Having the cop unions in our labor confederations does direct harm to Black people and to us all. They are the first line in defense of murderous officers, keeping killers–including those that murdered Breonna Taylor–in their jobs and on the beat. They also block any changes to the system of policing: in the 1990s the police union reacted to a civilian oversight board by instigating a cop riot– an action that not only gutted the already meager reform but was a key part of Giuliani’s rise to power. By having cop unions with us, our dues and whatever political power that the labor has built up over decades is used to protect and expand an institution that is designed to violently oppress Black people and facilitate the exploitation of the working class. That’s why Black Lives Matter activists have criticized police unions for years including in 2016 when Black Youth Project 100 NYC occupied the lobby of a cop union. It is egregious that unions that represent us so often refuse to fight against cop unions and actively expand police power by participating in labor confederations with them.
Any labor leader attempting to claim solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement who does not confront the pernicious role of cop unions in perpetuating police oppression is not helping, and their symbolic gestures and statements are empty. Thankfully, the current mobilizations against the police, begun with riot and rebellion in the streets of Minneapolis, have brought the question to the fore. While the AFL-CIO leadership have already made their reactionary position on this clear by tweeting about police being entitled to collective representation, their being forced to even make a statement on police union membership owes a lot to rank-and-file disillusionment and pressure. Other labor bodies, including the Martin Luther King County Labor Council in Seattle, have broken with the cop unions and even the large and powerful SEIU is currently considering it.