Bay Area Labor Conference for Mumia

On 12 May a conference of 100 labor defenders of Mumia Abu-Jamal was held in Oakland, California. The conference was sponsored by a number of union locals and Bay Area labor councils, as well as the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), which includes comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency. The main resolution submitted by the LAC to the conference concluded:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that this Labor for Mumia conference calls on the AFL-CIO to act on the resolution before it, [the AFL-CIO's Executive Board has a resolution referred to it from the 1999 AFL-CIO convention calling for 'a nationwide day of labor action to free Mumia Abu-Jamal' that had earlier been adopted by the San Francisco Labor Council] and organize an immediate nationwide day of labor action for justice for Mumia.

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, as part of the nationwide day of action, we call on the California Federation of Labor to implement a statewide 2-hour stop-work action for Mumia, and

"BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that in the event that execution becomes imminent, we call on the AFL-CIO to organize open-ended strike action, to stop the execution and free Mumia Abu-Jamal."

While some conference participants thought this resolution went too far for the union leadership, no opposition was voiced from the floor, and it passed unanimously.

In the week preceding the conference the LAC, after an intense internal discussion, had decided to present another motion as well:

"WHEREAS Ed Rendell has been appointed the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and will play a leading role in the Democratic convention in LA [Los Angeles] in August 2000 and

"WHEREAS Ed Rendell was the Philadelphia District Attorney when Mumia was railroaded and has continued to play an active role in seeking his execution, most recently by having a member of his staff plant a false story about Mumia 'confessing' in Vanity Fair magazine and

"WHEREAS Ed Rendell as DA also turned a blind eye to the systematic exclusion of African-Americans from Philadelphia juries and helped plan and execute the aerial bombing of the MOVE house which resulted in the death of 11 people, including women and children, and the burning of an entire Philadelphia city block, and

"WHEREAS Rendell's ascension to power directly threatens Mumia's life and is strongly reminiscent of the dominant role of Dixiecrat segregationists in the Democratic Party for decades prior to the Civil Rights movement and the historic Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge at the Democratic convention in 1964,

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this conference condemns Rendell's appointment

"FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that delegates to this conference will take this motion back to their respective locals and internationals for discussion and approval."

The Democratic National Convention is a major national event in the American political calendar. The Democrats, one of America's twin parties of racism and imperialist war, traditionally enjoy the support of the majority of blacks in the U.S., as well as the bulk of the trade union bureaucracy. In 1964 opposition by liberal and civil rights activists to the seating of the arch-segregationist Dixiecrats turned into a major national scandal. Rendell's appointment as Democratic chairman provides a possible opportunity to once again highlight the blatantly racist character of this capitalist political machine.

When the proposal to go after Rendell was first aired in the LAC, some opposed it on the grounds that the union tops are so corrupt and Democratic-Party loyal that they would simply ignore the issue so that time spent on it would be wasted. Others argued that the wide support for Mumia within the trade-union movement, particularly in California, made it possible to draw attention to the inherent contradiction between defending a victim of the racist "criminal justice" frame-up system and supporting the Democratic Party and its white supremacist "law and order" policies. Focusing attention on Rendell and condemning his role in the murderous vendetta against MOVE, as well as his sinister machinations in the campaign to execute Mumia, could help convince significant numbers of workers that the unions should withdraw all support from the Democrats. However things play out, such an effort could only help Mumia.

One need not be a socialist to recognize this. A resolution substantially similar to the one above was submitted by the Oakland local to the convention of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) last February. It resulted in a heated debate on the floor. CFT President Mary Bergen stepped down from the podium where she had been presiding, to speak from the floor. She passionately implored delegates to reject the resolution on the basis of "party loyalty" to the Democrats! But her pleas fell on deaf ears--the motion passed with a direction that it was to be forwarded for presentation to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers.

Unfortunately at the Oakland labor conference for Mumia, Bob Mandel, an activist who had supported the motion in the CFT, surprised other LAC members by proposing the following amendment to the motion on Rendell:

"FINALLY RESOLVED that all locals are urged to call on any of their members who are delegates to the Democratic National Convention to raise motions at the Convention calling for a new trial for Mumia and condemning Rendell's appointment."

This amendment made the motion unsupportable and our comrade Howard Keylor was among the few who stood up to vote "No." Mandel, who was once somewhat less subject to pressure, is the sort of opportunist who claims to favor Mumia's release rather than his re-trial, but imagines that the key to success lies in politically adapting to more backward elements.

The 19 May issue of Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League (SL), carries a typically incoherent polemic on recent Mumia events in the Bay Area. Incongruously rehashing their complaints about a 24 April demonstration last year in which LAC members and others who call for Mumia's freedom dared march alongside reformists who want a new trial for Mumia, the SL proudly boasts that this year they dropped their "principles" long enough to march in a politically identical demonstration! In an attempt to strike a more pedagogic note in their polemic against the reformists' demand to re-try Mumia, they reiterate a point we made in our 28 February statement, that when Hurricane Carter got a "new trial" it only resulted in a new frame-up.

While attacking "small-time Bay Area labor fakers like Jack Heyman of ILWU longshore Local 10 and Bob Mandel of the Oakland teachers union and the slimy Bolshevik Tendency" for our activities on 24 April last year, Workers Vanguard does not mention that Heyman, with the support of the LAC, played a key role in initiating the enormously important shutdown of every port from San Diego to Bellingham (north of Seattle) in solidarity with Mumia on that day.

In its denunciation of the recent labor conference for Mumia, Workers Vanguard reprints the first section of the motion on Rendell (excising mention of his role in the Vanity Fair slander and the MOVE massacre, as well as the scandal with the Dixiecrats in 1964) and absurdly asserts that "condemning" the Democratic national chair amounts to "openly embracing a perspective of putting a better face on the Democratic Party." Our advice to the browbeaten hacks who churn out this kind of nonsense is that they might better spend their time trying to put a "better face" on their own unappetizing and increasingly apolitical sect.

Published: 7 June 2000