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No issue has had as big an impact on the fortunes of organized labor in the United States as has racism. From the days of the first workers’ movements in this country, the 1 percenters (be they the slaveholders of the old South, the robber barons of the Gilded Age, our own Waltons, Gateses, or Kochs) have used racism as a means to divide and defeat workers.

It is thus critical that organized labor make the right decision and take the right path in the wake of the new mass movement that has come to the fore concerning police brutality and racist policing. Young people, minorities, and community activists are on the march across the country, seeking justice for the Mike Browns and Eric Garners of this country. Labor must extend its hand and join with those fighting for justice today or face irrelevancy tomorrow.

We cannot build interracial class solidarity by ignoring the very real ways that workers of color in this country face special kinds of discrimination not visited upon white workers.

I have argued with a number of union brothers and sisters on this issue, many of whom are quick to stand up for the police in those situations mentioned. They argue that the police involved were in the right, and throw around terms like ‘thug’ to describe those victims of police brutality. They do so without realizing that they are engaging in the sort of divide and defeat rhetoric used by the bosses undermine our position in the workplace and in our communities. Because that’s exactly what is going on here, make no mistake about it: the 1 percent and the media that they own and control are using this episode as a way to divide workers along racial lines, to engender a kind of racial solidarity between the white worker and the white policeman, rather than allow class solidarity between white workers and workers of color to develop in response to racist police violence.

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Should we then adopt a “colorblind” perspective, replacing the chants of ‘Black Lives Matter’ with those of ‘All Lives Matter’? This is a tempting response and an attempt to universalize the experience of those people of color who live under the constant threat of racist police violence, but it ultimately falls short of addressing the problem at hand, which is the specific violence and discrimination aimed at people of color specifically in this country.

To argue that white people in this country face exactly the same kind of police repression as do people of color is to engage in dishonesty. White workers and people of color have more in common with one another than white workers do with the 1 percent who would hope they would think otherwise, yes, but this in and of itself does not mean that white workers experience the same kinds of discrimination that people of color do in this country.

We cannot build interracial class solidarity by ignoring the very real ways that workers of color in this country face special kinds of discrimination not visited upon white workers. We have to address these issues forthrightly and put the full force of the labor movement behind those movements fighting for racial and social justice. Only then can we really end the kind of racism that is used by the 1 percent to keep us at each other’s throats, rather than going after our real enemy - them.

devin griggs

Devin Griggs