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Workers Vanguard No. 968

5 November 2010

ILWU-Initiated Rally Demands “Justice for Oscar Grant”

There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

Hundreds came out for a rally at Oakland City Hall on October 23 to demand “Justice for Oscar Grant”—the young black apprentice grocery butcher who was executed in cold blood by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Day 2009. The rally was initiated by Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which moved its regular monthly stop-work meeting to the same day, shutting down Bay Area ports for eight hours. At the rally, a contingent of some 50 to 100 mainly black longshoremen reflected the deeply felt anger over the racist cop terror that is a daily and deadly fact of life in the inner cities of this country. The longshoremen were joined by representatives of other unions, including the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the Oakland Education Association.

The video images of Mehserle shooting Grant in the back—as he lay pinned by another cop face down with hands behind his back on the Fruitvale BART platform—ignited an outpouring of anger against police terror on the streets of Oakland. The July 8 verdict of “involuntary manslaughter” handed down to Mehserle by a jury that included not one black person, in a trial that was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles, was another slap in the face. At the July meeting of Local 10, Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, appealed for the union to mobilize in protest. This struck a real chord among the membership, which is majority black.

Addressing the justified explosion of outrage over Grant’s killing, a 12 January 2009 statement by the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense, which is fraternally allied with the Spartacist League/U.S., fought for a class-struggle perspective, calling to “link the anger of the ghettos and barrios to the power of our class, the multiracial labor movement.” But rather than a militant mobilization of labor’s power in opposition to the capitalist state and its police killers, the organizers of the October 23 rally channeled this anger into appeals for the capitalist state to “jail killer cops.” At an October 20 press conference, Local 10 executive board member Jack Heyman, a central organizer and an emcee of the rally, said, “Cops have to go to jail when they commit a crime just like anyone else.” While the jails of this country overflow with victims of the marauding cops, Heyman seizes upon the widespread disgust with the slap-on-the-wrist verdict for Mehserle to promote the lie that the cops’ capitalist masters will punish their armed thugs if they “commit a crime.”

The entire system of capitalist “law and order” is enforced through crimes against the working class and oppressed—frame-ups, lies, police terror and murder. The cops are the hired guns of the ruling class whose purpose is to maintain capitalist rule through violence: breaking strikes, rounding up ghetto and barrio youth, repressing social protest. But left-talking trade-union bureaucrats like Heyman and the bureaucracy’s water boys in the reformist left, who were at the rally peddling various schemes to make the cops “accountable,” try to lull the working class into believing that they can obtain “justice” from the courts of the capitalist class enemy.

Speaking out of the other side of his mouth at the October 20 press conference, Heyman allowed, “I don’t believe that there’s justice in the courts, that’s my opinion.” But rather than warning workers against such illusions, Heyman deceived them, stating that “we’re sending a message to the powers-that-be that justice has to be served.” A rally leaflet promised that “together we can make sure that the killer cop gets the maximum sentence,” while several speakers at the rally argued that it was only because of the protests against Grant’s killing that Mehserle was convicted. That is true, but the purpose of the conviction was to try to put the lid on the mounting fury directed against racist police terror. Even in the event that Mehserle serves jail time, the reason would be to refurbish illusions in the state as some kind of “neutral” arbiter that could serve the interest of the exploited and oppressed. On the rare occasion that the capitalist rulers are forced to “punish” one of their gendarmes, the aim is to bolster the effectiveness of the state’s armed forces in repressing the working class, black people, immigrants and any and all perceived enemies of the capitalist state.

As the 12 January 2009 statement by the Bay Area LBL, calling to “Mobilize the Power of the Multiracial Unions in Protest!” observed:

“The hard truth is that there will be no end to police brutality short of the destruction of this entire system of capitalist exploitation and racial oppression. But a massive protest based on the organized muscle of the labor movement would give the cops and their capitalist masters some pause. And it would drive home the point that the interests of the working class are inseparably linked to the defense of the ghettos and barrios, the defense of immigrant rights and the fight for black freedom.

“The Labor Black League for Social Defense stands for mobilizing the masses of black, immigrant and all working people in integrated struggle based on a program of class struggle—the understanding that the interests of the working class are irreconcilably counterposed to those of the capitalist class exploiters, their state forces and agencies and their political parties, be they Democrat, Republican or Green.”

Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!

When asked in an interview on KPFA radio whether the timing of the rally might also have something to do with mobilizing for the November 2 midterm elections, Local 10 executive board member Clarence Thomas responded that this would be a mobilization “independent of the two political parties” and that there would be no Democratic or Republican politicians on the platform. There weren’t. However, this doubtless had more to do with the fact that appearing at a rally to protest the police execution of Oscar Grant was too hot to handle for the capitalist Democratic Party candidates who are vying for electoral support from the growing army of cops, prison and security guards in California. Chiming in behind Thomas, Heyman offered that “people can go to the ballot box if they want,” but once again in his “opinion,” “the candidates that are running for mayor in Oakland are all pro-cop.”

What neither Thomas nor Heyman mentioned is that the ILWU International and the Local 10 bureaucracy, of which they are longtime members, have been pulling out all the stops to mobilize the membership to get out the vote for the Democrats, who represent the very capitalist system that the cops are sworn to “protect and serve.” This includes California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, a former Oakland mayor, whose cops fired rubber bullets and other “non-lethal” projectiles at longshoremen during an antiwar protest on the Oakland docks in 2003. One of his first acts on taking his present office of California attorney general (the state’s top cop) was to arrest the former Black Panthers of the San Francisco 8 on frame-up charges that had been thrown out over 30 years ago!

At the rally, Thomas declared: “We want union jobs! We want living wage jobs! We want jobs for residents of West Oakland.” The increasingly impoverished and destitute conditions of life for the black population of the West Oakland ghetto are a deeply felt issue for many black longshoremen, who also take a lot of pride in the gains that were made for black workers in the Bay Area through the class battles that built the ILWU. But Thomas’ call for jobs is not based on any perspective of struggle. Rather the ILWU Local 10 misleaders are going all out to get the membership to campaign for Democratic mayoral candidate Jean Quan by promising she will back the ILWU in getting the jobs that will be opening up with the development of an intermodal terminal at the former Oakland army base. Meanwhile, the Teamsters are backing Quan’s fellow Democratic Party contender for Oakland mayor, Don Perata, to the same purpose—i.e., as their ticket to jurisdictional “rights” at the terminal.

Thus, although much was made of labor unity at the October 23 rally, behind the scenes is the sordid competition of the ILWU and Teamsters bureaucrats, who pit union against union in the scramble for jobs while shackling workers to the bosses’ parties. What is needed is joint struggle by the ILWU, Teamsters and other unions to protect everyone’s job and extend union rights to all workers in the industry. This includes organizing the unorganized, such as the thousands of largely immigrant port truckers. But to the contrary, the misleaders of both unions point to these workers as a potential “threat to national security,” as part of their pledge of allegiance to the government’s “war on terror.” It is precisely these politics of class collaboration that have deeply eroded the fighting strength of the unions, leaving the ILWU increasingly isolated in a sea of unorganized workers on the West Coast ports.

The killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, where liberal black Democrat Ron Dellums is mayor, brutally exposes the hoax that the election of a black man, Barack Obama, as president represented progress toward black equality. Amidst the increasing devastation of the livelihoods and very lives of the working class and poor, particularly blacks and immigrants, illusions in Obama are eroding. The Local 10 leadership tries to refurbish support for the Democrats with the promise of union jobs. The bureaucracy’s double-talkers like Heyman and Thomas simply give this game a “labor struggle” cover, claiming to mobilize the union’s power independent of the bosses’ parties against cop terror while peddling deadly illusions in the inherent “justice” of this system.

A genuine fight against police terror must be built in implacable opposition to the capitalist state and its political parties. It also must entail an unwavering commitment to the fight against black oppression, attacks on immigrants and every other manifestation of the tyranny and barbarity of this system. To lead this struggle requires a new class-struggle leadership of the labor movement and the forging of a multiracial revolutionary workers party. As the Bay Area LBL statement concluded, such a party “will lead the way to uprooting this system of exploitation and oppression, which is enforced by racist cop terror. When those who labor rule, the tremendous wealth of this society, created by the working class, will be used to wipe out racial oppression and provide a decent life for the working class, blacks, immigrants, women, the poor, the young and the aged.”


Workers Vanguard No. 968

WV 968

5 November 2010


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