Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
The brutal murder of George Floyd on 25 May by police in Minnesota has sparked a rebellion by working-class African Americans and anti-racists across the US. Floyd was unarmed and was detained for allegedly presenting a counterfeit $20 bill.
The police forced him to the ground and kneeled on his windpipe asphyxiating Floyd to death over 8 brutal minutes captured on a video. That was done because George Floyd was black.
George Floyd's death is just one of a long line of those killed by the cops. General police violence and discrimination towards black communities is everyday life for working-class Black Americans. Latino and indigenous communities have similar experiences.
Racial violence isn't just endemic to the police. It's a key part of the structure of American capitalism and the state.
African-Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans and at almost twice the rate of Hispanic-Americans. In 2018, African-Americans made up around 13% of the US population, but represented almost a third of the country's vast prison population.
African Americans are more likely to be arrested and receive harsher sentencing for the same crime than whites.
The prison-industrial complex is a $1.31 billion business in which unfree prison labour is hired to US corporations.
The real median wage of black men are 30% lower then the median wages of white man. Black women's real median wage is 21% lower than white women's. The racial pay gap is larger than the gender pay gap. Black labour is cheaper, and it's in the interest of capital to keep it that way.
All workers in the US have seen a stagnation or even slight erosion of their wages in real terms over the last 20 years. But within that, the racial differential in wages between black and white workers has grown.
Politically, too, racism is a structural pillar of the state. Over the last 50 years black people have continued to have their vote suppressed. Black voters are struck from the voting list for convictions, and other tactics are used to deny black voters an equal vote, such as gerrymandering congressional and other electoral districts.
Racist demagogy got Trump to power and has been to a lesser extent the stock and trade of the Republican Party since the days of Nixon. The Democrats are not immune either.
Since George Floyd's death, cities and towns across the United States have seen protests, marches and mobilisations asserting "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace". These have often been met by militarised police, curfews and National Guards.
The ruling class, whether Trump, the media, or Democrat governors. have focused on stories of rioting. Episodes of looting have led to some liberals and moderates to back away. There is no moral equivalence between the racialised violence of militarised police plus the continued looting of the black working class by the state and capital, and the actions of protestors. The protection of property comes well above the preservation of black lives in the minds of even liberal politicians.
Let's be clear, people in black neigbourhoods have the right to self organise to defend themselves against police occupation and incursions. The burning of the police station in Minnesota was a political act and should be defended as such.
There can be no real peace on the streets of the US until there is racial and social justice.
Trump and the right in the US fell back upon age-old racist tropes that black protestors are manipulated or stirred up by "outside agitators" and "antifa", as though working-class black people have no political agency of their own.
There is a softer liberal version of this that sees this rebellion as a spontaneous emotional response rather than a conscious political mobilisation by a movement informed by decades of struggle. Especially by memories of the civil rights and black power movements of the 60s.
White socialists, anarchists, and anti-fascists have been involved in protests and solidarity, but centrally this is a working-class black rebellion led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Hopefully as the movement develops more permanent and democratic bodies of self-organisation will emerge, able to act as a permanent counter to police occupation.
Whilst by no means perfect as a model, Free Derry in 1969 shows how oppressed working-class communities can expel heavily armed "police" and military forces and at the same time experience, on a local level, working-class democracy.
Such islands of resistance cannot stand alone and will need a broader political movement demanding national change. After Trump's election, many promised to "resist", but the resistance has been muted and isolated. Too many are pinning hopes on the Democrats winning the election. This mobilisation gives hope that an actual "resistance" of the oppressed and labour movement can develop coherence and structure.
Trump's response has been to threaten more violence. He promised "shooters" for "looters". In his address on 1 June he said "I'm dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property."
As he spoke. peaceful protesters a few hundred feet away in Washington DC were being assaulted by military police armed with CS gas, rubber bullets and horses.
Trump said the 1807 Insurgency Act would be used. It is not hyperbole to say this us one of the most dangerous moments in recent US history for all those who fight for social justice, civil rights and racial equality.
Union activists throughout America have expressed solidarity. That needs to be stepped up. Bus drivers in Minnesota and New York have refused to transport those arrested. The US labour movement and socialists need to stand with and as part of black working-class communities. This means taking up this struggle and acting with deeds and not just words.
The advance of the working-class movement in the US has again and again foundered on deep racial divisions and the depth of ideologies of white supremacy in parts of the working class. The labour movement cannot become central in the struggle against all oppressions unless it takes seriously the task of breaking down the mind-forged manacles of 400 years of racism.
The task of forging a class-conscious working-class anti-racist movement rooted in workplaces and the street is the task of all socialists, and never more needed than now.