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Updated: 18.12.2012 15:51
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Rassismus in New Orleans. Auch in den Gewerkschaften

Wade Rathke ist "Chief Organizer" des SEIU Locals 100 und von "ACORN" einer Solidaritätsorganisation, initiiert vom Gewerkschaftsbund AFL-CIO, die seit 1970 rund 175.000 Familien quer durch die USA als Mitglieder gewonnen hat. In seinem persönlichen Blog hat Rathke eine Polemik gegen die (durchaus erfolgreichen) Versuche der (meist afroamerikanischen) "Community Labour United" Gruppen gestartet, Basis-Solidarität mit den Hurrikan-Opfern in New Orleans zu organisieren. Neben einer international durchaus verbreiteten Arroganz (wir sind gross - wie lange noch? -, die sind klein...) schwingen in seinen Vergleichen dieser Anstrengungen mit der "Papierregierung" eines Herrn Chalabi im Irak notwendigerweise rassistische Untertöne (bei denen es nicht bleibt) mit. In einem offenen Brief an die Gewerkschaften wird diese Haltung als exemplarisch für eine Strömung in der Gewerkschaftsbewegung kritisiert, deren Rassismus den Teil der US-Bevölkerung, der der Gewerkschaftsbewegung nachweislich am nächsten steht - eben die Afroamerikaner - zu Recht von den Gewerkschaften fern hält. Der (englische, mit kurzer deutscher Zusammenfassung) offene Brief "An Open Letter to the Labor Movement Regarding Katrina" unterzeichnet von einer ganzen Reihe bekannter AktivistInnen vom 19. Oktober 2005

An Open Letter to the Labor Movement Regarding Katrina

October 19, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

The crisis for the working class (whether employed or not, waged or not) continues to grow. Even as the nation, and especially the poor and Black working class of the Gulf states and New Orleans in particular, tries to pick up the pieces after Katrina's (and Rita's) devastation, the assault by capital and their partners in the government grows more intense - the suspension of Davis Bacon and OHSA safeguards, plans to defund the safety net to finance business interests in the reconstruction of the region, little thought to how those left behind will find a home in the reconstruction process and its outcome. The Democrats have failed to articulate a credible alternative to this plan or address this crisis in any significant way.

It is also true that the flip side of disaster is opportunity. For the trade unions the moment presents a unique opportunity, not open since the sit-downs of the 1930s, to bring dignity, voice, a living wage and benefits in the form of unions to the masses left behind in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, particularly the poor and African American. It is a well established fact that Blacks are the most pro-union force in the U.S. They have proven time and time again to be this country's most dedicated fighters of oppression. But the trade union movement may not be able to take advantage of this opportunity unless it addresses issues not yet confronted in any meaningful way by the debate and the programs of the two new federations.

Now these issues have surfaced in the wake of Katrina, specifically in a piece by ACORN and SEIU leader, Wade Rathke entitled 'Chalabi and Katrina' (For full text see, www.chieforganizer.org, blog entry 'Chalabi and Katrina, October 3rd) that disparages an organization, Community Labor United, and one of its principle organizers, Curtis Muhammad, with deep roots in the voter registration drives in Mississippi, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and for the last 20 years a part of the New Orleans community.

Days after the hurricane and while struggling with their own displacement, CLU folks began to pull together what has become the People's Hurricane and Relief Fund. Since then they have held two national meetings, the first on September 10th with participation from 49 different organizations, and the second, September 30-October 1st, with more than 100 participants from prisoner's and women's rights groups, predominantly black cultural, faith-based and educational groups, non-union worker organizations, community groups, legal scholars and the ACLU. A Coordinating Committee, representing the breadth and community organizations throughout the Gulf Region as well as CLU's own base, was chosen by the survivors, working subcommittees and 6 regional communications centers (organizing offices) have been established.

There has been widespread support for the PHRF both nationally and internationally. (For more see the PHRF website: www.communitylaborunited.net).

With this background we want to examine the issues raised by 'Chalabi and Katrina

1. Confront racism within our movement.

White leaders, even those with a membership base is predominantly Black and Latino, should be careful about making pronouncements about who is genuine and who has the requisite skills.

Confronting racism means understanding that our culture, economic and political system is built on racialized capital and we operate within that context. Diversity should not be confused with power. If we are serious about bringing unions to the south (all those red states and their right to work laws) then we need to cede power to those very folks we seek to organize.

The job of unions is to help give these forces additional information and resources they might not currently have so that they can chart their own future.

2. This movement must be built democratically from the bottom up...

engaging the base to develop tactics and strategies that speak to their constituencies' own needs, culture and history. The grassroots must control their own organization and movement. Remarks that belittle the work of grassroots activists of many years standing, organizing on a model based on experience among working class and poor Blacks of the south, but which does not fit the union template, has no place in the labor movement. We have too much to learn from each other.

3. Fund and collaborate, and be prepared to take leadership from indigenous Black (and Latino, Asian, and Native American) forces on the ground.

Many of these forces prior to the hurricane were not organized in ways that the unions are. They do not have a large paid staff, or offices with all the trappings. But that does not mean that organizations like CLU are 'little bitty' or insignificant or cannot handle money or even to question 'if they could organize a two car funeral if they were driving both cars.' (see 'Chalabi and Katrina') This disrespect fails to on one hand to acknowledge that the base of the labor movement (and with it dues dollars) and the CLU are the same, and on the other hand, the severe obstacles, principally racism and the legacy of slavery that on-the-ground folks face in the south. Networking and informal ties have protected and nourished their organizing long after efforts like Operation Dixie or the Civil Rights Movement have moved on or declared victory. Organizations like CLU demand our respect and support.

4. Build a united front against the enemies of working people, employed or the unemployed poor

Our task is so huge that we can not afford to undercut each other with name calling, patronizing statements and inappropriate remarks. We must air differences in a principled way. Many of us work with ACORN in our cities and are good terms with many organizers from that group. We cannot believe that such a provocative and destructive letter was circulated by Wade to other ACORN leaders or reflects their views. We hope that people of good will in ACORN will give some signals to disassociate themselves from this divisive and chauvinist tactic. None of us has discovered the sure- fire way to organize or build a movement. Let's not give our enemies more fire power than they already possess. The Cold War era purges of the labor movement should have taught us that. We exist at what one might describe as a 'Katrina moment.' It is a moment of both reflection and action. It is a moment to better understand and unpack the issues of race and class that have become so obvious through this disaster. It is also a moment to challenge the prevailing neo-liberal economic theories that were partially to blame for the scope of the disaster, and seem to be central to the discussion of the nature of reconstruction. It is also a moment for a mass response to the disaster, which means that this is not the time for any one organization to hold itself up as the central core or the provider of franchises.

To put it in other terms, this may be a moment to lay the foundations for a rebirth of a labor movement that is in synch with other social forces that share our opposition to the steady slide toward barbarism.

In solidarity, (In alphabetical order)

Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network

Gene Bruskin, co-convener of USLAW

Nemesio Domingo, Chair, LELO

Kathy Engel, founding Executive Director MADRE

Ray Eurquhart, Retired UE 150 volunteer organizer

Bill Fletcher, Jr., President, TransAfrica Forum

Bill Gallegos, Executive Director, Communities for a Better Environment

Stan Goff, Writer-Activist

Badili Jones, member SEIU Local 1985

Hany Khalil, Organizing Coordinator, United for Peace and Justice

Elly Leary, Vice President and Chief Negotiator, UAW 2324 (retired)

Judith LeBlanc, National Co-Chair, United for Peace and Justice

Charles Lester, Director of Programs and Operations, United Domestic Workers of America/AFSCME, NUHHCE

Eric Mann, veteran of CORE, SDS, and UAW

John McCarthy, member TWU Local 100

Charlene Mitchell, National Co-chair Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, National Coordinator, Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq

Marsha Steinberg, Field Representative/Organizer SEIU Local 660

Makani Themba-Nixon, Executive Director, The Praxis Project

Jerry Tucker, former member International Executive Board, UAW

Steve Williams, Executive Director, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER)

Michael Yates


Kurze deutsche Zusammenfassung

Die UnterzeichnerInnen ordnen die Lage der Gewerkschaften zunächst - im Vorspann sozusagen - in die allgemeine Situation des Generalangriffs auf die arbeitenden und erwerbslosen Menschen ein. Sie sehen in all diesem und dem Zusammenwirken mit der Katastrophe aber auch die Kehrseite: eine Chance, wie seit der 30er Jahren nicht mehr, die Gewerkschaftsbewegung der USA zu einer Bewegung aller Teile der Bevölkerung zu machen und dadurch den Schwächungstrend zu wenden.

Dem aber stünden Auffassungen entgegen wie jene Radhkes, die den (traditionellen) Rassismus der US-Gewerkschaftsbewegung fortsetzten - Auffassungen, von denen die UnterzeichnerInnen nicht glauben, dass sie heute noch vorherrschend sind, aber schädlich.

So führen sie denn auch zunächst an, was die "Community Labour United" und deren Hauptorganisator Curtis Mohammad seit den Tagen der Katastrophe erreicht haben - wesentliche Teile der Betroffenen selbst zu aktivieren, in der ganzen Golfregion.

Im Prinzip führen die AutorInnen drei Argumente und eine Schlussfolgerung an.

1.Muss dem Rassismus innerhalb der Gewerkschaftsbewegung (unsere Bewegung) entgegengetreten werden - und weisse männliche führende Funktionäre sollten prinzipiell vorsichtig sein, bei der Be- und erst recht Verurteilung von Initiativen oder Entwicklungen, die aus anderen Kreisen kommen. Das ist Voraussetzung um die Gewerkschaftsbewegung endlich auch im süden der USA zu etablieren.

2.Wenn gesagt wird, diese erneuerte Gewerkschaftsbewgung müsse demokratisch aufgebaut werden, so heisst dies konkret vor allem, dass die Basis-Initiativen der verschiedenen Gemeinschaften respektiert werden - und ihre Förderung statt ihrer Beschimpfung wäre die Aufgabe der Gewerkschaften.

3.Dies heisse eben auch, die in diesen Gemeinschaften führenden Kräfte zu akzeptieren, statt sie arrogant zu beurteilen - und entsprechende Entwicklungen zu finanzieren.

4.Nur unter diesen Voraussetzungen sei es möglich, einen einheitlichen Widerstand gegen das Kapital, der unter allen Umständen Strömungsübergreifend sein müsse, zu erreichen.

(Zsfsg hrw)

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