Black unionists link expulsion of lawmakers to billionaire racists
The GOP expulsions of two Black lawmakers in Tennessee is bringing fresh attention to the billionaire money funding white supremacy across the country. | AP photos

WASHINGTON —The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists linked the white right Republican majority’s expulsion of two Black Tennessee state legislators to white nationalism and its billionaire backers. The two state reps have since been reinstated.

CBTU’s strong statement came just after the AFL-CIO also condemned the expulsion of State Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, as “an affront to democracy,” joining an ever-growing chorus of opposition.

In the Tennessee House there are 99 seats, 60 of which are held by Republican lawmakers who ran unopposed. The racist and right-wing undemocratic gerrymandering has effectively put an end to democratic election of representatives in most of the state, therefore.

CBTU also linked their expulsion to another big instance of white racism: The Jan. 6, 2021 Trumpite invasion, insurrection and coup d’etat try at the U.S. Capitol.

The Republicans evicted the two first-year Black lawmakers for leading a peaceful protest on the House floor, demanding action on gun control. One of the two used a bullhorn to lead chants from the crowded gallery.

Republicans did not act even after a gun-wielding woman killed three adults and three 9-year-olds at a Christian school near Nashville. Instead, they tossed Jones and Pearson. A third lawmaker with them, a white woman Democrat from Knoxville, kept her seat, but only by one vote. She said afterwards the difference was skin color.

Both Jones and Pearson were voted back in by their respective counties’ boards, which had the power to fill the vacancies. The 40-member Nashville-Davidson County Council reseated Jones, 36-0. The 13-member Memphis-Shelby County Board voted 7-0 to reseat Pearson. Four of the six absentees were the Memphis board’s Republicans.

CBTU saw the pattern.

Both the expulsions and the insurrection are “the consequence of white nationalism taking over our government,” its statement said. Billionaires, it said, are in back of that movement.

“Our voice is being silenced. Our victims are being silenced. Justice is being silenced. American democracy is dying in this silence. Mass shootings are about both guns and consequences of white nationalism.” Governments at all levels, CBTU said, “have been overrun by these racists, backed by billionaires who profit off of conflict with deregulation, tax cuts, and cheap labor.

Tennessee a shot across the bow

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, the first-ever Black to hold that job, didn’t make the capitalist link, but they did make the racist one.

They noted the Tennessee lawmakers were tossed just days after the 55th anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis. King had gone there to campaign for Black sanitation workers who demanded the right to unionize with AFSCME.

The fed called expulsion of Johnson and Jones “an affront to democracy,” U.S. values and “a disturbing reminder of an all-too-familiar brand” of racist repression that began after Reconstruction ended and whites retook control of the entire South in 1877.

Shuler and Redmond joined other unions, the NAACP, and Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in denouncing the Republicans’ expulsion of the two. Biden later spoke with all three state lawmakers via zoom and invited them all to visit him at the White House (link to prior story).

“Make no mistake, the move to expel these duly elected and sworn representatives–two Black men–by a majority white, right-wing legislature for taking part in the grand tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, was an act with severe implications, motivated by the systemic racism that has plagued this nation for centuries,” Shuler and Redmond said in their statement.

“It cannot be overlooked that, in the state where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, there was in the legislature a vicious attempt to silence voices speaking on behalf of the constituents who elected them. The people of Tennessee deserve better,” the two leaders said on April 7.

Jones said so, too. “What the nation is seeing is we don’t have a democracy in Tennessee,” he stated immediately after being thrown out.

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.