Dispatches

Seattle Educators’ Union Stands with Black Lives Matter

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By Whitney Kahn, SDSA member and special education paraeducator

Monday night, my union, the Seattle Education Association (SEA), of over 5,000 public school educators, voted on bold proposals to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and rebellion against state violence going on across this country and around the world. These included, importantly:

A coalition of rank and file educators, including many of the SDSA members in the SEA, helped contact hundreds of educators to organize for these successful votes for racial justice. 

If you’re a union member, please join the SDSA Labor Committee at noon on Friday to discuss building support for these demands in your union.

We have now joined an increasing number of labor unions in Seattle calling for the removal of SPOG from the labor council, potentially as soon as June 17th, which is the next MLKCLC meeting. I first heard about this from a fellow SDSA member who works in Highline Public Schools who helped pass this resolution through his union. This is the power that being in the DSA provides to get organized with other democratic socialist workers across job sites and industries.

Until now, the Labor Council that 100 years ago led the city in a general strike has been largely silent regarding the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Having the Labor Council silent about racial justice is absolutely a tragedy and a scandal and it’s down right anti-worker. 

In 2018, instead of joining the call for Justice for Che Taylor who was murdered by the police, the Labor Council vocally supported the police contract that reduced police accountability. Our hope is that by removing the obstacle of the police union from the Labor Council, it can finally be freed up to throw its weight squarely behind this mass movement for racial justice and against police brutality. 

Labor unions have the potential to be the biggest fighting force in the battles for racial justice and against police violence. There are important times in history where this has been the case, like in the mass strikes and the rise of the CIO in the 1930s. Since labor unions are multi-racial working class organizations whose peaceful strikes have been systematically attacked by the police, it would make sense that they would be great fighters for justice, but that’s not been the dominant trend. 

There is a conservative wing of the labor movement which is currently dominant that attempts peace with the oppressive capitalist state, and even billionaires. They support even the most corporate-beholden Democrats like Clinton or Biden, they don’t go on strike, they accept the legal framework of our pro-corporate laws, and they attempt to discuss with bosses in closed-door meetings rather than organize mass resistance. This has been the general trend line since the Red Scare of the 1950s, and especially since neoliberalism began in the 1980s, with interspersed revolts against it, and it is a trend that has led to defeat after defeat. Now we have the lowest unionization rate in the US since the 1920s. 

Locally and recently in Seattle, we’ve seen the MLK Labor Council hesitate to endorse socialists and radicals like Shaun Scott, Kshama Sawant, and Nikkita Oliver (with some even outright opposing these pro-worker candidates). We’ve seen labor unions in the building trades come out and vocally oppose taxing Amazon to build social housing. And we saw, in 2014, the year that the Ferguson uprising spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, the MLK Labor Council accept SPOG into the labor council. It’s (past) time to correct this egregious error. It’s time for unions to abandon the strategy of peacemaking and retreat. It’s time for the labor movement to move, to offer real solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and for the multi-racial working class to help lead this rebellion to victory.

SEIU1199NW, the local healthcare workers’ union, showed this past Saturday what it looks like when organized labor stands up for social justice. They brought out thousands upon thousands of people into the streets to march for Black lives. If the MLKCLC and all the affiliated unions got behind a mass action for demands put forward by the movement like shifting the bulk of the $400 million SPD budget to vital social services, it would happen. But that can’t happen so long as SPOG is at the table in the labor council.

In 8 days, there will be a vote by the King County Labor Council on what to do about SPOG. It would be a game-changer if the MLKCLC could free itself from the shackles of SPOG, and stand boldly on the side of the Black Lives Matter movement and champion its demands. If that were to happen, it would likely snowball outside of Seattle as well, bringing many reinforcements to this fight for racial and social justice. As we saw with the $15/hour minimum wage, what happens in Seattle doesn’t stay in Seattle. 

Seattle DSA union members should come out to our meeting Friday at noon to discuss how to grow this support. Stay tuned on the Seattle DSA blog for further actions to support this movement to put maximum pressure on the MLKCLC to kick out SPOG. 

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