Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Movement

 

 

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Mumia Abu-Jamal
and the Labor Movement

 

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“Why Labor Is Marching for Mumia Abu-Jamal”

 

Having passed Local 10, the motion was adopted at the union’s Longshore Caucus (Convention), in March 1999,
and preparations began. Employers objected to the plan, but were eventually forced to back down after union leaders
defended the overwhelming vote for the shut-down. A rank and file Local 10 flyer titled, “10 Reasons To March for
Mumia’s Freedom” was distributed, and Heyman managed to get an op-ed piece printed in the SF Chronicle the day
before the march, titled, “Why Labor Is Marching for Mumia Abu-Jamal.” In it, he said,

       Labor and minorities share a common history of being victimized by the criminal justice system in this
country. Both have long been aware of police repression and the unequal use of the death penalty against
minorities and the poor — from the Haymarket martyrs, who rallied workers for the eight-hour day, to Harry
Bridges, the longshore union leader targeted for deportation for being a “red,” to the Black Panther Party,
whose program of self-defense put it on the FBI’s list.

 

For many outside the prison walls, Jamal has become an articulate spokesman from death row and a
courageous symbol of the struggle against a repressive system. Organized labor has the power to defend
victims of injustice. By following the example of West Coast longshore workers, labor can stay the hand of
the executioner and win freedom for an innocent man.

 

– Jack Heyman, “Why Labor Is Marching for Mumia Abu-Jamal,”

-SF Chronicle, 23 April 1999. Read the full article

Longshore and warehouse workers from San Francisco/Oakland were joined by ILWU members from
Sacramento, LA, Port Hueneme and Seattle, as well members of the fraternal Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU), to make up
a contingent some 300 strong on April 24th. Wearing traditional white caps, and carrying the union’s large “An Injury To
One Is An Injury To All!” banner, the predominantly black longshore workers’ contingent chanted, “An injury to one is an
injury to all! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” as they headed up some 20,000 marchers through the streets of San Francisco.

 

The march formed up in Dolores Park, and rallied at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. Speakers at the rally
included Art Pulaski of the California Federation of Labor, Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor
Council, ILWU President Brian McWilliams and Vice- President Jim Spinosa. Jack Heyman of Local 10, the initiator of
the West Coast port-shutdown action, also spoke. A copy of the rank-and-file flyer “ILWU Leads the Way! 20,000 March for Mumia’s Freedom in SF” is available here. A slightly edited transcript of Jack’s remarks to the rally is also available from the LAC.

Mumia Thanks Workers for Their Support, as Solidarity Messages Pour In

 

The ILWU Coast shutdown, and the education workers’ actions of 23-24 April, sparked an outpouring of union
resolutions and solidarity statements, beginning with a statement from Mumia himself, titled “A Salute to Labor’s
Strength.” Mentioning the teach-ins, the Brazilian teachers’ action, the “unprecedented Coast-wide ILWU shutdown of
ports,” and solidarity actions around the Neptune Jade, and said, “…we are witnessing something remarkable; the
internationalization of support and struggle for fellow workers.” The statement also thanked the Labor Action Committee
for our work in helping to bring about some of these actions. Read it here

 
Resolutions of solidarity with Mumia’s case for justice came in from unions all over the world, both during the
planning for the 1999 workers actions, and afterwards in 1999 and 2000. Motions or solidarity messages came in from
the local Bay Area labor councils; and from Bay Area locals of the Plumbers and Fitters, Brotherhood of Carpenters and
Joiners, Painters, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Office and Professional Employees, the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), and Newspaper and Periodical Drivers in the
Teamsters, among others.

 
From around the country, support for Mumia was voiced by several locals of various unions, including the
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Communication Workers of America
(CWA), Steelworkers, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) of greater New York, and postal workers in the
Mail Handlers, American Postal Workers Union (APWU), and National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). Postal
workers in New York City, in Mailhandlers Local 300, and the New York Metro Area Postal Union, passed resolutions and
ran a campaign called “Morgan for Mumia,” to promote education about Mumia’s case among the rank and file.

National and International Support for Mumia Shows Militancy

 

National (or state-wide) support came in from the United Electrical Workers (UE), the California Federation of
Teachers (CFT), and later in 2000 from the SEIU, the largest union in the country. And international support for Mumia’s
case arrived from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Commercial Catering &
Allied Workers Union, the Transport & General Workers Union (Britain), and the Australian Telecommunications
Employees Association. Letters of support were sent in 1999 by executive boards or officials of the Stockholm, Sweden
Dockworkers union, and the Finnish Transport Workers’ Union.

 
While almost all of the motions and letters of solidarity from US unions focussed on calling for or demanding a
new trial for Mumia, international messages often took a more militant stance. Typical was a letter sent to then-
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, from the International Dockers Committee, which represented an International
Dockers Conference held in Paris, France in October of 1996. The conference had “condemned the state of
Pennsylvania’s unjust imprisonment on death row of black militant Mumia Abu-Jamal.” The letter concluded simply,
“We demand his immediate freedom.”

 
But perhaps most remarkable among the international union messages was a letter dated June 1, 1999, from the
chairman of the Party of Labour of Turkey. The letter, also addressed to then-governor Ridge, reported on a “Resolution
Declaration” which had been adopted at a recent international trade union conference, which ILWU Local 10 member
Jack Heyman had attended. The letter concluded,

       The Conference, [pointing] to the necessity of demonstrating solidarity with the intellectuals,
artists and academics who are exposed to oppression because of their beliefs, conveys its feeling of
solidarity to black North American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, under the threat of the death penalty in the
USA. The Conference strongly condemns such a barbaric practice as the execution of political prisoners by
the hand of the government, and demands the USA government to release Abu-Jamal, who is a victim of
police-government conspiracy.

 

In connection to this article of the Resolution Declaration, we would like to demand the
immediate release of Mumia Abu-Jamal as the most basic necessity of universal human rights.

 

– A. Levent TUZEL, chairman of the Party of Labour (EMEP) Turkey

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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.