The Role We Must Play in Countering Racist Scapegoating Around COVID-19 — A Union View

by Manny Ness and Tony O’Brien

reprinted from CityLimits, April 16, 2020

Over a week ago, the first of 22 cargo planes laden with medical supplies from China landed in New York. Nevertheless, Chinese workers continue to be derided by our President. Prior to that, a photographer captured an image of President Trump’s notes during a coronavirus taskforce press briefing; the word “Corona” was crossed out and replaced with “Chinese” in ‘coronavirus’.
Trump’s latest attempt at scapegoating through racist rhetoric is not only shameful, but dangerous as well. The deep reservoir of bigotry and xenophobia in our country that Trump has been deliberately stoking since the launch of his presidential campaign has spilled over. Again.

Racism is especially dangerous coming from the commander in chief in this time of life-and-death crisis, anxiety, and confusion. We have seen what his presidency has meant to white supremacists emboldened by his rhetoric in the past. The events of Charlottesville represent a stark example.
The history of anti-Chinese racism in the US goes back to the late 19th century when it was used to formulate anti-Chinese immigration policies, policies which continue, and which Trump has again exacerbated and extended from an anti-Latin-American and anti-Muslim to an anti-Chinese xenophobia.

When we expect an economic crisis in which workers’ contracts and other gains may be unraveled, a united front of unionized workers is paramount. It directly counteracts the divisive racism which has historically been a great danger to working class movements and a trap many employers would love us to fall into.
Unions can make anti-racism a conscious part of our strategy in the coming economic crisis. Our union, PSC/CUNY, AFT Local 2334, has set up an International Committee to fulfil our duty of international solidarity across borders, especially with workers in the Global South. The Committee held a forum last Spring against U.S. sanctions, which are today causing excess deaths from COVID-19 in places like Venezuela and Iran. The forum led to a book now in progress, including a critique of sanctions as killers in the epidemic. We can plan an online teach-in on anti-Asian racism including Asian and Asian-American speakers from our network.
University faculty and staff have a special responsibility to speak out against racist lies propagated by the government. Our union, the Professional Staff Congress represents some 30,000 faculty and instructional workers at the City University of New York. Our members know the dangers of racist rhetoric from personal and professional experience.
Unions like the PSC are committed to standing up for all workers regardless of race, creed or gender. Together, we must speak out for solidarity with our many Chinese, Chinese-American, Asian and Asian-American fellow-students and fellow-workers.

Manny Ness and Tony O’Brien are members of the Professional Staff Congress/City Univeristy of NY International Committee

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