US Labor’s Complicity in Anti-Asian Racism

Nicholas Ayala

By Nicholas Ayala

On March 15, two days before the white supremacist shooting in Atlanta, which targeted Asian women, the President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Richard Trumka, sent a letter to the current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. In the letter, Trumka, the President of the largest federation of trade unions in the United States, demanded that the Biden administration stop importing solar products from Xinjiang, China, because of the “forced labor” of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese government. 

Trumka reiterated the popular US imperialist claim that there is a genocide of Uyghur Muslims being carried out by the Chinese Communist Party; therefore it would be immoral for the US government to purchase goods from that region. 

On March 17, the AFL-CIO President would issue a statement regarding the vile attack in Atlanta, saying that the labor movement is “outraged” and “heartbroken.” The union will “not stand by while members of our family are targeted”, insisting that they must continue fighting against the surging racist violence. 

Interestingly enough, Trumka was in contact with the US president almost one year ago before his statement on Atlanta, declaring that the CPC was carrying out a genocide in Xinjiang, creating concentration camps and killing Muslims. In June of 2020, the AFL-CIO put out a statement called “Ending Forced Labor in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China.” In this statement, they supported two Congressional bills passed by unanimous consent, sanctioning China for the supposed genocide in Xinjiang. Trumka reiterates many of the same claims of genocide used by various conservative and liberal think tanks, far-right-wing individuals and politicians. 

Despite his attempt to show solidarity with the Asian-American community and the violence against them, he spent much of last year pushing the same propaganda, which inspired many of these white supremacist attacks. For now, I will not go into detail, disproving the accusations of genocide and forced labor in China as other organizations have thoroughly debunked these claims. For those who want to explore this topic, I recommend this report by the Qiao Collective. 

What is more interesting and needs investigation is the connection between Western labor movements, their nationalism, and US imperialism. Richard Trumka harshly criticized Trump’s domestic racism against Asian-Americans. However, when it came to the racist, imperialist policy against China and many other Asian countries, Trumka quickly supported him. 

Trumka’s nationalism exists in his blind allegiance (although most likely very intentional because the US provides massive amounts of funds to the AFL-CIO) to the US government and its policies. He demonizes the same enemies and expresses his concern for only those Asians in the United States. But even this support comes off as disingenuous, especially when out of the other side of his mouth, he is demonizing Asian nations and their peoples that live outside of the US.

President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka

In 2019 an anti-immigrant white supremacist murdered 23 people, mostly Latinos. He posted a white nationalist manifesto that reflected many of the commonly heard beliefs from right-wing media and President Trump. He referred to immigrants as invaders, feared the growth of a Latino voting bloc and feared the loss of American jobs to Latinos and automation. 

The same dehumanizing attacks which inspired the ideology of this mass murderer, and many others alongside him, continues to this day as they fear monger over the “migrant crisis” in both liberal and right-wing media. The crisis has to do with the massive influx of immigrants into the United States due to climate catastrophe and economic recession due to the pandemic and decades of imperialism. Anticonquista discussed the multiple caravans originating from Honduras due to the catastrophic Hurricanes which devastated coastal regions of the nation here. Around 10,000 displaced migrants were a part of these caravans moving upwards towards the United States. 

With the support of a large portion of the population, the US government has decided to crack down on these migrants looking for a better life by interning larger numbers than Trump has. Over 14,000 children have been thrown in prison camps, prison facilities are overflowing, and the border has seen only further militarization. The right-wing white nationalists have covered this crisis day after day, running headlines describing working-class Americans, ranchers, farmers, etc., as being under “siege” from migrants. 

At the same time, liberal unions like the United Auto Workers and their Vice President Gerald Kariem are publicly criticizing the car company Ford for moving its vehicle manufacturing plant from Ohio to Mexico. Kariem stated that the UAW “100% reject[s] the company’s decision to put corporate greed and more potential profits over American jobs and the future of our members.” Kariem’s criticism of Ford is wrapped in nationalist appeal. He appeals to American workers who lost their jobs to Mexicans that will do the work for cheaper. Where have we heard this before? Well, it is a popular argument when referring to the loss of US jobs to the Asian market and their super-exploited labor. 

Appealing to US nationalism is a popular tactic to rally the population around imperialist objectives or to dehumanize a population. Trump rallied his mostly white working, middle and upper-class base around the demonization of nations and peoples that have “stolen” American jobs, whether through corporate outsourcing or by sending their migrants to the US. 

The US labor movement makes these same appeals. US nationalism and imperialism are inseparable. They work to rally the domestic population around imperialist policy and demonize foreign nations and their populations both at home and abroad. US nationalism is contradictory to the advancement of anti-imperialism and socialism. Not only is it contradictory to our struggle, but it also has deadly results for our communities as shooting after shooting demonstrates that the target is on our people’s backs.

The lack of critical analysis of these developments and the convergence of the labor movement’s interests with the interest of the imperialists and the interests of the white nationalists is an extreme problem in the United States. Everyone from liberals, conservatives, progressive liberals, to Marxists and their parties will support the labor movement and unions uncritically as these same unions spread racist, xenophobic and imperialist propaganda in support of empire. Of course, it should come as no surprise the unions are taking this policy because it is the empires in which they exist which fund and support these unions. However, there needs to be an acknowledgement of how the labor movement’s actions have been just as detrimental to the anti-imperialist and socialist movement as the Democrats and Republicans. 

There was a brief moment when the masses of colonized people in the United States organized revolutionary labor unions that were not sell-out reactionaries defending empire. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) was a Marxist labor union dedicated to Black liberation. They were founded in Detroit and grew rapidly among Black auto workers because many of these workers were alienated by the United Auto Workers union. As did most US labor organizations and parties, the UAW failed to actually meet the demands and needs of the Black community. 

Although short-lived, the LRBW gave a glimpse at what a non-government-controlled revolutionary labor union that put the community and workers’ needs first could look like.

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW). For more information on the organization and its history we recommend the documentary created by the group called “Finally Got the News” as well as this interview free online titled “Interview: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers.” Here is the link to the article: https://daily.jstor.org/league-revolutionary-black-workers/ and the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Mhb7lYjtDU

In the wake of a rising white nationalist tide, we need to recognize that point of convergence between the far-right wing, liberals, labor and leftists in defending US imperialism. The open and explicit white nationalism and supremacy of the right-wing in the US and throughout the imperialist world is justified and defended by the Western left. They rely on the same tropes describing immigrants as job stealers and thieves in relation to the US worker. They demonize the same nations as the US state, describing them as genocidal and evil. Finally, they both make the same appeals to nationalism and chauvinism, portraying the US as an already good nation or one that can be reformed into something good. 

All these methods ensure that the populations of the US and Western imperialist states are kept in allegiance to imperialism, nationalism, and racist chauvinism, which impacts those non-white communities and groups both in the US and outside of it.

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