Socialist Worker

Riots are an act of rage against an unequal and oppressive society

Issue No. 2707

A New York Police Department car burns

A New York Police Department car burns (Pic: Twitter/Sanatan Women)


Those in power denounce riots and looting, and the media is quick to seek out and blame a fringe minority of “extremists”.

But the scale of the movement in the US shows that the riots are a reflection of the deep anger that is felt by tens of millions of people.

It’s not mindless violence. 

Protesters in Minneapolis didn’t start by looting supermarkets—their first major target was as a police station.

Actions by ordinary people can make a difference. 

They can cause the president to crawl into his underground bunker in Washington as Donald Trump did last Friday night.

Outside the White House protesters raged against racism and the police barricades. 

Action by ordinary people can push back state assaults and bring governments to their knees.

We saw this with the Yellow Vests revolt in France or the movement and riot against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax in 1990s Britain.

Many of those ransacking shops are among the poorest people in the US. And their already miserable conditions have been made far worse by the recent collapse in the economy. 

Some are stealing food and other basic necessities—including nappies—while others grab the most expensive items to hand in the hope of selling them. 

Survive 

By their actions, they insist that human beings have the right to take what they need to survive. 

‘People want justice, it feels like a revolution is coming’
‘People want justice, it feels like a revolution is coming’
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The businesses they steal from have made their profits on the backs of the working class and poor. And capitalist society makes it clear that our value as human beings can only be measured by what we own. 

Riots are an articulation of deep anger at a society that oppresses and exploits the vast majority of ordinary people. 

And against a system where racist police constantly put black lives in danger. 

There are many ways in which people resist oppression—and riots are one. But they do have weaknesses. 

Sometimes they hit the wrong targets, such as other oppressed groups. There have been some examples of small shops owned by African-Americans and Asian Americans being attacked.

And, riots often explode in poor neighbourhoods, rather than going uptown to smash up the playgrounds of the rich. 

They do not have the sense of collective democracy and discipline that comes from the best examples of organised workers (see right). 

The task is to move from riot to revolution that can really challenge the capitalist system.


Bus drivers refuse to help the cops move arrestees 

Many Workers and trade unionists stand in solidarity with the justice for George Floyd protesters. 

In several cities, bus workers have refused to help cops transport arrested protesters.

In New York one bus driver got off his bus to huge cheers from activists last weekend as he refused to drive to the police station. 

The Transport Workers Union called on bus drivers to “refuse to transport arrested protesters.”

In Minneapolis, the Amalgamated Transit Union’s 1005 branch says that multiple bus drivers have refused to work with the police. It said, “Minneapolis bus drivers—our members—have the right to refuse the dangerous duty of transporting police to protests and arrested demonstrators away from these communities where many of these drivers live.” 

Radical

One Minneapolis bus driver and ATU 1005 member, Adam Burch, said, “As a transit worker and union member I refuse to transport my class and radical youth to jail.

“An injury to one is an injury to all. 

“The police murdered George Floyd and the protest against it is completely justified and should continue until their demands are met.”

He added, “I will encourage and try to convince all my coworkers and fellow union members to also refuse to assist MPD [cops] sending protesters to jail.” 

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, hospitality workers from the Culinary Workers Union were protesting at bosses’ plans to reopen casinos this week.

Trade unionists joined with protesters occupying the roads, and said, “We stand with Black Lives Matter. No justice. No peace.”


Unrest exposes Democrats 

The eruption of struggle on the streets has exposed leading Democrat Party politicians who have vacillated over support for the protests.

Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden visited the site of a Black Lives Matter protest in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday. 

But rather than an outright show of support for the protests, he instead visited boarded up shops. “We must not allow this pain to destroy us,” he tweeted.

Supposedly left wing politicians—including Congress representative Ilhan Omar—also wavered.

Omar appeared to support some of the protesters. 

But she also accused people involved in fighting the police as “not interested in protecting black lives.”

“In Minneapolis, we have marched, we have protested, we have organised.

“And when we see people setting our buildings and our businesses ablaze, we know those are not people who are interested in protecting black lives,” she said.


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