Justice at Work stands in solidarity with the Black community and all those who experience police brutality and the daily effects of systemic anti-Black racism in the U.S. At this key moment, when unprecedented numbers of people are turning out across Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United States and the globe to protest violence against Black people, police brutality, racism, and White supremacy, we look to the leadership of community-led organizations and their campaigns. We hope you will support them.
Please read our longer reflections and paying of respects below.
A Moment to Pay Respects
Five days after George Floyd’s murder, members of our team were on a call with a group of workers from Central America who described their workplace in a way that we at Justice at Work hear all too often: racially segregated, with workers forced to toil in illegal, undignified conditions. We heard from them that at their pallet recycling job, the “Americans” work inside with air conditioning; fix the pallets already in good condition; have a place to sit and eat their lunch; are paid hourly and receive overtime, vacation, and sick time. The Central American workers, on the other hand, work outside, fixing the pallets that are in the worst condition. They eat lunch outside, sitting on the pallets. They are paid based on production and forced to punch out at noon so the company can avoid any record of their working overtime. They receive no regular vacation, or sick time, and must purchase their own personal protective equipment. And when they’ve complained, their boss has shouted insults deriding their country of origin and legal status.
These conditions echo those of Black workers like Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death in 1968 by their sanitation truck’s hydraulic ram because they weren’t allowed to seek shelter from the rain in a White neighborhood in Memphis and a segregationist mayor had refused to pay for fixing their vehicle. In the aftermath of Cole and Walker’s deaths, sanitation workers launched their historic “I Am A Man” strike for dignity and respect — and Memphis police shot and killed sixteen year old Larry Payne, a Black strike supporter and student, even as his hands were raised. A racialized order based on anti-Blackness has always been, and continues to be, at the core of the U.S. economic system. State-sanctioned violence protects that order, thwarting efforts to challenge the status quo.
As we support immigrant workers’ demands for dignity within a system still segregated by race and maintained by state violence, we continue to fight for a workers’ rights movement that embraces all workers. This means avoiding and redressing the racism of policies like the National Labor Relations Act, which excluded agricultural and domestic workers in order to leave out Black workers. Many laws still perpetuate the legacy of slavery and the marginalization of people of color. It also means deepening our understanding of how anti-Blackness and White supremacy shape every aspect of life and work in the U.S. And it means continuing to support our partners like the Black-led Brazilian Worker Center, and the Brockton Workers’ Alliance, with Haitian and Cape Verdean members, and bringing workers together to recognize their common interests and wield their common power. But today, most importantly, we pay our respects to the Black civil rights leaders, workers, and protestors of yesterday and today, and to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks, whose killings have catalyzed a movement.