The People’s Strike, a recently formed network of resistance, has come together in the face of COVID-19 to spur the kind of deep and wide organizing needed to pave the way for the tactic they see as ultimately necessary—a global general strike. The group put out a call for people to join the unions’ collective vigil of power in quietude to honor the memory of George Floyd and all those murdered at the hands of the police—Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Walter Scott, among others.
“I see this as being a critical connection between the younger generation who’ve really been disconnected from labor,” explained Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike, “to expose them to the power of their own creativity and the power of their labor.” Akuno says Black youth are struggling in various ways as they face a jobless future from the reality of a jobless present.
“This step that the ILWU, ILA and Teamsters are taking addresses the deep issues at the heart of COVID-19;” he explained, “the underlying white supremacy and racism, which are the reasons why the whole pandemic has played out so catastrophically for the Black community.”
Historically, ILWU has been at the forefront of the labor movement’s response to police murders. On October 23, 2010, it shut down five Bay Area ports demanding justice for Oscar Grant and jail for the killer cops. The union’s very inception derives from the police murder of six strikers in 1934 that led to a general strike in San Francisco that shut the entire city down for four days.
“At that time San Francisco was the number one port city in the world,” Thomas explained. Even the tale of how Black workers joined the industry is one of exploitation. “Before 1934, most of the Black Longshoremen were used as strike-breakers,” he instructed. “They used us to break the strikes, but they didn’t keep many of us on.”
He credits strike leader Harry Bridges, and other communists and leftists like Henry Schmidt, for changing that. “They went to the Black church and appealed to Black pastors to go into their congregations to address the parishioners, saying ‘we have a new deal to offer you, a real new deal. If you support us on the picket line, we will ensure your inclusion into the union.’ They made good on that promise,” he said.