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Workers Were Right to Block Military Occupation of Union Hall

Workers raise a fist in salute after defending the regional labor center
May 13, 2021
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The Twin Cities Solidarity Network states our support for the actions of union workers who defended the St Paul Regional Labor Federation building from occupation by the National Guard, and proudly states that our members and allies were among those present.

    We are a coalition of rank and file workers both inside and outside of the Twin Cities unions, organizing to back each other up through direct action around grievances, support democracy within our unions, and build solidarity unionism in the Cities. We believe in a labor movement where rank and file members direct our unions, practice militant shop floor action, and stand together with the rest of the working class for social demands.

    For the last several weeks, working class communities in the Twin Cities have been under occupation by the National Guard. The Walz administration has forced the members of the Guard, under pain of imprisonment if they disobey, to patrol our streets with military arms and vehicles to “Operation Safety Net”, a plan that is aimed at extinguishing the freedom of assembly, speech, and press of the residents of the Twin Cities. Under Operation Safety Net, forces including local police departments, the state troopers, the National Guard, and federal agencies have collaborated to suppress protests and intimidate working people across our metro ahead of the upcoming verdict in the trial of the murderer cop, Derek Chauvin. The brutality of this joint operation has been in full display in Brooklyn Center, where forces of repression have targeted and assaulted journalists and medics, deployed impact rounds and chemical munitions on crowds of protestors and local residents, arrested nearby tenants, and surrounded and threatened a church that was providing sanctuary to protestors fleeing the violence. This brutality comes as no surprise to those of us who watched the National Guard escort the Minneapolis Police through South Minneapolis last summer, when the MPD unleashed a campaign of collective punishment and violence against our neighborhoods in the closing nights of the uprising. It comes as no surprise to those who watched the National Guard and police stationed to defend the property of the rich while working class neighborhoods were left to defend themselves against racist vigilantes who came to town to do violence against our neighbors of color.

    This follows a long pattern of violence from the police and the National Guard. As union workers, we remember how the MN National Guard helped to crush the heroic P9 strike of meatpacking workers at Hormel in Austin in 1985, and the meatpacking strike in Albert Lea in 1959. We remember how they were used to try to break the Teamsters strike in 1934- and how the Minneapolis police department ambushed picketing workers in that strike with shotguns, murdering two union brothers and wounding dozens more. We remember the massacres committed by the National Guard, whether at Ludlow during the coal strikes or at Kent State during the movement against the Vietnam War. We remember their role in attacking protests against globalization, such as the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle and other large trade meetings. Our union rights were won with the blood of our fellow workers- and all too often, that blood has been spilled by the National Guard.

    The decision to allow the Guard into the hall was an undemocratic, unilateral decision by a single officer, much as the many statements condemning their eviction from the hall by union workers. We rank and file workers were never asked our opinions about letting the Guard into the hall, or about whether or not we agreed with the statements supporting the occupation. Some unions, such as the 49ers local of the Operating Engineers, have even unilaterally pulled themselves out of the MN AFL-CIO, again with no input or vote by membership. This is the normal state of affairs in a labor movement that has spent decades taking decision-making power and control over our own struggles away from workers and into the hands of paid staff, professionals, officers, and NGOs.  While the workers who escorted the Guard out also acted on their own initiative, they did so to restore the union hall to the possession of the workers, as the occupation had never been democratically mandated.

    The individual members of the Guard are mostly working class people, including some of our fellow union workers. When the Guard were asked to leave, union workers talked with their counterparts and union brothers and sisters in the Guard to explain why it was unacceptable for them to occupy a union hall without membership consent. Several union workers suggested that, if the Guard needed to occupy buildings, they should start with the much more comfortable fine homes of politicians like Governor Walz, or the management of firms like Target, 3M, or Cargill. After all, it was these politicians who have forced the Guard to leave their families and deploy to the city to defend the property of big businesses. But, while we sympathize with the individual members of the Guard, we cannot support or give shelter to an institution that is actively helping to suppress free speech and protest in our city, and which has for generations beaten down the labor movement.
Since the night the National Guard was escorted away from the union hall, an effort spearheaded by opponents of organized labor, such as noted pandemic denier and plague advocate Paul Gazelka, have demanded that workers be retaliated against for defending the hall. Shamefully, a portion of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Nurses Association has already acted to remove Cliff Willmeng, one of the workers present, from their board- overturning the results of an election in which Willmeng won the third highest number of votes of any MNA board member ever elected. In appeasing Gazelka, they have sided with a man whose far right base brandished weapons at union nurses during anti-lockdown protests such as “Operation Gridlock”. In appeasing Walz and the National Guard, they have legitimated such repressive uses of the Guard as we now see in Massachusetts. In that state, Governor Lamont has called up the National Guard to intervene against a health care workers strike by SEIU 1199 on Friday, May 14th.

    There is only antidote to the undemocratic labor bureaucracy and its collaboration with oppression- rank and file action. We can take our unions back when we organize on the job site and take our struggles into our own hands, with direct action. If you are interested in organizing directly with other workers and building a militant, democratic labor organization, contact the Twin Cities Solidarity Network at .