VICTORY AGAINST RACIST DC TRANSIT BACKGROUND CHECKS

Untitledby Karyn Pomerantz and Linda Green.

Workers for the Washington Metro Are Transit Authority (WMATA) won a class action suit in 12/17 that awarded them $6.5 million to compensate for loss of income when they were fired or not hired due to criminal background checks. While the settlement does not require rehiring affected Metro workers, it is a first step in changing policy and is an important victory against unemployment and racism. It reverses a 2011 WMATA policy that banned people with criminal records from employment if they had ever been arrested but not convicted, committed a crime that had nothing to do with their job, were framed for a crime, or had completed serving a sentence years before. Metro conducted new criminal background checks on job applicants and workers who had been off from work for over 90 days due to illness, work-related injuries, or caring for a sick family member. The company also ran checks on workers who had lost their jobs for unrelated reasons, and were re-hired later. After Metro conducted the criminal background check, they fired even the workers whom they knew had a criminal record when they had been hired and had worked for WMATA for years. Metro will now review job applicants on a case-by-case basis rather than apply a rigid anti-hiring policy to all.

 

Lawyers from the NAACP’s Legal and Education Defense Fund, the Washington Committee for Civil Rights, and a private law firm (Arnold and Porter) filed a class action suit against WMATA, arguing that this policy promoted racism and discrimination. Because black and Latin workers disproportionately suffer more police surveillance, arrests, incarceration, and convictions, the denial of jobs based on background checks results in an unequal, racist impact. The US National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that white DC residents use drugs at the same rate as black residents, but the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights reports that African Americans comprise 8 out of 10 arrests.

 

Metro’s policy that bans hiring formerly incarcerated people contributes to the higher rates of unemployment and poverty of black men and women. WMATA is a large employer that provides decent wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits. With over 6,000 employees, this policy deprived hundreds of people with any criminal record of an opportunity to attain economic security and independence.

 

MULTIRACIAL GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING EXPOSED METRO’S RACISM

 

Public health workers and students from the Health Disparities Committee of the Metro Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA) began a campaign against this policy in 2012 and collaborated with the mostly black residents of Wards 7 and 8, particularly in the Stoddert Terrace neighborhood, to address social conditions that affect people’s health and well-being. Residents participated in workshops and identified imprisonment and unemployment as key problems. They were upset that those released from incarceration faced so many difficulties in job searches and housing due to background checks. Indeed, for the 7,000 workers returning to DC each year, there is urgent need for jobs and a living wage

 

Stories they heard included that of one bus operator who lost her house and custody of her child due to her WMATA firing, being forced to move away from her family. Others report that Metro has fired or not hired people for infractions that have nothing to do with their actual or potential job performance. Many workers successfully worked at Metro for years; another fired worker actually found a job as a bus operator at another company.

 

The Committee and residents mobilized members and neighbors, organized rallies at WMATA Headquarters, provided testimonies at Board hearings, forced the City Council to have a special hearing, collected 1000 names on petitions, sponsored workshops, introduced workers to legal teams, and spread the word to residents in neighborhoods most affected. They built a multiracial, grassroots group to oppose this policy while the union, ATU 689, did not openly challenge it.

FURTHER ACTION IS NEEDED

 

During this time, the DC City Council passed “Ban the Box” legislation that prohibits employers from asking about arrests…at the first interview but permits it at subsequent ones. Such policies are very common throughout the country. This will not matter if human resource policies look like the 2011 WMATA policy which endorsed retroactive firings. The internet has made background checks ubiquitous, so limiting questions asked at an interview may not even be relevant. There is a need to demand much stronger antiracist employment policies in many industries including hospitals, retail, schools, and construction in addition to transit.

 

 

For information on eligibility for payments and filing claims re Metro settlement, contact Linda Green, green_linda@hotmail.com. The deadline is March 8, 2018.Photo on background checks

RACISM IS THE BASIS OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN THE U.S.

by Bill Sacks

While pointing the finger at terrorists as wanton murderers (which they are), the US is among the one-sixth of the world’s nations that still use the death penalty, almost exclusively against the working class; five out of six nations have abolished it. Besides those whom the courts officially execute, US police unofficially (extra-judicially) execute even more – far more than in any other country. Police act on the street as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, all within seconds.

In contrast, following judicial sentencing, official executions occur decades later, with most spending their entire lives on death row without execution. This varies wildly across the US. Twenty states have abolished the death penalty, and, of the other thirty, many execute maybe 1%, while others execute as many as 70%. This alone indicates the unfairness of the death penalty that, along with public sentiment opposed to capital punishment in the early 1970s, prompted the US Supreme Court to abolish the death penalty in 1972, only to bring death back to “life” in 1976.

Capitalism, particularly in the US, aims the death penalty almost exclusively at the working class, and at men. White collar crime often has far greater consequences – for example, the tobacco company executives who lied for years about the deadly effects of smoking, the politicians who sent working-class soldiers to kill and be killed in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq, and even the bankers’ responsible for the 2008 crash that wiped out pensions and better- paying jobs. But rarely does white collar crime result in an indictment, let alone end in conviction – and never in execution.

The unequal application of the death penalty, confined only to the working class, also occurs largely along racial lines. This is traceable to the US history of slavery, Jim Crow racism (slavery by another name), and rampant lynch mobs in the 1900s. Such extrajudicial lynchings were only terminated by the government’s saying in effect to the racist mobs, “You can end your vigilante practice, since we (the state – federal and state governments) are going to take over the practice officially.” Cops, however, are the lynch mobs by another name, still permitted to kill with impunity.

From 1882 to 1964, the more than 4,700 lynchings killed far more black than white (mainly) men – roughly 3 to 1 – with many whites lynched for associating with black friends (http://law2.umkc.edu/Faculty/projects/ftrials/shipp/lynchingyear.html). Judicial executions, on the other hand, victimize far more white workers than black – 56% have been white, and 35% have been black since 1976. But in proportion to their respective portions of the population, a white worker is only one-eighth as likely to be executed as a black worker, though there are roughly equal numbers of black and white men on death row awaiting executions that may never take place. Workers of Latin, Native American, and other ethnic groups suffer fewer executions.

Until execution for rape was outlawed in 1977, almost 9 out of 10 of the 455 men executed for rape between 1930 and 1967 were black, almost all for raping white women, with undetermined numbers innocent of the crime. When black women were the rape victims, regardless of the color of the rapist’s skin, rarely was the death penalty applied.

 

Because more white workers are executed by official judicial proceedings than black (even though smaller in proportion to the white population), this threat against white working class men represents a spillover from the racism that infuses both the judicial system in general and the death penalty in particular. With this example alone, among many others, racism can be seen to be the enemy of all workers – white, black, Latin, Native American, and immigrants from many countries – and why white workers (men and women) have a life-and-death interest in fighting to extinguish racist ideology and practice alongside their working-class black, Latin, Native American, and immigrant sisters and brothers.

Much of this information is taken from a HARVARD MAGAZINE review, by law professor Lincoln Caplan, of a new book – Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment – written by a sister/brother team of law professors, Carol and Jordan Steiker, who are widely recognized as the world’s foremost authorities on the death penalty, having studied it for years and having written numerous articles and books.

 

A REVIEW – I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

by Ellen Isaacs

This new film expressing the views of James Baldwin is an emotionally wrenching one. From the scenes of lynched young people, to the beatings of civil rights activists, to the murders of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, it makes you angry and tearful at the same time. Surely the historical wrongs of racism and the police murders of the present have rarely been presented in such a concentrated and affecting way. Neither black nor white viewers can fail to feel the agony of such injustice, eloquently depicted in Baldwin’s words.

But there is a big but. The overwhelming message of the film is that racism is a moral failing of white people, nearly all white people. There are two very brief mentions of the economic purposes of racism – a view of black cotton-pickers in the south accompanied by a line about the need for cheap labor, and a mention of Chase Bank as a benefactor from racism. There are also a few examples of whites who are genuinely anti-racist, such as an early childhood teacher, and whites seen protesting during the civil rights movement. But the overwhelming footage is a portrayal of working and middle class whites displaying virulent racist behavior or enjoying a comfortable or luxurious life-style, oblivious to the suffering around them, and, the implication is, benefiting from it.

Nowhere in the film is there any analysis of where racism comes from, who very purposely created it, or why it is maintained. The implication is thus that it is inherent in most white people. Nowhere do we hear that anti-black racism was developed to justify the African slave trade. Nowhere do we learn that even today, lower wages and inferior services for black citizens save so many trillions of dollars that the economy could not survive without these differentials. Nowhere does Baldwin consider that racism has divided the working class so as to weaken the labor movement and all workers’ struggles for a better life. Nowhere do we learn that the standards of living for all are dragged down by having a lower rung tolerated because of racism.

Baldwin does say that he never joined the Black Muslims or the Panthers because he does not believe that all whites are devils. But his film leaves the impression that he likes or has hope for very few white people. Despite the footage of some valiant white participants in the struggles of the 60s, he does not comment on the multiracial nature of parts of the civil rights and other movements or seem to hold out hope for interracial friendship, respect or struggle, despite fearing that the cancer of racist brutality will destroy our society. His main vision of how whites should respond to their recognition of racism is to apologize.

As an alternative, this blog presents the view that racism is a tool, a vicious tool, of capitalism to divide and weaken us all. This is not to deny the overwhelmingly unequal consequences of racism on black Americans. However, we endeavor to explain that racism is against the interests of all workers, and we must make it our priority to befriend, love and struggle together with one another.

AS THE WORLD MARCHES, BIGGER STEPS ARE NEEDED

170121143229-womens-march-london-0121-exlarge-169by The Editors

Last weekend one out of every hundred Americans demonstrated against the new administration and for women’s rights. We were at the Washington DC march, which was truly overwhelming in its size, dwarfing the inauguration crowd. One could only wonder how powerful these marchers would have been had they been united around a program of fundamental change.

In reality, the strongest force behind the demonstrations was the Democratic Party, and the baseline ideology was that we would be better off if Clinton had won. The goal for many was to work for the election of Democratic politicians at every level. However, we must remember that the Democrats are not reliable friends of women, or anti-racists, or peacemakers. Hillary Clinton supported the massive cuts in welfare under her husband’s administration, which primarily affected women and children. She supported sanctions on Iraq in the 90s, estimated to have killed 500,000. She called young black men caught up in the criminal justice system “super-predators” and favored aggressive war in Libya and Syria as Secretary of State. Obama deported 2.4 million immigrants, oversaw increases in the prison population and police murders, killed over 1,100 with drone strikes, and massively supported Israel as the oppression of Palestinians continued. These are not goals for us to try and replicate.

Such policies are inevitable under our capitalist system, however. Our economy depends on racism and sexism, to save money on wages and services, and to keep people divided, as many articles on this blog discuss. Our economy depends on fighting foreign wars to control resources, especially fossil fuels and rare elements. If our protests are to be meaningful and lead to a better life for all, they must demand an egalitarian, anti-capitalist society where racism, sexism and exploitation are illegal. This cannot be achieved by voting as both parties have the preservation of capitalism as their underlying philosophy.

We do not mean to deny that there are tactical differences between the Democrats and Republicans, between Obama and Trump. Under the new president racism and sexism will be much more overt and repression more severe. When 230 demonstrators were arrested during the march, there were few, if any, who had perpetrated any violence. A whole block of people was simply rounded up. This has happened before, but this time the innocent were not simply released or given minor charges, but all were charged with felony riot, worth 10 years in prison. Moreover, the police kept all their phones, cameras and gloves. Not only will they be able to collect a large reservoir of activists’ names, but they may be trying to make cases for conspiracy charges. We will have to see how profound and prolonged the intimidation is.

So let us not just be euphoric about our numbers, but be building struggles which are multiracial and multi-gender, that rely on rank and file action, and which question the basic assumptions of our society. We must be militant, but this does not mean partaking in individual acts of violence such as carried out by a few anarchists at the march. Individual terrorism does not threaten the power structure, but only serves to provide an excuse for mass repression. We need to build movements that are large enough to achieve bigger goals, and this takes patient work within unions, the military, schools and communities. We must learn to think about ourselves differently, not measuring ourselves by our wages and wealth nor our country by its power and conquests. We must become a society based on love, respect and action among workers and students, here and around the world, of all colors and nationalities.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION –A WAR TO PROTECT SLAVERY

by Ellen Isaacs

Was the American Revolution really a noble fight for liberty and justice as we are taught in school? Or was the major reason behind the revolt that England, the mother country, was trying to limit slavery in the colonies by increasing taxes on those in bondage and limit westward expansion onto native lands? In Gerald Horne’s book, The Counterrevolution of 1776:Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, he makes a powerful case for this explanation. “Ironically, the founders of the republic have been hailed and lionized… for-–in effect–creating the first apartheid state(p3).”

Horne does not portray the British as any more noble than the Americans, but only as perceiving their interests differently as 1776 approached. Indeed England had participated heavily in the slave trade from the mid 1600s and imported Africans to its colonies in the Caribbean and on the American mainland. Britain was especially invested in the sugar plantations in Barbados and Jamaica, where slavery was particularly brutal.

In addition, England was involved in ongoing competition with Spain and France, who also had territory in the New World and were rivals for trade, the cause of periodic wars such as the Seven Years War from 1756-63. A shortage of white soldiers from England or the American colonies who were willing to enlist and stay the course to fight these conflicts, caused a growing British reliance on black soldiers. They, in turn, needed to be promised something more than a return to brutal captivity in order to fight reliably. England was also busy expanding its empire, most notably to India. Therefore, as the 1700s progressed, the British were anxious to mitigate the cruelty of slavery, as well as limit the growing expense of protecting slave owners or traders from rebellions and westward moving settlers from Native Americans.

Slavery in the future U.S. had several important aspects. One, of course, was that it underlay the purposeful development of anti-black racism in order to justify its existence and separate slaves from poor white indentured servants and farmers (see article by Lerone Bennett on our blog). Second, it was massively profitable to the slave traders and the plantation owners, rising to 60% of the national income (see Edward E. Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told:The Making of American Capitalism). Lastly, the huge slave population, often in alliance with Native Americans and sometimes poor whites, was a source of constant rebellion and threat to the white owners. Caribbean revolts were the most frequent and successful since the proportion of blacks to whites was the greatest. In Jamaica many escaped slaves lived as a free and hostile force in mountains, foreshadowing the eventual successful slave rebellion in Haiti, begun in 1791 and won in 1804.

Even on the mainland, especially in the South, as the numbers of slaves grew, so did the problem of controlling their efforts to be free. However, the profitability of slavery was so great that the colonists were willing to discount the risks. New England, especially Rhode Island, where slave importation was greatest, felt slavery was essential to its prosperity, with profits up to 1600%. The cotton and tobacco industries of the South, of course, could not exist without slavery. In fact, “The enormous influx of Africans laid the foundation for the concomitant growth of capitalism”(p7). As production and wealth grew in the colonies, so did their trade with England’s Spanish and French enemies, all in the name of more wealth.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and John Hancock, slave holders or traders all, and slavery supporters Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and James Madison were among those promoters of independence who resented taxes waged by London to pay for its wars and to limit slave importation. These taxes were increasing in the 1760-70s to pay for the Seven Year War and as a policy to slow down the slave trade. To justify the war for independence and the right to continue slavery, the founding fathers composed a Declaration asserting the inalienable rights of man. As one Britisher put it, “one would imagine that the Parliament of Great Britain…had treated the rebels with as great cruelty and as much injustice as they [rebels] treat their Negro slaves(p238).”

Of course, despite the participation of many black troops in the North and the South, who fought against the colonists, the British were vanquished and slavery flourished for another eighty years. Black labor was again enslaved by criminalization and terrorization after the Civil War and through Jim Crow. Now we are in the era of mass incarceration and discrimination in wages and services, all for the enrichment of capitalism. Despite this history of the torture and exploitation of blacks in America, this blog has continually argued that white workers are only fooled if they feel benefited. Indeed, in both England and America, abolitionists played an important role in opposing slavery from a moral point of view. From the 1600s through the Civil War, they helped end this barbarous practice and thousands fought to the death in our 1860s conflict. But today, we must still fight racism together. Not only are wages and services decreased for all by the degradation of blacks, as well as Latinos and immigrants, but we are separated and weakened from fighting back together – the only way to win a decent life for all.

IMMIGRATION POLICY IN THE US: IT’S ALL ABOUT RACE

Tanya Golash-Boza

The current debate over immigration policy in the United States revolves around how many immigrants we should let in and what we should do about those immigrants that are here without authorization.

 

In the contemporary United States, it seems completely natural that we would enforce our borders and regulate the entry of people into this country. Many people believe that the failure to do this would result in complete chaos.

 

It is thus remarkable that, for the first one hundred years after the founding of the United States, there were no laws governing who could or could not enter into or remain in this country. For the first one hundred and fifty years after the establishment of the United States in 1776, economic development in this country depended on immigration. The free movement of labor between Europe and the United States was essential to the economic growth and prosperity of the United States, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.

 

Discussions over immigration restriction first became popular when large numbers of Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the United States during the 1848 Gold Rush.

 

The arrival of thousands of Chinese immigrants into California provoked nativist sentiments among whites and these sentiments eventually translated into public policy.

 

In 1875, the Page Act was passed, which prohibited the entry of “undesirable” immigrants. This law primarily was designed to prevent the entry of prostitutes and forced laborers from Asia, and effectively barred the entry of any Asian women into the United States for the next few decades.

 

Debates over immigration policy in the United States have always had racialized undertones – except perhaps when the laws were outright racist. The first major piece of immigration legislation was the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law in 1882. In an essay titled “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1994,” Erika Lee argues that

 

“Chinese exclusion introduced a ‘gatekeeping’ ideology, politics, law, and culture that transformed the ways in which Americans viewed and thought about race, immigration, and the United States’ identity as a nation of immigration. It legalized and reinforced the need to restrict, exclude, and deport ‘undesirable’ and excludable immigrants.”

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act was overtly racist in that it targeted one specific group: Chinese laborers. In specifically excluding a group because of race and class, the Chinese Exclusion Act set the stage for U.S. immigration policy, which has both overt and covert racial and class biases.

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act initially only governed entry policies, but worries over fraud and illegal entry gave rise to the 1892 Geary Act and the 1893 McCreary Amendment, which required Chinese people who resided in the United States to possess proof of their lawful right to be in the United States. These “certificates of residence” were the first precursors to today’s legal permanent resident cards. Such documents were required only of the Chinese until 1928, when “immigrant identification cards” began to be issued to all arriving immigrants.

 

Nineteenth century immigration laws tended to focus on Asian immigrants. By the 1920s, however, the United States no longer depended on the large-scale influx of European labor. Technological advances, which reduced the need for labor, along with rising nativist sentiment in the context of wars with Europe led to increased support for immigration restrictions.

 

These sentiments translated into legislative action. The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act was the nation’s first comprehensive immigration law. As Mae Ngai explains in Impossible Subjects, “It established for the first time numerical limits on immigration and a global racial and national hierarchy that favored some immigrants over others” (Ngai 2014: 3).

 

The quotas set forth in the 1924 Act were based on ideas of white superiority – particularly the superiority of Germans and people from the United Kingdom. Whereas 65,721 visas were allocated to people from Great Britain, Italians were only allocated 5,802 and the Turkish only 226. The quotas were ostensibly based on the national origins of US citizens in the 1890 Census, but they excluded people of African and Asian descent.

 

While Congress used quotas to exclude undesirable races from entering the country, the Courts ensured that those who were in the United States would not attain citizenship. In the early 1920s, the Supreme Court decided that Japanese and Indians in the United States were ineligible for citizenship

 

The restrictive quotas and laws prohibiting Asians from attaining citizenship were eventually lifted. Today, our immigration policies are ostensibly colorblind.

 

However, over 90 percent of immigrants in the United States today are non-white, meaning that laws that restrict or provide opportunities for immigrants will have racially disparate consequences.

 

A Congressional decision to provide avenues for legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants would go a long way towards reducing inequality between Latinos and whites insofar as about 75 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Latin America. In contrast, decisions to enhance immigration law enforcement would further restrict opportunities for Latinos insofar as 98 percent of people deported last year were from Latin America.

 

No matter what your opinion is on immigration law enforcement or immigrant legalization, there is no denying the fact that discussions about immigration in the United States are and have always been discussions about racial difference and racial equity.

Tanya Golash-Boza is a Professor of Sociology at Merced College and a widely published author