Solidarity: Against Racism, for Workers’ Power

Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Movement (Part 2)

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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. (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

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 on the next page).

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