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New Labor Forum Highlights: June 2020

The New Labor Forum has a monthly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

In his introduction to  Policing the Planet:   Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter,  the poet Martin Espada writes: “I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads, faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen. I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.” Espada’s words hold special poignancy now, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

George Floyd died on a Minneapolis street, his neck pinioned beneath the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin. Like so many other police killings of people of color, the murder of George Floyd demands that we scrutinize the role of law enforcement unions in relation to racist and warrior-style policing. In the case of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union is standing by Officer Chauvin and his colleagues, who looked on for over eight minutes as Floyd pleaded “I can’t breathe.” Although Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey last year banned the warrior-style training that teaches the sort of chokehold that Officer Chauvin used to restrain Floyd, the Minneapolis Federation continues to champion the use of such potentially lethal maneuvers. The union leadership, in the person of union president Bob Kroll, has a long history of antagonism against advocates of reform and has called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization.” These facts force tough questions about the nature of police unionism. Four years ago, faculty and staff at the CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies, publisher of  New Labor Forum, already understood the gravity of this matter and devoted a two-day conference to bringing Black Lives Matter activists into conversation with leaders and members of police unions. In this newsletter, we offer an interview with conference speaker Carmen Berkeley, then Director of the AFL-CIO’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department. We also include reporting from  Mother Jones by Inae Ho on the Minneapolis union’s endorsement of conditions that ultimately led to George Floyd’s death.

Table of Contents
  1. Confronting the Tragedy: An Interview with Carmen Berkeley. Interview by Ed Ott of Carmen Berkeley, former AFL-CIO Director of the Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department
  2. Minneapolis Banned Warrior-Style Police Training. Its Police Union Kept Offering It Anyway / Inae Oh, Mother Jones

Photo by Kelly Kline via flickr (cc-by-nc-nd)

On Escalation, Dying-In and the Fight to Fund CUNY

By David Unger

“C-U-N-Y…Don’t Let CUNY Die!”

Over the past few years, we have been lying down on the pavements of New York. In Grand Central Station, in front of Barclay’s Center, in the middle of streets in Brooklyn, near Union Square, in Harlem and in the Bronx.  We have been asked to lie down — to Die In — in order to demand recognition of Black Lives, to condemn violence against and killing of people of color, many of whose names are by now familiar in a tragic way: Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin…and on and on. 

Many times, everyone has been asked to die in, to lie down.  Other times, white allies have been asked to stand in silence.  Either way, the impacted communities have been calling the shots and leading the way. 

At times, the die-ins have been done by “other groups,” including the Fight-for-15, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and others, marching in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and calling out the intersection between racial and economic violence. Each time, no matter what intersections have been highlighted, the violence against people of color has been the primary concern of the actions. Continue reading On Escalation, Dying-In and the Fight to Fund CUNY

Raise the Age!

By Ken Francis

It’s October, and a group of students are lined up against a fence outside their school, bundled up against the unexpected frost. Hoodies are pulled taut, hands are gloved and beanies with bright pom-poms are pulled low. These students, aged 10 through 15, are waiting to shake their principal’s hand before they enter the school building. Afterward, they’ll bound into the building and bounce against each other like so many marbles in a bowl. They are disorderly, they are playful, they are children. Or are they?

How much will any of them mature in the next year? At 16, could they appropriately be considered adults? And, if one of them makes a mistake and commits a crime, should s/he be prosecuted as an adult? Continue reading Raise the Age!

Livestream: Black Lives Matter/Fight for $15: A New Social Movement (10/19)

With: Jelani Cobb | Kendall Fells | Alicia Garza | Francis Fox Piven

This event is currently at capacity. To watch the conversation, check back here on 10/19 from 8:30 AM to 10:15 AM (EDT). Livestream will appear below.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxQQM5jKS_o]

Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 are linked, growing social movements. As these two movements converge, how are they influencing each other? What are the chances their convergence might sow the seeds for a broader social and economic justice movement? What obstacles remain?

Speakers:

  • Jelani Cobb, journalist, historian, Director of the Africana Studies Institute, UConn, Hillman Judge
  • Kendall Fells, Fast Food Forward- SEIU/Fight4$15
  • Alicia Garza, National Domestic Workers Alliance, #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter

Introductory remarks by Francis Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor, CUNY, Consortial Faculty, Murphy Institute

This event is being co-sponsored by:

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Photo by Paul Silva via flickr (CC-BY).

More Press for Black Silent Majority

Murphy Prof. Michael Fortner’s new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment has taken the media world by storm, garnering press from publications, radio and television. In addition to coverage in the New Yorker and Chronicle of Higher Ed, the book has been featured in the NYTimes and New York Magazine and on Brian Lehrer.

From Fortner’s own op-ed in the New York Times last week, The Real Roots of 70’s Drug Laws:

Today’s disastrously punitive criminal justice system is actually rooted in the postwar social and economic demise of urban black communities. It is, in part, the unintended consequence of African-Americans’ own hard-fought battle against the crime and violence inside their own communities. To ignore that history is to disregard the agency of black people and minimize their grievances, and to risk making the same mistake again.

New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner

Murphy Institute Professor Michael Fortner’s hotly anticipated new book Black Silent Majority: the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment gains yet more coverage with the latest edition of the New Yorker. In Kelefa Sanneh’s review, Body Count, the writer places Fortner’s book in conversation with the latest from Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) as well as Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow:

This summer, the Black Lives Matter movement got a literary manifesto, in the form of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” (Spiegel & Grau), a slender but deeply resonant book that made its début atop the Times best-seller list[…]

Four decades ago, a number of black leaders were talking in similarly urgent terms about the threats to the black body. The threats were, in the words of one activist, “cruel, inhuman, and ungodly”: black people faced the prospect not just of physical assault and murder but of “genocide”—the horror of slavery, reborn in a new guise. The activist who said this was Oberia D. Dempsey, a Baptist pastor in Harlem, who carried a loaded revolver, the better to defend himself and his community. Dempsey’s main foe was not the police and the prisons; it was drugs, and the criminal havoc wreaked by dealers and addicts. Continue reading New Yorker Coverage of Book by Prof. Michael Fortner

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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