Delegation walked away from weekend march when tone of the rally changed
By TIM ROWDEN
More than a thousand people turned out for a Justice for All rally and march in downtown St. Louis Oct. 11 as part of the #FergusonOctober/Weekend of Resistance stemming from the Aug. 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
In a rally at Memorial Park at 15th and Market streets, the Missouri AFL-CIO’s delegation provided food and water and handed out signs and T-shirts calling for “Justice for ALL of Us.”
Other unions, councils and union supporters represented included Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Jobs with Justice, the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, SEIU, CWA Local 6355 and Show Me $15, the coalition of fast food workers fighting for better wages and working conditions. Local union members were joined by two busloads of union members traveling from Chicago.
The state federation had hoped to use the rally to focus attention on the issues of economic disparity, political disenfranchisement and an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, but the federation’s delegation declined to march when some protesters – many of whom came from other cities and with their own agenda – began showing up with signs calling for the immediate indictment of the Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson.
“The reason we’re here is to convey the message that this tragedy begins with the problem of economic injustice,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis.
“People don’t make enough money to properly support a family and they have to work two or three jobs, which hurts family life and hurts kids, and this is what happens.”
The AFL-CIO has fought for economic justice since its inception, Louis said.
“When people have a union contract, they are protected by a non-discrimination clause. They have guaranteed wages and benefits. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay. You get the benefits you deserve.”
Louis praised St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and the entire St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for working with organizers to ensure the rally and march occurred without incident.
The facts and circumstances of Brown’s death remain under investigation by a grand jury.
What’s more, Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, is a union member, as is Wilson.
As AFL-CIO International President Richard Trumka put it in a speech last month at the Missouri AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis, “Our brother killed our sister’s son, and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is.”
But that does not mean a rush to judgment, or that the grand jury’s decision will address the underlying issues of inequality that have surrounded the tragedy.
Which is why the calls for indictment prompted the Missouri AFL-CIO to step back from the weekend march, though not from its commitment to broader social justice for all working Missourians.
As Trumka said in his speech: “We cannot afford to have ‘my issues’ and ‘your issue,’ we must ALL stand together and mobilize around our issues… We have a choice: We can either live our history or we can change it.”