Unions, unity and Standing Rock

 September 20, 2016


Workers all over the world are in the fight of our lives to keep predatory, profit-hungry capitalism from killing us, our loved ones, our jobs and work, our communities, and the very earth and water.

The epic struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) gathers together and upholds the struggles of poor and working people for survival while fighting to protect the water and defend Indigenous sovereignty. Led by people from the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) and hundreds of other Indigenous nations, the encampment has been joined by many non-Native people from many communities.

The #NoDAPL battle at Standing Rock embodies the old union slogans, “An injury to one is an injury to all” and “Solidarity forever.”

But at the height of this battle, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, has issued a statement attacking Standing Rock. He defends DAPL, he says, because it provides “family-supporting jobs” and “makes the U.S. more competitive.” He demonizes the Standing Rock resisters, claiming they are “attackers” who are holding workers’ jobs “hostage.”

In those phrases, Trumka ignores centuries of European colonization and U.S. government genocide and exploitation of Indigenous nations — the settler and military massacres, the seizure of resources and land, even the theft of Native children from their families and their cultural and physical torture at government schools.

Trumka’s words are a betrayal of the working class. He is siding with big business as it fracks over workers and leaves behind devastation in communities. These words deny that Indigenous people and people of other oppressed communities are integral to the multinational working class that has built the infrastructure of the U.S., from colonization to capitalism — built the canals, the railroads, the interstates, erected the skyscrapers and put up the telephone lines, laid the digital cables and now answers the phone calls when we need assistance.

This is the same old business-unionism mistake — supporting corporate privatization in the hope of getting short-term jobs instead of fighting for the long-term progress that solidarity between the workers and oppressed communities can win for unions.

Many unions support Standing Rock

But Trumka isn’t speaking for all the unions in the federation. Others have come to the defense of Standing Rock with solidarity statements affirming the unity of demands of workers and oppressed people: the ATU transit workers, the California Faculty Association, the Communication Workers, the National Nurses United, the National Writers Union UAW Local 1981, the UE electrical workers, and locals from across the U.S., including the San Francisco region of the Inlandboatmen’s Union/ILWU and the homecare and public-service workers of SEIU 503 in Portland, Ore.

Labor for Palestine has started a petition demanding the AFL-CIO reverse its pro-corporate, anti-worker, anti-Indigenous support for DAPL.

The AFL-CIO should never be backing business interests oiling their way across North Dakota and the rest of the country to get megaprofits as federal and state governments ease their way.

Because the intent of capitalists will always be to cut jobs and break unions. Certainly there are enough unmet human needs and deteriorating infrastructures to provide work for millions for a long, long time.

As Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe author and activist from the White Earth Nation, has said: ”Flint, Michigan, has a problem. … What we need is those skilled laborers to be put to work in Flint.”

She says, and we wholeheartedly agree, ”Pipelines for peopl