To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
September 3, 2017
RE: News from Seattle; union leaders and the far right
By a member of Seattle Workers' Voice
A few days ago it was revealed that an autopsy has shown that Charleena Lyles, a black mom with four children, was shot seven times in her apartment by the police. This further undermines the police claim that they reluctantly killed her in self-defense. They riddled her with bullets.
Since her death on June 18, there have been a number of militant protests and rallies demanding justice for Lyles, as well as a City Council hearing at which some 700 people turned out to denounce her killing. But the reality is this movement is dying down, and whether it revives to great extent depends on the activities of ordinary activists. For example, while the Black Freedom Front—Seattle had spirited marches on July 9 and August 26 (where some 1,000 people were in the beginning of the march to a far away Confederate monument), it has kept its calls and demands general, and not even mentioned Charleena Lyles in them! Instead, it has been the ordinary people coming to the events who have raised Charleena's name and demanded justice. As well, we've continued to distribute the July 8 issue of _Seattle Workers' Voice_, which denounces the police shooting of Charleena Lyles, as well as the police shooting of Tommy Le. (See http://www.communistvoice.org/DSWV-170713.html)
The situation in which Lyles was shot is as follows. On June 18, after calling the police to investigate a burglary of her apartment, she was gunned down by the two responding officers after she threatened them with a kitchen knife or knives as their investigation was ending. According to the police audio as well as the interviews the cops gave their superiors, not only were both very aware that Ms Lyles was suffering from mental health problems, but both were carrying nightsticks, one had pepper spray and was 4-5 feet to the rear of Ms Lyles while the other testified at length about how cluttered the apartment was--with none of his superiors asking why he didn't therefore pick something up and throw it at Ms Lyles. But no, instead of using nightsticks or pepper spray, instead of grabbing or tackling Ms Lyles from behind or throwing things, the cops shot to kill Charleena Lyles by aiming at her center body mass: procedural murder; murder by the book. The initial reports were that they shot her five times, but the late-August autopsy now shows they actually shot this small woman seven times. Can anyone imagine the cops doing this to a well-to-do white woman? <>
Another outrage by the Seattle Police Department. It had fired Cynthia Whitlatch in 2015 for brutal racially-biased policing, but now, in response to a grievance by the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, it has rescinded the firing. At the end of August, Police Chief O'Toole signed an agreement under which Whitlatch will have her firing changed to "retired in lieu of termination." Additionally, she will receive $105,000 in back pay plus her full pension for 18 years as an officer and the two additional years after her firing. Even the Community Police Commission has objected, and there is no wonder why: this is more of a reward to Whitlatch for her racism and bullying than anything else.
Why had Whitlach been fired? On July 9, 2014, 69-year-old African American William Wingate was on his daily walk using a golf club as a cane. Officer Cynthia Whitlatch arrested him, claiming he'd for some strange reason swung the golf club at her. But the dash camera showed she was baldly lying. Not only that, over the next year increasing amounts of information became public showing that Officer Whitlatch was a blatant racist and general bully. Meanwhile, Mr. Wingate had rightly said his only crime was walking while black, and he'd filed a civil lawsuit as well as joined with supporters in a march carrying golf clubs through Capitol Hill that was in the news. So in this situation, on September 15, 2015 Chief Kathleen O'Toole finally fired Officer Whitlatch. Moreover, in November last year Mr. Wingate was awarded $325,000 in damages after the jury in a federal lawsuit found that Whitlatch had engaged in racial discrimination. But the City of Seattle, not Whitlatch, paid not only for her lawyers, but the damage award as well.
For more on Officer Whitlatch's sordid history, see
http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/09/16/22866687/how-the-firing-of-officer-cynthia-whitlatch-happened-a-timeline, http://www.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2015/01/28/what-facebook-user-cynthia-whitlatch-wrote-about-chronic-black-racism, http://www.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2015/01/30/metro-bus-driver-says-she-was-also-bullied-by-officer-cynthia-whitlatch-warned-spd-years- ago,
The website oaklandsocialist carried a notable article on August 31 entitled "Antifa', the working class movement and the far right." As background to dealing with Antifa, one of the issues it deals with is the role of unions in resisting the far right. What distinguishes this article is that it points out the utter failure of most of the present-day American union leaders to do much of anything to oppose the far right, and it notes that most of the left close their eyes to this horrible fact.
There is a lot of talk in the general left press about the need to fight the capitalists and to build the unions, but little talk about how to deal with the class-collaborationist role of most of the present leaders of American unions. The Green Party and even Naomi Klein regard negotiating joint agreements with the union leaders as the way to bring workers into the struggle; this path is elaborated in Klein's recent book "No is not enough". Some would-be socialists--such as a section of the Trotskyists--differ sharply with the union leaderships, but still regard them as objectively the voice of the workers movement. The result is that many leftists praise empty statements from the official union leadership as if they meant anything in practice.
So it's welcome that oaklandsocialist talks about what the union leadership is actually doing. That's a step towards considering what must be done to change the situation in the unions and other working class organizations. But oaklandsocialist has only started this discussion, and is somewhat simplistic in what it sees as the path forward. It goes on to suggest that a mass working class political party would provide the alternative that would lead to the unions coming out en masse and transform how the confrontations with the far right take place. Such a party is indeed needed, but the path towards it is not as simple as oaklandsocialist suggests, when it links to another article that puts forward conditions for what a working class candidate should stand for and states that "Just a few credible such candidates in a few cities in the US might really start the ball rolling." (See https://oaklandsocialist.com/2017/05/08/lack-of-a-working-class-political-party-a-deafening-roar/) A truly independent working class party needs to be so much more than just a coordination of local election campaigns; among other things, it needs a much, much stronger connection to the ongoing mass struggles than that, a much more serious look at organization then just formulating conditions for candidates for office, and a deeper recognition of the crisis of orientation in the left.
-- Joseph Green, Detroit Workers' Voice
Below is an excerpt from the article on the oaklandsocialist website:
In almost all the protests against racism, against the police, and against Trump (e.g. at the airports after Trump’s Muslim exclusion orders) the unions have been missing in action. Their absence has been so constant that hardly anybody even notices it anymore. There are two main reasons for that absence: First is that the "progressive"/liberal wing of the Democratic Party does not want the social disruption of these protests. They also support the police. And the union leadership takes its political marching orders from this wing of the Democrats.
The second reason is that these same union leaders are granting concessions after concessions to the employers. They are doing their best to suppress any desire of the members to fight for their own interests. So they have a contradiction: How can they mobilize their members to fight the right if they are facilitating cuts to their members' living standards at the same time? ...
In place of mobilizing their members, the union leadership will sometimes send a few of their representatives to speak at protests like the one in Berkeley. Invariably, these union leaders boast about how they "represent 10,000 members", or some such. This is met with great cheers, but the real question is: "So, why didn’t you try to mobilize them?"
Unfortunately, even the socialist left in general refuses to discuss this role of the union leadership. They never raise it when they speak and they don’t raise it in their newspapers. Instead, the speakers usually content themselves with thunderous condemnations of racism, sexism, income inequality and sometimes even capitalism itself. What also never gets raised is: What is the general path, the general trajectory, that the movement has to follow if it is to advance? What are the next concrete steps to be taken along that path?
The full article can be found at
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Posted on October 3,