From BLM to Gen U: How the Spirit of Uprising Lingers in Today’s Labor Movement
The United States is witnessing the phenomenon of Generation U. This generation is an expression of the changing consciousness of today’s young workers – workers who embrace socialist ideas, support unions and challenge exploitation either by quitting their jobs in large numbers, or by challenging corporate giants like Amazon and Starbucks directly in labor campaigns.
This dynamic moment of high labor activism is all about the struggle for black liberation within the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, where we take to the streets or fight in our workplaces for a world where black lives account, what in this racist society they do. The militancy we see today is a continuation of the militancy we saw in the multiracial BLM Uprising 2020 which exploded due to the brutal police killing of George Floyd – one of the biggest uprisings in US history that has sparked international protests.
The powerful connection between the BLM uprising of 2020 and the current moment characterized by Generation U shows how the fight against oppression and exploitation are intertwined, and that capitalism must be destroyed to destroy racism.
What caused the uprising
The 2020 BLM uprising was sparked by mobilizations for democratic demands against police killings and violence against black people. This uprising has occurred against the backdrop of the contradictions of capitalism exacerbated by Covid, which has disproportionately affected black people. Black people were more likely to test positive for Covid and were more likely to die from it. In Milwaukee, at the start of the pandemic, black people made up 81% of Covid deaths when they made up only 26% of population. This overrepresentation of black mortality stems from the discrimination that keeps black community hospitals underfunded and housing segregation, and the economic disparity that has left the homeless population – which is more vulnerable to disease – 40 % Black.
Black people were also often the “essential” workers forced to put themselves at risk to work in places like supermarkets and Amazon warehouses without proper PPE or sanitation of their workplaces. Indeed, the capitalists wanted to continue to make profits by forcing the most precarious sectors of society to continue working. The capitalists too refused to pay for equipment and sanitation required by workers.
The economic desperation and human toll brought by the misery of capitalist society has once again hit black people hardest, thanks to the inherently racist system of oppression and exploitation that profits from our pain, loss and our corpses. This system demands precariousness for black workers and a police force to maintain this disparity by targeting black people for brutalization or imprisonment.
This structural configuration of capitalism that caused the deaths of black workers at Amazon facilities also drove police to murder George Floyd. When Floyd was killed, it was the last heartbreak of this system that people were willing to endure. So they took to the streets across the country and around the world to challenge him.
Where did the activism go?
Both political parties saw – and feared – the power inspired in the working class by the struggle for black liberation. While Republicans openly called for a crackdown on the movement, the Democratic Party sought to both suppress and co-opt it. In an act of cringe, Democrats donned Kente cloth and took performative photos of themselves kneeling to express their mock solidarity with the movement. Meanwhile, off camera, they were calling in the National Guard to quell protesters.
The movement’s bureaucratic tendencies also played a major role in its co-option. In December 2020, ten BLM chapters filed a statement calling for greater transparency and more democratic decision-making for the National Network. This was largely due to the Global Network leadership making decisions that were not representative of the movement; namely, this leadership’s support for the Democratic Party and its alliance with the capitalists. As Darrin Johnsonmember of the Black Power Collective, an offshoot of the BLM that broke away from the global network, explains:
The issue that concerns us the most is the relationship between the Global Network and the Democratic Party. This is hypocritical at best, as the Democratic Party has historically rejected and ignored BLM demands and made it clear that it is pro-police, pro-jail and committed to capitalism… It is a party that is a threat both here and internationally. To ally with them is to ally against oneself.
This leadership, in addition to making financial decisions without communicating with the grassroots, has also partnered with capitalists like One United Bank and Levi Jeans who profit and exploit black people every day.
In the end, these dishonest expressions of solidarity and NGO betrayal of the movement co-opted the movement and led people off the streets and into the polls to elect Joe Biden and others – politicians who are currently bloating the budgets of the police to suppress the next uprising.
But conditions of black oppression and exploitation persist even with the movement off the streets. So, too, is activism in a new form. The anger and will to fight of the black vanguard and uprising participants has bled into today’s Gen U labor activism. black workers, during the pandemic.
The original organization against Amazon at Bessemer warehouse in Alabama was in line with BLM in that it linked the struggle for black liberation with the improvement of working conditions, especially for black workers who are among the most precarious. Many workers at Amazon’s mostly black factory took part in the 2020 protests and then contacted the union because of the grueling nature of their jobs.
The founding of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) was a continuation of the effort begun at Bessemer. The victory of the workers Staten Island JFK8 Facilitywas a powerful demonstration that workers could challenge the most powerful capitalists and win, as well change the landscape of work organization. This effort was led by Chris Smalls who was influenced by the tradition of black labor organizing and the BLM movement.
BLM’s influence can be seen in how the fight for greater rights for black workers has been central to the organizing effort, as it began with an exit from the dangerous working conditions faced by a predominantly black workforce due to Covid. This is also seen in the anti-police “Fuck 12” chants, reminiscent of BLM protests, heard at ALU rallies and even the 2022 Labor Day march demanded by the ALU.
Many labor activists in the Starbucks union wave also come from the BLM movement and see the fight against discrimination as the fight for better working conditions. These harsh conditions impact a large workforce, half of which is made up of people of color. Partly because of BLM’s ideological and political influence, Starbucks workers like Casey say “You can’t be pro-LGBTQ, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro all those things and be anti-union.”
Even the teachers strike which happened this year in the birthplace of the 2020 uprising, Minneapolis, began because of black oppression. When the union proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) to provide layoff protections to educators of color, the city rejected it and the strike began. The strike’s central demands were anti-racist, calling for greater hiring and retention of educators of color and higher wages for a workforce made up mostly of people of color making poverty wages.
An independent party to fight against exploitation and oppression
Many leftists overlook the importance of the black liberation struggle within the American labor movement and the struggle for socialism. However, black liberation has always been a catalyst for sparking greater militancy within the American working class and even the international working class. It also served to inspire the working class to see themselves more as workers by understanding that liberation requires challenging the state and the bosses. For example, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) was influenced by the Black Power movement and saw the labor movement as a strategic place to fight both the social oppression they faced and the capitalist exploitation suffered by all. workers, especially black workers. These movements encouraged the multiracial working class to use its own independent methods and strategic position to stop production in order to fight for black liberation from the capitalist system.
In order for a socialist party independent of the bourgeoisie to lead the working class towards revolution, it must commit itself deeply to the black struggle, understand the influence of the black struggle on the class struggle and have a socialist program. revolutionary towards black liberation. To combine the dynamism of social movements with the strategic advantage of working-class struggle to end capitalism — the greatest material force of racism.