Union leaders condemn alt-right caused deaths in Charlottesville
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka | AJ Mast/AP

Union leaders, from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on down, strongly condemned the hate groups whose adherent, deliberately driving his car into a crowd of anti-hate counter-protesters in  Charlottesville, Va., killed one woman and injured dozens.

Several union leaders, including Trumka and Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, also blasted GOP President Donald Trump’s weak initial response, where Trump appeared to condemn “both sides,” failing to single out the white supremacists.

Claude Cummings, head of the Communications Workers’ human rights program, went one step further, saying Trump’s rhetoric was directly responsible for the tragedy and the haters’ violence. Shelton said Trump’s words emboldened the hate groups. Teachers President Randi Weingarten called on Trump to reverse course and condemn racism.

The reactions came as the nation coped with the latest in hate-filled crimes, most notably a white nationalist’s massacre of nine African-American churchgoers at peaceful Bible study session in South Carolina more than a year ago.

That killing led to South Carolina removing the rebel flag from its state capitol and to other government decisions to remove white supremacist and Confederate memorials.

One decision  – by the Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a downtown public park – brought the white supremacists, including the driver of the car, to the city. The driver, James Fields, 20, was later indicted for murder.

“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,” Trumka said.

“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.”

After saluting the victims — paralegal Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed by the car and Virginia state troopers Lieut. H. Jay Cullen and Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, whose helicopter crashed while guarding the governor – Trumka added, “The labor movement condemns this domestic terrorism and remains committed to eradicating the despicable causes of hatred and intolerance.”  Neither police unions nor the Fraternal Order of Police immediately commented.

Cummings was even blunter at laying the violence at the feet of Trump and his backers.

“No one should mistake the cowards who descended upon Charlottesville as a new expression of white supremacy or antisemitism,” he said. “These individuals don’t represent the values held by the vast majority of Americans, but their twisted views and deadly actions are as old as they are ugly.

“What is new and can no longer be ignored is that the racist resentment and divisions pulling our country apart are tolerated and enabled by our president.

“President Trump’s refusal to condemn the racist hate and violent acts of white supremacists is a failure in leadership and basic decency.  We can’t count on our president to represent or demonstrate the core values that truly make America great – diversity, inclusiveness, sense of community.”

After sending condolences to the families of Heyer and the troopers, Cummings also praised the “strength and character reflected in the heroic actions of students, local police, state police and the brave men and women who stood up to overt racists.

“And to those who turn to violence driven by hate, and to the failed leaders who enable them, know that we will not stand for it.  We have the courage to demonstrate the core values that our elected leaders do not,” he said.

Cummings’ statement reflected the fact that Trump’s initial statement did not condemn the haters, but appeared to blame both sides. Trump did immediately tweet condolences for the troopers. “You’re all among the best this nation produces,” he tweeted. He has yet to mention Heyer.

While leaders condemned the violence, other unionists marched against  the hate groups, especially in Seattle. There, local media reported three arrests on August 13 in a downtown confrontation between white supremacists and anti-hate protesters, including members of the Washington Federation of State Workers.

King County (Seattle) Executive Dow Constantine also blasted the hate groups that came into his city. “We fought a Civil War against slavery, and you lost,” he wrote in a statement. “We fought a World War against fascism, and you lost. Today, we stand united against the hateful rhetoric you have brought to our community. And you will lose again.”

Other union presidents and organizations also condemned the racists. Besides that general theme, other excerpts of their statements included:

SERVICE EMPLOYEES PRESIDENT MARY KAY HENRY: “This tragedy is a reminder that as a nation, we have yet to address the long legacy of racism and slavery deeply embedded in our history and experienced in our present day. We cannot be silent and must speak out against the violence and intimidation we have seen in Charlottesville and far too many other cities. Working people must, and we will, join together and organize our communities to eliminate racism at all levels and create a world where everyone, no matter the color of their skin, can participate, prosper and reach our full potential.”

CWA PRESIDENT CHRIS SHELTON said his union’s members “reject the vile actions and rhetoric of the white supremacists who paraded their hatred and bigotry this weekend in Charlottesville, Va.

“These evil actions, which President Trump couldn’t be bothered to condemn, instead offering a weak ‘violence on many sides’ throwaway line, resulted in the tragic death of a young woman and injuries to many more.

“Our government’s failure to condemn these evil people emboldens them, and sets us back in our determination to realize our goal of a nation where all people are respected, all have opportunity and all are full participants in our democracy…We will continue to work with our allies to ensure that hatred, racism and bigotry have no place in our nation. We also commend the law enforcement officers who stood together to end this demonstration of hate.

TEACHERS PRESIDENT RANDI WEINGARTEN: “We are angered and heartbroken by the largest open mobilization of white supremacists in the United States in decades. We grieve the murder of Heather Heyer and the injury of other peaceful protestors against racism and anti-Semitism who, numbering in the thousands, courageously exercised their First Amendment rights in Charlottesville this weekend,” Weingarten said.

“At the same time, we are sick with the knowledge that the racist uprising they protested is of a piece with a long history of racist ideology and terrorism that afflicted every region of our beloved country. There are no shortcuts to reconciling that past; the realities of it are present at every turn,” including the Lee statue and the rebel flags the racists carried.

“We know peaceful protesters against racist hatred” including AFT members at the University of Virginia, which is in Charlottesville, “did the work of bending the arc of history toward justice. We send them our solidarity and our support, our admiration for their bravery, and our commitment that we will be with them throughout whatever is to come.

“We remind President Trump that, as president, he automatically has a role in the long national dispute over race and racism, and whether and how the federal government will use its power in response. When he fails to repudiate immediately the support of David Duke, when he rails against immigrants, when he fails to properly name and condemn racist violence, when he says there is fault on ‘many sides,’ Trump takes the wrong side in this history.”  Trump, Weingarten said, “must denounce white supremacy and white supremacist terrorism in the strongest terms.”

Weingarten’s statement was co-signed by leaders and presidents of her union’s 250,000-member Higher Education Division, including Fred Kowal and Barbara Bowen of New York’s AFT affiliates, Anne Weigard of the Cortland (N.Y.) United University Professions — an AFT chapter — Anthony Johnston of the Cook County (Chicago) College Teachers Union, Kevin Lindstrom of the Minnesota State College Faculty, Shawn Fields of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Bonnie Halloran of the University of Michigan, Linda Olson, Vice President of AFT Vermont, Charles Parrish, President of the Wayne State University (Mich.) joint AFT-AAUP faculty affiliate, David Rives, president of AFT Oregon and Karen Strickland, president of AFT Washington.

Jobs with Justice said the Charlottesville “events call upon us all to speak out boldly against white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism in all forms. Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred, and fear should have no home in America.

“We grieve for the lives lost and pray for those critically injured because of the domestic terrorism committed in Charlottesville. Jobs With Justice condemns hatred, bigotry, and violence against our friends and neighbors. Our hearts pour out to everyone in the Charlottesville community and those watching around the country traumatized by witnessing such barbaric acts of racism.

“When tearing down symbols of hate sparks such vitriolic backlash, the work to fully dismantle racism from our society is far from over. Our nation needs more healing, unifying, and transformation to live up to our values of respect, equality, diversity, and freedom. “Working people know that standing shoulder to shoulder together makes us stronger as a people and as a nation. Jobs With Justice is committed to advancing racial justice as doing so is fundamental to working people uniting to create better workplaces and a more inclusive economy.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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