SEATTLE, USA – Seattle Police and National Guard hold the perimeter after dispersing demonstrators with flash bangs and pepper spray
Photo by Mauro Pedro da Silva/Shutterstock.com
In a groundbreaking move, on June 17 the Martin Luther King County Labor Council kicked out the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) by a vote of 55% to 45%. Seattle DSA wholeheartedly welcomes this decision, which members of ours in the labor movement helped push for.
Before the vote, Jane Hopkins, a registered nurse and executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, spoke in favor of the motion, saying “We can’t both stand with a police system that’s set up to hurt our Black community and stand up for our people of color who are oppressed by police.”
This victory is a reflection of the huge impact of the protests for Black lives since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police. This uprising has opened up a discussion in the labor movement about kicking out the International Union of Police Associations from the national AFL-CIO. The King County Labor Council’s vote appears to be the first labor body to take this step since George Floyd’s murder.
Seattle DSA believes the labor movement needs to stand 100% against racism and with the movement for Black lives. As socialists, we understand that the police are a fundamentally racist and anti-labor institution that protects the “law and order” of the ruling class.
SPOG has consistently played a reactionary role reinforcing the racist and unaccountable character of the Seattle Police. In their 2018 contract SPOG fought to overturn the very limited police accountability the City of Seattle had recently established. SPOG also pushed for the City and County to spend hundreds of millions of our tax-dollars on a new police bunker and a new youth jail. SPOG has a long history of publishing racist material in their union newspaper. Now SPOG is trying to overturn the ban on rubber bullets, tear gas, and other chemical weapons that the protests pressured the City council to pass.
Following the vote to remove SPOG, MLK Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant said in a statement “It’s our responsibility to fight for all forms of justice. In the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, we believe that there can be no justice without racial justice. Any union that is part of our labor council needs to be actively working to dismantle racism in their institution and society at large. Unfortunately, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild has failed to do that work and are no longer welcome in our council.”
This represents a significant change from just two years ago when, as Crosscut reported, the majority of the leadership of the labor council “vehemently lobbied the Seattle City Council to ratify the police union’s new contract. Its executive treasurer-secretary, Nicole Grant, said at the time, ‘It’s time for supporters of police reform to back off and allow workers to have their raise.’”
In the debate at the Labor Council meeting, Justin Vinson, a delegate from the Seattle Education Association and a member of DSA, argued “it’s important not to forget that SPOG was aided in all this by the majority of the leadership of this Labor Council who were in favor of overturning the minimal accountability measures.”
The Labor Council leadership criticized the socialist, Kshama Sawant, for being the only city councilmember to vote against the 2018 SPOG contract. While they claimed Sawant’s “No” vote violated labor solidarity, socialists believe it was a principled vote in the interests of the movement for Black lives, labor, and the overall interests of the working class.
Many Labor Council leaders pointed to Sawant’s vote as a key reason for not endorsing her in a close re-election fight in 2019. Likewise, the majority of labor leaders opposed other left-wing candidates in recent years like Nikkita Oliver, Shaun Scott, and Jon Grant, who ran on platforms opposing SPOG and police racism.
It is also an unfortunate fact that the Labor Council nominated SPOG for its “Volunteer of the Year” award at the “Labor Oscars” in 2018. This led Seattle DSA to turn down the Labor Council’s request to endorse and donate to the event.
We believe this recent history is important because it shows that kicking out SPOG is bound up with a larger struggle to transform our unions into anti-racist, class-struggle organizations that fight on behalf of all working people, especially the most oppressed workers. We stand for building rank-and-file caucuses in our unions that can restore a militant labor movement that fights with and for the entire working class.
This whole effort was initiated by workers of color, specifically from Highline Education Association, and snowballed incredibly rapidly. In the week before the Labor Council vote, Seattle DSA union members alongside others helped start an ideologically diverse group of anti-racist union activists to campaign together against SPOG. This group organized a rally of hundreds against SPOG Wednesday night at the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. When the final vote was announced, cheers and celebrations erupted. “We accomplished something big here today,” Anna Hackman, a member of AFT 1789, shouted to protesters. “Our movement just got another win. SPOG’s out of the labor council. That’s one step in being able to hold them accountable … But there’s still more work to do.”
One key next step will be campaigning for our unions, and the labor council, to officially support the demand to cut the Seattle Police budget by 50% and redirect those funds towards social services, as well as massively mobilizing to the protests for Black lives currently taking place, as the ILWU did by shutting down all the west coast ports on Juneteenth. As part of this, it will be important to develop an ongoing cross-union broad left organization that can step up the fight to transform our unions into anti-racist, democratic, and class-struggle organizations.