Slater Crisis and the Union Movement

Written by Workers’ Voice/La Voz de l@s Trabjadores
On May 28, 2020 the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) issued a statement condemning the murder of George Floyd asserting that drivers “have the right to refuse work they consider dangerous or unsafe during the pandemic, so too Minneapolis bus drivers – our members – have the right to refuse the dangerous duty of transporting police to protests and arrested demonstrators.” Chicago bus driver Erek Slater brought this statement to his co-workers to initiate a conversation about safety and the transportation of police and arrestees. That weekend the Chicago Police Department made over 1000 arrests.
Slater is a 14-year veteran bus operator with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), father of three, and an ATU Local 241 shop steward. When he began discussions with his fellow union members over both the moral problems and inherent dangers associated with transporting police or arrestees he was pulled out of service He was accused of initiating a “wildcat strike” for exercising his basic right to discuss his working conditions with his co-workers. CTA subsequently called the police to escort Slater off of the premises. Mr. Slater has presently been taken out of service without pay pending a disciplinary hearing, and has since filed a lawsuit asserting his first amendment rights.
These events are not unique. Over the past few weeks hundreds of thousands of people in 60 countries (Wiki citation for now) have taken to the streets to demand an end to police terror, an end to bloated budgets for law enforcement, and to assert the humanity of Black and other oppressed peoples. Transit workers in New York and Minneapolis also refused to be coerced into aiding the police in the repression of local protests. They were not alone, as nurses, teachers, hotel workers and other organized workers come to the front lines to fight alongside community organizers only to be met with state repression. Working people have been asked by the capitalists and bosses to provide the labor for managing crises while oppressing their democratic expressions.
The multi-racial coalition of youth and working class sectors leading actions in the streets is also raising the demand to defund the police and pay instead for public education, public housing, and other needed services. We support this demand, which in our view can only be fulfilled by increasing workers’ and unions’ control over budgets at the city and workplace level. This is not about moving some dollars around, it is about shifting our political priorities: the wealth we produce should be invested in our basic needs, not in policing and repressing us. Leading to and over the course of these protests many have concluded that reforming the system of state violence is not possible, that it is a necessary part of class divided society, where the working class is further split by racism and sexism. This is why we need to build a movement to overcome class divisions themselves, to end exploitation and all forms of oppression, as they are an impediment to humanity’s ability to flourish.
Today we have two crises. Transit workers and other “essential” workers continue to risk their health as well as their loved ones. Just as with police violence the impact of the Covid crisis is sharply divided by class and race. NPR writes that African-American deaths from Covid are double that of white Americans and the Latinx and indigenous communities also suffer from the pandemic at rates grater than their share of population ( Of the two percent of people in San Francisco’s Mission District that tested positive for Covid almost 95% were Latinx. Of those, 90% were forced to go to work ( In the face of this crisis, and those before it, the capitalists and bosses have continued to tell working class people the same thing. Go to work, suffer, and shut up.
Those like Slater offer us a way forward. Union members and working class organizers must be able to not only discuss their oppression and that of their community, but to also initiate a response. In order for workers to take such a lead our unions must be democratic and able to express the concerns and solutions from membership. Working people themselves have the answers to these crises. ATU, union militants, and community organizers must stand with Slater and assert that workers have the right safe working conditions and to stand up against the violent repression of their communities.  ATU must stand with Erek Slater! Unions must defend their workers and their communities!

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