US trade unions condemn racist rally in Charlottesville

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AMERICA’S nurses’ union, National Nurses United (NNU), has condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Saturday which resulted in the death of a female anti-racism campaigner and many others suffering multiple injuries.

Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, was killed in the attack and 19 others were injured, five of them critically. NNU, with many of its members involved in protests against racism and racist violence, denounced President Donald Trump’s characterisation of the murderous events in Charlottesville as the product of violence ‘on many sides’.

‘There can be no doubt that the appalling display of white supremacy and hatred on display in Charlottesville today was the precipitator of the violence,’ said NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro.

‘As a society, it is incumbent upon all of us to forcefully repudiate all expressions of white supremacy, racial hatred, and bigotry,” she said. Anyone familiar with the history of how white supremacy has stained our nation and our democracy cannot be surprised that continued expressions of that virulent philosophy would lead to violence today.

‘All of our nation’s elected leaders, starting in the White House, have a responsibility to condemn racial hatred and the violence it encourages, and disassociate from those promoting it,’ DeMoro said.

And she praised peaceful protesters who ‘showed the best of America in taking a stand for cultural diversity and understanding among all people. We have a long ways to go to assure the equality, civil rights and civil liberties of all our people. There’s no time to waste.’

Trade unions came out strongly in condemnation of the violence spawned by far-right white supremacist groups over the weekend. ‘Alt-right’ white nationalists marched on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday to protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

After Virginia declared a state of emergency, cancelling the rally, a white nationalist from Ohio used his car to attack crowds of anti-fascist counter-protestors. Despite Saturday’s violence, white nationalists went ahead with a pro-Trump ‘Freedom Rally’ in Seattle on Sunday, leading to clashes between police and anti-fascist counter-demonstrators.

NNU spokesperson Chuck Idelson said: ‘You can’t help but notice the original statement that came out of the White House trying to equate the racism and the violence from the white supremacists with the people who are protesting in response to that.

‘There is no equation here. It’s a false equivalency. There’s a lot of people that are very concerned with the police reaction – or lack of reaction – to what happened in Charlottesville, and contrasting it with the police overreaction in Ferguson.’

Idelson stressed the important role that workers and labour organisations have to play in opposing racism. Opposition to racism, whether it’s from the Nazis or police brutality or attacks on immigrants in this country, has to be a part of the movement for social change, because they’re connected.

‘They’ll always be connected. That’s the history of this country. There was always a direct connection between the perpetuation of racism and the attacks on working people. You can’t really ever separate them. They each have their own character, but it’s critical, you can’t have a movement without addressing both the racism and the class oppression that exists in this country today.

‘It’s important that people speak out about this at this time, to align ourselves in solidarity with people who are standing up to this horrific ideology. It’s not a time to be silent. It’s not a time for moral equivalencies. This is a very dangerous time in America and people need to take a stand and be heard.’

The weekend’s violence spawned nationwide protests and vigils against racism. On Sunday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement on ‘domestic terror’ in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying: ‘Yesterday in Charlottesville, the nation and the world witnessed the hateful views and violent actions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

‘This racism and bigotry is the worst kind of evil in our world and does not represent the true values of America. The true values of our country, values like equality and solidarity, are what have always overcome the most abominable prejudices.

‘Any response must begin with our leaders, starting with President Trump, acknowledging this for what it is: domestic terrorism rooted in bigotry. My heart goes out to the victims especially the family of those who lost their lives including a young woman named Heather Heyer and state Troopers Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke MM Bates.

‘I pray for everyone’s safety. The labour movement condemns this domestic terrorism and remains committed to eradicating the despicable causes of hatred and intolerance.’

Gina Maglionico, of the Virginia AFL-CIO, denounced both the racism of the Alt-right and violence toward peaceful counter-protestors, saying: ‘The working people of Virginia certainly do not and will not stand for this sort of discrimination and hate in our community.

‘Yesterday’s display of beliefs from the Alt-right was a disgrace to the citizens of the commonwealth and all that we stand for. Virginia’s working families have fought long and hard to overcome the discriminatory policies of our past, and in order to create an environment of inclusion and fairness in workplaces across the commonwealth. Certainly we will continue to devote every ounce of our abilities to ensure that rights and safety of all Virginians are preserved.’

• ‘The American workplace is gruelling, stressful and surprisingly hostile.’ So concludes an in-depth study of 3,066 US workers by the Rand Corp, Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles. Among the findings are that: ‘Nearly one in five workers – a share the study calls “disturbingly high” – say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying.’ Workers who have to face customers endure a disproportionate share of abuse. Nearly 55 per cent say they face ‘unpleasant and potentially hazardous’ conditions.

• Nearly three quarters say they spend at least a fourth of their time on the job in ‘intense or repetitive physical’ labour. ”I was surprised at how physically demanding jobs were,’ says lead author Nicole Maestas, a Harvard Medical School economist.

• Telecommuting is rare: 78 per cent say they are required to be present in their workplace during working hours.

• Only 38 per cent say their jobs offer good prospects for advancement. And the older they get, the less optimistic they become.

• About half say they work on their own time to meet the demands of their job. ‘Work is a pretty taxing place for many people,’ Maestas says. ‘I was surprised by how pressured and hectic the workplace is.’

In many cases, less-educated workers endure tougher working conditions. For example, fewer than half of men without college degrees can take a break whenever they want to, compared to more than 76 per cent of men with college degrees.

Likewise, nearly 68 per cent of men without degrees spend at least a fourth of their time moving heavy loads. Maestas wonders whether toxic working conditions are keeping Americans out of the labour force. The percentage of Americans who are working or looking for work – 62.9 per cent in July – has not returned to pre-recession levels and is well below its 2000 peak of 67.3 per cent.

The unemployment rate is at a 16-year low, and many employers complain they can’t fill jobs. There’s a message for employers here,’ Maestas says. ‘Working conditions really do matter.’