AMERICAN postal workers in Minneapolis are saying Black Lives Matter as over 400 local trade unionists signed a petition calling on workers to resist helping the police suppress the protests.
In the past month, the brutal police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to mass protests across the planet, with millions of people across the world standing in solidarity with African Americans.
While the protests have galvanised and inspired millions, the actions of Minneapolis workers in making sure that the protests were effective were no less important.
Local bus drivers refused to drive police officers to the protests, and all light rail services were temporarily shut down.
Alongside transport workers, nurses, social workers and teachers, postal workers were also central to organising solidarity.
CWU News talked to Tyler Vasseur, an United States Postal Service postal worker and active member of the Minneapolis branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, about the ongoing events, how his fellow workers responded, and why ‘Black Lives Matter’ is important to the trade union movement.
CWU News: Were you on the ground during the initial George Floyd protests? What were the protests like?
Tyler Vasseur: Yes, I was. On 26th May, tens of thousands of people gathered at the intersection where George Floyd was murdered the previous evening, followed by a march to the 3rd Police Precinct, that covers that part of South Minneapolis (and which became famous two days later, as protesters overran the precinct and burned it to the ground).
This was the biggest protest march I had ever seen in Minneapolis – even bigger than the anti-Trump marches post-2016 election which were huge.
In many ways, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I could tell that first night that this was going to be a lot bigger than just a one-off protest rally. There was this raw energy and rage in the crowd at the violence that the police and political system has inflicted on working class people, especially people of colour, for hundreds of years.
We’ve seen this to be true with how the movement has spread nationally and internationally, raising the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’ across the globe.
What was the response to the movement like in your workplace?
Given the massive size of the protests, and that my station services neighbourhoods in South Minneapolis, just a few miles north of the George Floyd memorial site and location of many of the major protests, everyone was talking about the protests.
Some people were scared because of the way the media had portrayed all protests as violent and dangerous. But a majority were in support of the protests and for fighting to stop racist police violence.
CWU News: How did your union respond to the events?
After having conversations with co-workers, I realised many of us were going to the protests as individuals, so I floated the idea to some that we should organise a union member contingent for an upcoming march.
The first two weeks, there were massive spontaneous protests and marches happening all across Minneapolis, and I figured we could just plug into one of those representing our union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC).
But at the end of the first week of protests two separate post offices were burned to the ground overnight (they had the unfortunate situation of being located directly next to police stations).
In many ways this represented the perfect way for our union to get involved in the movement. Because of the explosive nature of the protest and how fast things were moving, rank and file members decided we need to organise something now and get local union leadership to support it later.
We got the time, date, and location set. We got confirmations from over a dozen postal workers that they could attend. Then we brought it to my union’s executive board, won them over and secured their endorsement of the action.
We decided to hold a press conference and rally in front of one of the burned down stations behind the banner ‘Postal Workers Demand Justice for George Floyd’, where we made clear that we stand with the movement. The main message being ‘you can rebuild a post office, but you can’t rebuild the life of a man murdered by the police’.
CWU News: At the moment, many members of our union here in Britain have differing opinions on the protests, and are debating things like whether ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the right thing to be saying or whether their union should be involving itself in this movement. What would your message be to CWU members who are wondering about why the Black Lives Matter movement should be of any concern to their union?
Like I mentioned before, this movement has not only spread across the entire US but internationally as well with huge protest rallies and marches across the UK and Europe. Black Lives Matter is a rallying cry that has been taken up around the world because racism exists everywhere, and it is our duty as the organised working class to fight for our entire class.
For over 40 years the labour movement has been on the defensive, starting with Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK attacking unions and workers rights. This process was even more destructive in the US, where union rates have dropped dramatically.
We are now starting to see the revitalisation of the labour movement in the US, beginning with the West Virginia teachers strike in 2018 which spread across the country.
I believe that if we are to rebuild a fighting labour movement in the US, then our unions need to fight for the entire working class, and that means fighting racist police violence and terror against people of colour.
There is an entire generation of young people moving into struggle, and we have an opportunity in our unions to be a part of this movement against racism and police violence, and to show this new generation that unions are organisations that can be used to fight for progressive change. I think this applies to workers and unions in the UK as well.
Meanwhile, teenagers from Berkeley High in California’s Berkeley brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the Berkeley Hills last Tuesday, speaking out against the city’s history of redlining and segregation and demanding that wealthy, white communities take on challenging conversations and actions to address systemic racism.
The three-hour march began at Ashby BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit station) and ended at Codornices Park, two distinct symbols of the formerly majority-Black, now gentrified Lorin District, and the predominantly white, wealthy North Berkeley.
Shayla Avery, 16, and Ultraviolet Schneider-Dwyer, 17, who organised the march, were clear about their intention from the beginning, and spoke about it during the protest.
‘We’re here to wake the Berkeley Hills the fuck up! Because they think it’s okay to put up a sign, and then call it a day,’ Avery said, addressing the crowd of about 250 young protesters who showed up on a cool, overcast afternoon.
‘There are people up there that do not fuck with Black people, and will not do that ever. There’s a reason why I don’t feel comfortable going up there. There’s a reason I don’t know the names of those streets.’
Avery, who told Berkeleyside recently how redlining and its local impact is not addressed properly in the BHS curriculum (Black History), talked to the crowd about how decades before and after WWII, banks in Berkeley, and cities throughout the Unites States, refused loans to Black residents in parts of the Berkeley Hills, and nearby areas.
This forced them to create cultural and economic communities in South Berkeley, which were disrupted and displaced by the construction of Ashby BART in the 1960s.
The young protesters organised the march after being inspired by two Oakland teens who drew 15,000 people to a June 1 protest in Oakland, and the Pay Your Dues gathering drew a handful of children with their parents, along with many teenagers.
Chaga Kwania graduated from Berkeley High in 2006 and brought his two daughters, 10-year-old Crishayla Moreland and 9-year-old Amiyah Moreland.
‘I liked today because it showed that Black lives matter,’ Crishayla said. It wasn’t the girls’ first protest – they’d also attended an action in the past honouring Oscar Grant.
With chants of ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ and ‘Ain’t no power like the power of youth, ’cause the power of youth don’t stop,’ the group danced, sang, marched and protested down Ashby and Shattuck avenues, through downtown and up Rose Street.
They blasted N.W.A’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’ as they ascended the hill, and shouted ‘Join us’ and ‘Out of your homes, into the streets’ when residents emerged from homes to clap, cheer on protesters, and display ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs.
Police were not present or visible at any point during the march, and Berkeley firefighters honked for protesters after the group separated on Shattuck to make way for their truck.
The protesters hiked up to Euclid Avenue to a soundtrack of Black Bay Area musicians Mac Dre, Keak Da Sneak, Mistah F.A.B, Kamaiyah and E-40, and finally arrived at Codornices Park around 6pm, without having taken any breaks in a roughly 2.5-mile march.
Over the last few weeks, Berkeley High students have presented successful demands to Berkeley Unified School District, organised a ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural project that scooped the city’s own plans for a similar mural, and held more consecutive protests than any other Berkeley group since the police killing of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
Their mood was victorious on Tuesday, but Avery and other speakers demanded more from the large numbers of white protesters who came to the gathering.
Schneider-Dwyer, who Avery introduced as a ‘white ally,’ told the group to ‘get out of your discomfort’ and take concrete actions to support Black Lives Matter, instead of just adopting a title, putting up a sign, or attending a protest to share photos on social media.
With the backdrop of a misty, and picturesque Berkeley Rose Garden, the protesters held up candles and cellphone lights and read the names of people killed by police – Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile, Tony McDade and many others – and the names of influential voices in the racial justice movement like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Marsha P. Johnson.