Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Movement

 

 

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Solidarity: Against Racism, for Workers’ Power

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal
and the Labor Movement

 

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Workers’ Actions to Free Mumia: Oakland Calif, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

Some of our teacher supporters had already been working on organizing a teach-in on Mumia and the death
penalty in the Oakland Schools. Having been decided upon by the Oakland Education Association (OEA) (the teachers’
union) in November of 1998, this action was held in January in defiance of the Oakland schools administration, and
Mumia Abu-Jamal
despite a news media frenzy, which together tried to squelch the action following the shooting of an Oakland police officer
just before the teach-in was to take place. Having stood their ground against intimidation, the Oakland teachers for
Mumia informed their students with a special curriculum on Mumia and the death penalty, garnered significant publicity
for Mumia’s case. The OEA action inspired other such teach-ins in schools around the country, starting one conducted by
Los Angeles Teachers for Mumia, in the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). (The motion that carried unanimously
in the OEA is reprinted here–see link below.)

 

In early 1999, inspired by the Oakland teachers’ action, and by plans then being set in motion for the longshore
port shutdown (see below), teachers in Rio de Janeiro Brazil began laying their own plans to conduct actions to free
Mumia. The 27th Congress of the National Confederation of Education Workers, Brazil, in February called for “the
immediate freeing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the black journalist known as the ‘voice of the voiceless’ and condemned to
death in the state of Pennsylvania (USA).” The delegates noted that the struggle for Mumia’s defense “has become the
international symbol of the struggle against the racist death penalty.”

“…struggle against racism in all its forms around the world”

 

Students at Ernesto Faria School, Rio de Janeiro, join teachers’ union
stoppage for Mumia.
Students at Ernesto Faria School, Rio de Janeiro, join teachers’ union
stoppage for Mumia. (photo: Vanguarda Operaria)

Then in March, the state-wide assembly of the Union of Education Workers of the State of Rio de Janeiro (SEPE/
RJ) voted that “education workers of Rio de Janeiro state schools shall stop work on April 23rd for one our to carry out a
meeting to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.” and “to relate Mumia Abu-Jamal’s situation with the need for an
ongoing struggle against racism in all its forms around the world.” The two planned stop-work meetings–one for each of
two shifts–went off without a hitch, and
inspired several other actions by
Brazilian workers in 1999. In a message
to Jack Heyman of the LAC, Ossie Davis
said of the teachers’ union actions, “…the
move from Brazil is most exciting.”

 
Actions continued in November,
as the CUT labor federation in Rio de
Janeiro raised the call for freeing Mumia
as one of the demands of a day-long
work stoppage by unions throughout the
state; a labor-centered demonstration in
Rio on the “Day of Black
Consciousness” made freedom for Jamal
one of its central demands; and a one-day
strike by bank workers in the state of Rio
de Janeiro included the demand
“Liberdade para Mumia Abu-Jamal!”

 
In December 1999, the Rio teachers union (SEPE) followed up its April action with a strike for half a day,
including freedom for Mumia as one of its central demands; and almost 9 years later, in May 2008, they did the same
thing again, calling a strike in defense of public education and demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. (The 2
teachers’ union motions mentioned above are posted here, below. For more on Brazilian workers’ actions to free Mumia,
go to www.internationalist.org.

Longshore Workers Shut West Coast Ports to “Free Mumia!”

 

Following the successful Oakland teachers’ teach-in for Mumia, a resolution was raised in International
Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 (San Francisco/Oakland) to shut down all the ports on the West Coast
to free Mumia on April 24, 1999. Introduced by long-time longshore union militant, and Local 10 executive board
member Jack Heyman, this motion carried on an ILWU tradition to use the union’s power to withdraw its labor to support
vital international struggles such as: opposition to the coup in Chile that installed Pinochet in 1972; the struggle against apartheid launched by gold miners in South Africa; and the more recent Neptune Jade boycott of a ship with scab cargo.
But this was the first time that the West Cast longshore union had shut down all ports to defend a political prisoner.

 
The main intent of the motion was to have longshore workers in all ports on the West Coast down tools for an
entire 8-hour shift, through the medium of coordinated union stop-work meetings. The motion also called upon the union
to join and lead the march in San Francisco on that day, which was being organized by the Mobilization To Free Mumia.
Although the main slogan of the march was to call for a “new trial” for Mumia, longshore workers would march under
their own slogans of “Stop the Execution!” and “Free Mumia!” The resolution also called on longshore workers in
Philadelphia, and International Transportworkers Federation (ITF) and dockers internationally to join in the world-wide
actions to free Mumia. (For the complete text of the ILWU resolution for the port shutdown to free Mumia, see link below).

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The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal is a group of union activists dedicated to educating workers about Jamal’s case and promoting labor action in solidarity with his struggle. Our founding statement dated January 10, 1999, is posted in the “Who We Are” page.