Minneapolis riots

No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States. 

On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital. 

The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. 

The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.

By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. 

The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further. 

In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.

On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause. 

This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other. 

Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night. 

Saturday began with Trump threatening to use the national guard to suppress civil unrest; a terrifying prospect for anyone concerned about human life, out of the 12 times this has happened previously in American history, 10 of these times had been in response to black communities protesting state violence and 8 of these deployments resulted in the National Guard using firing on American citizens. Trump’s words clearly had the desired effect as later last night the Governor released a statement that 80% of those arrested had come from outside of his state, a claim unsupported by arrest records, which show that those arrested were predominantly from inside Minnesota and Minneapolis. This false pretext has since been used to justify the full mobilisation of the National Guard. At the time of writing, no one has yet been killed, but with 2500 troops heading into the state, with maybe 12000 more mobilised across the US- ostensibly to assist in the coronavirus pandemic response– this looks likely to change knowing the historic reputation of the Guard.

We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Unions, Lies And The Need For Change

About a month ago we covered the Communication Workers Union’s efforts in balloting its members about the possibility of industrial action. This came as a result of the Royal Mail group failing to live up to its commitments laid out in “The Four Pillars” agreement that would mean a number of protections for the workers and an introduction of a 35-hour, full time work week.

Since covering this it has transpired that the Royal Mail Group took the matter to the high courts, asking for an injunction on any industrial action, claiming that it was simply politically motivated and that there was evidence of “irregularities” in the balloting process. The injunction was ultimately granted, despite the 97% vote in favour of the strike and the CWU refuting the claims of tampering. Although the CWU has stated that the fight is not over, it looks very unlikely that they will have time to re-ballot the 100,000 union members in time for December, a time in which they would have the most leverage to ensure meaningful and positive assurances to their working conditions.

This comes at the same time that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers were similarly denied the right to strike in the high courts despite over 98% support for action, with General Secretary Mick Cash stating on the RMT website:

Despite an overwhelming vote for action we have failed to meet the arbitrary thresholds set by the Government and the fact that the tube cleaners will now be denied the right to strike is wholly down to the toxic combination of the Tory anti-union laws and a bullying and hostile environment created by ABM.

The Conservative Party has a long history of anti-union sentiment. One of the most recent examples of this was the announcement of the Trade Union Bill in 2015, just 20 days after the Conservative Party took power. The contents of this bill are as follows:

  • A 50 percent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts
  • An additional 40 percent yes vote requirement in ‘core public services’ (health, education, transport and fire services)
  • New time limitations on ballot mandates
  • Proposals to prevent alleged intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike
  • Tightening regulations on picketing and the introduction of new criminal sanctions.
  • Removal of the ban on using Agency Staff to replace striking workers. (A ban that was in place since 1973)
  • Changes to the operation of the political fund element of trade union subscriptions
  • Further restrictions on check-off facilities for trade union subscription collection
  • Threats to facility time for trade union representatives

These restrictions were put in place on top of already existing restrictions which makes Britain one of the most anti-union countries in the western world. In January of 2015 a European Committee on Social Rights criticised the UK for being in excessive breach of workers rights. They concluded that the government failed in its duty to protect workers from unpaid overtime, unpaid holidays and inadequate rest periods.

David Cameron constantly disguised many damaging decisions and policies with the pretence that his Tory government was the real party for working class people. In a statement to his first cabinet he said:

I call it being the real party of working people, giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a pay cheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family. And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.

Quite the rhetoric, but with the benefit of hindsight it becomes obvious that these were just more empty platitudes from elitist, greedy, career politicians. Not convinced? Let’s compare the statement to the statistics over the past 4 years.

“I call it being the real party of working people…” – While many of the poorest people in the country had to face the brunt of austerity, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne reduced the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, saving the richest in the country roughly £554,000 each a year. Between the tax years of 2013/14 to 2017/18 this cost the British taxpayer £8.6 Billion. Money that could easily have went to the horribly underfunded NHS, schools or local governments. Not that this mattered to those that can afford private healthcare and private education.

“giving everyone in our country the chance to get on, with the dignity of a job, the pride of a paycheque, a home of their own and the security and peace of mind that comes from being able to support a family…” – Where to start with this one. Around 1 in 40 people in employment in the UK are on zero-hour contracts. These workers have no stability and no guarantee of enough to get by on. Many workers are employed on a contractor basis so that employers can exploit them with no guarantee of holiday entitlement or sick pay. A lot of people can’t afford to own their own homes either. People born in the late 70’s had a 43% rate of home ownership by the age of 27. In contrast, people born in the late 80’s/ early 90’s have a rate of just 25% of home ownership. There are more than 4 million people living in deep poverty, with 7 million people affected with persistent poverty. 73% of children in poverty live in a family in which an adult worked for a living. Not even a secure job can assure you the basic need of taking care of your family.

“And just as important for those that can’t work, the support they need at every stage of their lives.” – This might just be one of the most blatant and malicious lies quoted. Disabled people are looking at losing £50 a week by 2020 while the wealthiest people fund Boris Johnson and receive tax breaks in return. Many people were deemed ‘fit to work’ and shunted on to jobseekers allowance and told to find a job. This was announced as an incentive by the Tories to get disabled people back to work- because it’s not their disability that’s stopping them from working, it’s just lack of motivation.

More than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died in this country while waiting for welfare benefits.

So, what chance do the trade unions have in helping their members, when faced with a government so cruel and self-serving? One that has done everything in its power to strangle the unions and steal from the poor to give to the rich. We can continue to listen to the lies of the current government that has spent years dismantling this country with money in their pockets and blood on their hands- or we can choose to be rid of them.