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Workers bring more than just numbers to protests

This article is over 3 years, 11 months old
Organised workers make up a unique group with the power to paralyse the system, says Sarah Bates
Issue 2708
Firefighters are among the workers who have joined anti-racist actions in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd
Firefighters are among the workers who have joined anti-racist actions in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd (Pic: Jo Holland)

The revolt that’s exploded across the US is an historic challenge to the rancid racism of our rulers.

Now a challenge for activists is to deepen and strengthen the movement.

The critical factor will be the involvement of workers.

Some have already shown solidarity with activists demanding justice for George Floyd.

Last week in Britain some uniformed firefighters joined demonstrations and “took the knee” outside fire stations.

In the US city of Columbus, Ohio workers at a Mexican restaurant walked out after being asked to make 500 tacos for the cops.

Worker Jake Widdoswon said he joined the protests because, “Seeing the extreme brutality on protesters and making that food was not something I felt comfortable with doing.”

In Minneapolis and New York, bus workers have refused to transport police officers and arrestees to jail.

“We are willing to do what we can to ensure our labour is not used to help the Minneapolis Police Departments shut down calls for justice,” said a bus workers’ union petition.

Elsewhere in New York, hospital workers came out in their personal protective equipment to applaud Black Lives Matter protesters.

One healthcare worker joined a Black Lives Matter march in his medical scrubs.

He said, “For the past months I’ve been taking care of Covid-19 patients in a predominately black and brown community.”

“I’ve found myself just facilitating a death, and not a very comfortable one for many people.

“The hospital and hospital system in America is two-tiered.


“Those who are wealthy and have insurance, and those who are uninsured and minority. I’m tired of being a cog in that system.”

Why does the involvement of workers and trade unionists matter?

They have swelled numbers on anti-racist demonstrations.

And organising to support protests among workmates can transform ideas in a workplace.

But the main reason is that they make up a critical social force in society with a power that no other group has.

The system we live in, capitalism, relies on workers to function. It is based on bosses making profits on the back of workers’ labour, and they can’t make any if people refuse to work.

So workers have the potential to bring the entire system to a halt.

For instance, in the 1930s, workers took part in a wave of mass strikes and factory occupations across the US. In Minneapolis Teamsters, or truck drivers, struck over working hours and union recognition.

The strike spread to involve workers across the city and had a huge impact, shutting down most commercial transport.

It won despite severe police violence, troops and arrests.

So workers can hit the system in a way that others can’t. Workers’ action is a direct challenge to the bosses’ authority and raises the question of who is in charge.

In Minneapolis, unions had shut down the market area for instance. They allowed certain farmers to deliver directly to grocers instead.

Last December, energy workers struck in France. They cut off electricity to bosses and cops—but reconnected the supply for ordinary people.

Socialists celebrate all forms of resistance to this racist system.

But we also want more of the kind of action that can really threaten it. Working class people have the power to make the system crumble.


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