Jonathon Shafi

Jonathon Shafi

#BLMprotests: Solidarity and class politics

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Jonathon Shafi reports on the ideas discussed at a recent Conter forum with US activists involved in the new movement. He says ideas of class politics and solidarity are well represented in the protests.

On Tuesday night (2 June) I had the great honour of chairing Conters’ meeting with activists from Minneapolis and Mississippi at the centre of the protests, triggered by the killing of George Floyd, against racism and police violence in the US. I Was really struck by the contributions, and in particular from a member of the bus and transit union.

He brought to mind the different types of approaches to state repression and the racism inherent in capitalism on display in the movement.

He took it upon himself to raise the issue among his workplace – not easy thing to do, and carrying significant personal risk. But he was met with support. His fellow workers agreed that they would make a stand, and refuse to transport arrested protesters. Again – that takes a lot to organise.

He said his union were saying “1 down, 4 to go,” in relation to the police officers who apprehended Floyd (one was then under arrest, all four were subsequently arrested ). He – as a white worker – understood the power they had as a union to intervene.

Rose Brewer, a long time activist in the black freedom struggle, brought her experiences to bear on the new outpouring of struggle.

Later, a long-standing black organiser from Mississippi, Kali Akuno of te Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, said a shift in consciousness had taken place – and that he was especially taken aback at the number of white people taking part on the front line. The protest movement was the most profound since 1968, he argued.

After the arrests of the officers, the precedent is being set: police murder will not be tolerated. Kill and you will face a revolt. This has only happened because of the street movement. Fractures are emerging at the top of the US state as well, with the army issuing a statement clearly critical of racist violence. This too is a forced concession, from part of the state that fears for the cohesion of society and its capacity to lead a unified people in a war effort.

It has been solidarity, class unity and collective action that has been responsible. Not following some guide to “being a better ally,” or “renouncing privilege.” Not by individualising the issue – but through mass political action against a racist system.

Firefighters in England sending solidarity to the anti-racist movement in the US, nurses finishing their shifts and going to treat injured activists, bus workers refusing to transport arrested protesters, homes being opened to shelter those affected by teargas. Protests in Haifa, Paris, Berlin, London and across the world. And much else.

It is true there is a big corporate intervention and more liberal conceptions of anti-racism. But there is also an emerging movement of working class solidarity and internationalism. We need to organise with the best tactics of solidarity, of which there are many examples to be found in the new movement.

A recording of the meeting, attended by over 350 activists from around the world, will go up on Conter soon.

Image: Phil Roeder

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