[Chance Zombor, a grievance representative at Briggs & Stratton in
Wisconsin, challenges the resistance to recognizing Black worker
activity as class struggle.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Chance Zombor 
 July 5, 2020
Organizing Work

	* [https://portside.org/node/23367/printable/print]

 _ Chance Zombor, a grievance representative at Briggs & Stratton in
Wisconsin, challenges the resistance to recognizing Black worker
activity as class struggle. _ 

 , Joe Brusky via Flickr 


An interesting thing happens when Black workers do straight-up class
struggle: liberals talk about it as if it’s anti-racism, and
anti-racist activists don’t want to have anything to do with it.

A couple days ago, the family of Mike Jackson, a Black worker at
Briggs & Stratton in Milwaukee who collapsed on the job and later died
of COVID-19, marched on the company and picketed with Briggs workers
and supporters. About 50 people were chanting, “People over
profits!” and “An injury to one is an injury to all!” 

In the run-up to the event, organizers reached out numerous times to
local activists and factions who’ve been leading marches against
racist police violence, but none of them took part in the event or did
anything to promote it. And afterward, liberals congratulated workers
on social media for fighting against white supremacy. 

The race-reductionist compulsion to interpret every manifestation of
militancy by Black people as explicitly anti-racist, and to view Black
people as one-dimensional in this regard, is just bizarre. 

I mean I get where it’s coming from: Briggs executives are all
white, while a majority of Briggs hourly workers in Milwaukee are
Black. And there are very real, brutal, historical conditions that led
to that fact. 

But when Mike Jackson led a job action weeks before his death
demanding safety, Black, white, and Hispanic workers walked off the
assembly line with him and shut it down. The next day, the company
distributed masks that they had been keeping in storage. 

White workers on the assembly line have nothing in common with Briggs
executives. They spend the majority of their waking lives working
side-by-side with Black and Latino workers, sharing all of the same
filthy and unsafe conditions, and paying dues to the same embattled
business union. The color of their skin won’t spare them from a
coronavirus outbreak inside the plant.

Office staff at Briggs, on the other hand, are working from the safety
of their own homes during the pandemic, also regardless of their race.
Is it disproportionate? Probably. But if the numbers were reflective
of the racial makeup of the city of Milwaukee, would the exploitation
and abuse of hourly workers be OK? Would it end? No and no. 

One of the first people I attempted to organize at Briggs was a young
Black worker I saw wearing a hoodie with the slogan “Defend Black
Women at All Costs” emblazoned on the front. I thought it looked
militant, so over time I started cracking jokes with him and asking
him about his views on different things, like the union and the news
of the day. He’d laugh when I talked about the boss, but then one
day he confessed to me that he was conspiring with the boss to “get
rid” of a worker on his line who happened to be a Black woman. She
has since been elected to serve as union steward, and to this day, he
doesn’t pay dues. 

That’s the difference. Without a class analysis, workers can
convince themselves that the real fight is out there in the world
somewhere, not right there on the shop floor between themselves and
the boss. Race-reductionism is hot right now, but it’s disempowering
for Black workers. 

To be clear, I’m not arguing that we should ignore racism for the
sake of building false class unity. The union at Briggs has been very
forward about its opposition to racism. Stewards have been instructed
to be stern with members accused of racism and to advise them that the
union does not tolerate it and is not required to defend it. When
every other business union was zeroing in on workplace violence after
the shooting at Miller brewer
our union put out a statement condemning both violence and racism. And
recently members did a wildcat action in response to racist

As important as these things are, as workers, we have to struggle for
the primacy of class in our movement.

As a union leader, I’ve been approached by journalists and leftist
bloggers who want to tie Mike Jackson’s death to BLM. I’ve been
asked to campaign for my Local to cosign the agenda of liberal
nonprofit organizations. And I’ve had activist managers ask me to
speak publicly as a “white ally” instead of as an affected worker
(despite my racial ambiguity).

There’s a real temptation to try to piggyback on the success of the
Movement for Black Lives, and a lot of pressure to avoid talking about
class when the workers involved are mostly Black. But ultimately,
class struggle is class struggle, even when it’s being waged by
mostly Black workers. 

There’s a special kind of pandering that goes on on the left. It’s
like a bait & switch tactic where white leftists try to manipulate
Black workers into fighting against capitalism by convincing them that
racism and capitalism are one and the same. And they’re so committed
to this tactic that when class struggle happens in a majority Black
shop, the left’s first impulse is to redirect Black workers’
efforts toward a more acceptable starting point: anti-racist

Incidentally, when they’re put on the spot, anti-racist activists
and academics often use this same reasoning to avoid class struggle by
claiming the work they do is already anti-capitalist in nature. 

But for workers, power resides at the point of production, not in the
demands of foundation-funded nonprofits. Mike Jackson and his fellow
workers at Briggs leveraged that power to win one of the demands they
needed to improve their immediate working conditions by shutting down
one assembly line for as long as it took to confront the boss. A
radical, militant labor movement can use it to make sweeping societal
changes by shutting down whole sectors of the economy. 

	* [https://portside.org/node/23367/printable/print]







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