anniversary. Juneteenth. Then, later that summer, workers from the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) Local 3550 of the American Federation of Teachers engaged in an “abolitionist” strike in response to the University of Michigan administration’s attempts to reopen campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
GEO was similar to the ILWU in that it sought solidarity with the movement of Black students and Black students on campus. Graduate student unionists. Alejo Stark, Jasmine Ehrhardt and Amir Fleischmann, GEO issued a series of demands for a “safe and just” campus that included “disarming, demilitarizing, and defunding campus police as well as severing ties from both Ann Arbor police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” The ILWUGEO joined other unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union and United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, who both shared the view that addressing structural racism and state violence was key to their organizing.
It is possible for this coalition to grow beyond the labor movement in 2022. It could be built upon the work done by organizations dedicated to abolishing debtSuch as the Debt Collective, and myriad of reproductive justice organizationsThey are able to integrate racial justice into their analysis and organizing. As the Biden administration seems to be in charge, it seems especially important to join these coalitions for 2022. hell bent on restarting loan paymentsInstead of fulfilling its campaign promise that all borrowers would be exempt from additional debt, the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. WadeThis puts women and anyone who might need to have abortion services at risk.
The formation of new alliances between movements must be based on a thorough analysis of the circumstances that gave rise to them. For example, the policing of workplaces and spaces with concentrated poverty — as well as the steady decline of workers’ power — is connected to massive layoffs and the emergence of more precarious work in the wake of transformations of mass production. The transformation of production and work, working parents’ inability to save for their children’s higher education due to wage stagnation and rising education costs, and the federal government’s de-emphasizing of Pell Grants in favor of extending loans, have created more incentive for prospective students to borrow. Many reproductive justice organizations and activists have argued that abortion bans will harm the most economically vulnerable, particularly Black and Brown people. They will not have the resources or time to travel and obtain abortion services.
As we are in the midst of a major social transition, the climate is favorable for building coalitions that focus on these intersecting issues. As sociologist Paolo GerbaudoThe pandemic is said to be speeding down the fall of neoliberal order. We seem to be at a three-way intersection: Many of those in the center are trying to halt any reform efforts that could help most Americans in the name of fighting inflation; right-wing authoritarians are seeking to restore a racial and class dictatorship; and those on the left are growing more urgent in calls for a progressive — even radical — vision of democracy. We remain at the intersections of multiple emergencies.
The pandemic has claimed more than 800,000 lives in the United States. Workers in Edwardsville, Illinois were killed by the capitalism-driven climate crisis. Amazon warehouseAnd a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, in what is probably the worst series of tornadoes in this country’s history.
Dr. King and others refused allow political impasses to stop efforts to build solidarity, power and solidarity. We must also continue to develop grassroots power in order to address violence of the capitalist system and to supplant an economic and political system that is murderous. We must also respond the the counterrevolutionary threat from the right and the moderate impulses in central by building solidarity and coalitions among the nascent progressive movements. Not only do threats of state violence — which include capitalist divestment, debt, the protection of capitalists’ private property rights, infringements on reproductive rights, and the climate crisis — bind us together, so do our desires to overturn these forces.
We can work together to create more radical forms and restore the commons and to find more humane ways of protecting each other and building a more just, fair, and prosperous world.