Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Movement (Part 4)
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Longshore militants from Charleston join us for a Labor Conference To Free Mumia
In May 2000, a little more than a year after the historic labor actions of April 1999, a conference of labor representatives was held in Oakland to spread the word on labor actions to free Mumia. Co-sponsored by the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and the San Francisco Labor Council, the conference was attended by over 100 delegates, representing (officially and unofficially) 32 unions and labor councils. Among these were longshore militant Leonard Riley and two other representatives of the International Longshore Association (ILA) Local 1422, of Charleston, South Carolina. As Leonard Riley reported, these delegates arrived fresh from their struggles both to remove the confederate flag from the statehouse in South Carolina, and to (successfully) defend against a state union-busting riotpolice attack on a longshore picket line of black and white workers. As the report on the conference noted, “Local 1422 has concluded that the union’s struggle to survive, opposition to the confederate flag, and the continuing struggle of Mumia Abu-Jamal are ’all part of the same fight.’”
The conference was chaired by Karega Hart president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1574, and cochair of the Black Radical Congress in the Bay Area. Local 250 of the SEIU generously hosted the conference in their union hall.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s greetings to the conference were read by Berkeley Federation of Teachers member Tyrrah Alafa Young:
I thank you, fellow workers for your impressive support shown this Friday, and your remarkable suport demonstrated in the past. Truly it can be said that workers make the world go round, for the labor and toil of working people the world over feeds the global economy by actually producing the many and varied products that serve the public needs, public wants and public tastes. The power therefore that labor wields is truly immense, if somewhat latent. I’m therefore quite thrilled to have your support, to have you join us in this titanic struggle with the state to make your presence known on the side of life and liberty. For as we have learned in the recent battle in Seattle and the anti-IMF demonstrations, the rights of workers is also a core human right and an important part of a movement that is reshaping social and power relations. I thank you for being part of this movement. Ona Move! Long Live John Africa! From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The conference heard from longshoreman Larry Wright of ILWU Local 10, reporting on the historic port shutdown to free Mumia; from Bob Mandel a key leader of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) teach-in action on Mumia and the death penalty; and from Al Weinrub and Ralph Schoenman, of the National Writers Union, Local 3 (UAW). Workshops focussing on maritime trades, teachers, communications, postal, journalism, and service were held.
Among the 5 resolutions presented to the conference was one titled, “Resolution on State and National Labor Action for Justice for Mumia,” presented by the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, which called for a “nationwide day of action” for justice for Mumia, and “in the event that execution becomes imminent, we call on the AFL-CIO to organize open-ended strike action, to stop the execution and free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” After some discussion about whether to call for a “new trial” or for “free Mumia,” the resolution passed as presented. Read the Complete Text Here.
A full report on the May 2000 Labor Conference for Mumia, titled, “Labor Conference Calls for Action: Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal!” is available from the LAC in hard copy only. Two other pamphlets, containing copies of articles, union resolutions, letters and statements covering labor support and workers actions for Mumia in the mid-late 1990s, are also available in limited quantities in hard copy. To receive all three pamphlets, while supplies last, send your donation, minimum $2, to LAC-labor pamphlets, PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610.
An On-Going Struggle for the Innocent Victims of the Racist Death Penalty
Despite a general shift to the right in union leaderships, including in the ILWU, rank and file militants have managed to keep significant portions of a class-struggle perspective alive. There is no better example of this than the May Day port shutdowns, conducted by the ILWU in collaboration with immigrant-rights groups and activists, against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday, May 1st of 2008. Once again, the union shut ports up and down the Coast, held a march and rally in San Francisco, and also supported groups around the Bay Area which held rallies for immigrant rights the same day.
Then in 2009, the ILWU sponsored a conference called “Racism, Repression and Rebellion: the Lessons of Labor Defense,” held at the ILWU hiring hall on Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco, and attended by over 300. This conference featured speakers from local unions, and advocates for innocent victims of the racist death machine such as Martina Correia, the sister of Troy Davis, an innocent man on death row in Georgia. This conference also heard from Robert R Bryan, lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and received an exciting last-minute call-in from death row from Mumia. Read the Conference Report.
Later in 2009, the ILWU Caucus/Convention passed a remarkable resolution, sent to it from Local 10, on “Racist Oppression and the Death Penalty,” which came to the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Troy Davis, Kevin Cooper (an innocent black man facing death in San Quentin); American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier, also framed for a crime he didn’t commit; and the San Francisco 8, former Black Panthers who were victims of a flimsy attempted frame-up supported by California Attorney General and former governor Jerry Brown. (The frame-up charges have now been dropped against all of the SF 8.) The text of this resolution is found on the “What You Can Do Now” page.
Union resolutions are important, and the historic workers’ actions to free Mumia still stand as an example of the ind of power that can be mobilized to end the racist death penalty, and free its innocent victims such as Mumia Abu-Jamal. But what’s most important now is that you take action to further these struggles. We hope you find inspiration in these pages, and we’ll look for you in the streets!