As demonstrations for just treatment of minorities spread across the country, two SIU-affiliated organizations spoke out in strong support of the peaceful protesters’ goals – most if not all of which are shared by organized labor.
Many union members and their families were part of the grassroots mobilizations, often under the banner of Black Lives Matter.
Both the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) and the AFL-CIO responded not only to the rallies but also to the destruction that occurred at the AFL-CIO headquarters building late on May 31. Vandals damaged the building, which is directly across the street from the White House. They broke windows and set fires in the lobby.
SIU President Michael Sacco also serves as president of the MTD. The department’s statement reads, “The Sisters and Brothers of MTD affiliates who crew U.S.-flag ships, who build U.S.-flag vessels, who work on U.S. docks, and who supply these American workers know the value of teamwork and working together. These members of our Port Councils and unions have marched, do march and will march when we witness and experience injustice. The death of George Floyd was uncalled for and only the latest. The call for justice is valid. We will continue to work to bring equality and justice for ALL Americans. It must happen.
“However, destruction solves nothing. Words mean little if there is no action. It is way past time for all Americans to realize that ‘We, the People’ needs to truly come to all – people of color, native Americans, immigrants seeking a better life.
“Unionism is solidarity. The MTD stands, marches and fights for solidarity – peaceful solidarity – for all.”
George Perry Floyd Jr. was an African- American man who was killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Protests in response to both Floyd’s death, and more broadly to police violence against other black people, quickly spread across the United States and internationally.
On June 1, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement: “My heart is heavy at the events of the past few days. I watched the video of George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. No person of conscience can hear Floyd’s cries for help and not understand that something is deeply wrong in America.
“What happened to George Floyd, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, what happened to far too many unarmed people of color has happened for centuries. The difference is now we have cell phones. It’s there for all of us to see. And we can’t turn our heads and look away because we feel uncomfortable.
“Racism plays an insidious role in the daily lives of all working people of color. This is a labor issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality.
“We categorically reject those on the fringes who are engaging in violence and destroying property. Attacks like the one on the AFL-CIO headquarters are senseless, disgraceful and only play into the hands of those who have oppressed workers of color for generations and detract from the peaceful, passionate protesters who are rightly bringing issues of racism to the forefront.
“But in the end, the labor movement is not a building. We are a living collection of working people who will never stop fighting for economic, social and racial justice. We are united unequivocally against the forces of hate who seek to divide this nation for their own personal and political gain at our expense.
“We will clean up the glass, sweep away the ashes and keep doing our part to bring a better day out of this hour of darkness and despair.
“Today and always, the important work of the AFL-CIO continues unabated.