Over the past week and a half, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers has yanked America from our fixation with COVID 19 – and rightfully so.
What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a rogue cop or a deviation from the normal. It was the absolutely predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system, propagated by a culture that has systemically oppressed black people at every turn from its earliest days.
The system of government our nation’s founders put in place may have been better than a monarchy, but it’s far from perfect. Despite its promises of a “more perfect union,” the electorate of colonial times consisted of perhaps only 10 percent of the total population, and the black people who built the American economy had no voice or economic return in its development.
From slavery, to Jim Crow, to the racial caste system and segregation, to the unchecked police brutality we see every day, America has a long track record of legalized and normalized racism for which generations of black and brown people have paid an inestimable price.
Many members are asking us what Local 1245’s position is on the murder of Floyd, and the demonstrations that have swept America since then. As a trade union, our primary mission is to serve our members who count on us to represent them in collective bargaining with their employers. We rarely stray from this mission, but the systemic injustices done to our brothers and sisters cannot stand. We must speak out.
First, we believe that our members should acknowledge and understand the price that African Americans have paid for generations as a result of institutionalized racism.
Second, we believe that our members should keep their attention on the peaceful protests and demonstrations, not the fringe behaviors that are largely the result of a few provocateurs who entice others to commit an illegal act so as to ruin the reputation of the entire group. The rage, despair, frustration and inequality are real, and they are the issue.
Third, we encourage our members to take part in peaceful protests, and to look for every opportunity to right old wrongs – including calling out and standing up against racism in any form, wherever and whenever we see it. During a teleconference last Sunday with our organizing stewards, Senior Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean and I emphasized that the struggle for racial justice and the struggle for economic justice are one struggle.
There are few people in America who are better equipped to combat injustice than union members. We fight every day — as we have for decades — for equality and opportunity for all, including equal pay, suitable working conditions and fair benefits for each and every worker, no matter their race, color or creed. The more we bring our energy and experience as unionists to the struggle for racial justice, the more progress our experiment in democracy can achieve. It’s time for a new play book. Let’s be part of it.
–Tom Dalzell, IBEW 1245 Business Manager