Open thread for night owls: A working class strategy to defeat white supremacy

Ever since the earth-shaking election of Donald Trump, there have been innumerable articles arguing that Democrats brought this upon themselves by losing white, working-class voters in the Midwest. These articles have been met with a torrent of essays urging Democrats to focus on becoming the party of diversity. And, coming back from the dead like a bloated zombie corpse is Mark Penn and Andrew Stein’sNew York Timespiececallingfor a return to Clintonian centrism.

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All of these discussions imply that progressives can either fight for voters from the working class or communities of color—but not both at once. This line of thinking demonstrates a profound lack of faith in democracy and the electorate’s ability to smell bullshit.

As a seasoned union organizer, I often ask myself whether the pundits offering the aforementioned opinions have ever actually spent time talking to working-class people. By this, I meanallworking-class people. Contrary to the narrative put forth in the mainstream—and even some left—media, some of the most significant work confronting homophobia, sexism and racism has been done by working-class people of all ethnicities through collective struggle in the labor movement.

My first substantive labor movement work was as a union organizer with California’s SEIU Local 250—a healthcare workers’ industrial union, theoretically representing all non-management personnel in hospitals and nursing homes. In practice, the union mostly represented those classifications except registered nurses, who were generally represented by the widely-respected California Nurses Association. Local 250’s membership was racially diverse, with strong representation from African-American, Latino, Filipino and white workers. Standards were generally good for a union workplace: free healthcare, pensions, time off and competitive wages. […]

My job was to explicitly talk about racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, homophobia and religious intolerance as specific barriers to a strong union. A good union member can’t complain about Mexicans ‘taking jobs’ while also asking Latino colleagues to make common cause with him. […]

One story stands out. In preparing for the strike, a number of the African-American kitchen workers kept telling me that the Filipino nursing assistants “were weak” and would not stand up to management. Fortunately, one wonderful African-American female shop steward, Phyllis, pulled them all aside and said that such ethnocentric discussion had no place in our union. When the strike finally happened, not a single Filipino scabbed. In fact, Filipinos were the most dedicated picketers, earning them accolades from everyone in the union.

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