Posts Tagged 'union'

Black Working Class Radicalism in Oakland

Black Panther Party members outside of a Safeway, in the East Bay, during the Safeway boycott (photo by Stephen Shames).

Historian Robert O. Self, in his book on geography, capitalism, and its affects on the Black population in the San Francisco East Bay, wrote:

In the workplaces and communities of midcentury West Oakland, African American residents forged a distinct laborite culture that blended class politics with civil rights.  Based in the Brotherhod of Sleeping Car Porters and other black railroad unions, as well as the left wing of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) on the docks and the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union (MCSU) on the ships, this culture extended its influence broadly through the East Bay…This culture extended its reach across time.  Black longshoremen, veterans of the brutal class wars on the docks in the 1930s, articulated an internationalism that would, by the 1960s, influence Oaklanders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale as they founded the Black Panther Party.  Black leaders from the railroad unions established political strategies in the 1940s that would guide a generation of activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  From one decade to the next across the second half of the century, these neighborhoods were home to a rich range of laborite, community, civil rights, and eventually black liberation politics.

Oakland provides an excellent vantage from which to launch an inquiry into this history.  Best known as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party in 1966 and as a national fulcrum of black radicalism throughout the late 1960s, Oakland was also a major seat of African American influence in California politics beginning in the late 1940s and the home of an extensive tradition of black social advocacy and organizing.  Indeed, the generation of black activists before the Panthers developed strategies, alliances, and sources of power that profoundly shaped the political terrain of race in both the East Bay and California as a whole.  Recovering the story of that generation, men and women who achieved none of the national media exposure and fame of the Panthers and faced little of the state-sponsored harassment and investigations, allows us to appreciate both the surprising continuities as well as the jarring divergences between the activists of the 1940s and 1950s and those of the 1960s and 1970s…The long postwar black liberation movement in the East Bay featured a fluid political environment in which philosophies and strategies competed with and interpenetrated one another.  Above all, in the decades after World War II, civil rights in Oakland stood less for civil rights than for economic rights, the foundation on which black American political demands had rested since the 1930s (5-6, 12).


Self, Robert O.  2003.  American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

The Assassination of Rolando Olalia

Rolando Olalia of the Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center

Rolando Olalia of the Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center

Kim Scripes writes about the assassination in 1986 of KMU chairperson Rolando Olalia:

There was a mass outpouring of grief among Filipino workers and peasants in response to “Ka Lando’s” assassination.  Twenty-five thousand people spontaneously protested outside the military headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.  But the biggest show of respect was the 12-hour funeral march that drew close to one million people.  (Scripes, 47)

After the killing of Olalia and the deaths of other workers rights activists and KMU union women and men the KMU began to actively campaign against the right-wing Aquino government.  Scripes quoted then newly elected Chairperson Crispin “Ka Bell” Beltran as saying:

UP to that time, KMU was totally for the preservation and protection of the Aquino government; we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that Lando Olalia was sacrificed for this government.  Evidence is now cropping up [that] he was targeted to create chaos, especially among the workers’ ranks.  The anger [of] the workers against the government [was supposed to] create a revolutionary situation and then the military would have this as a pretext to crush the workers’ movement and establish a civilian-military junta.  The over-all game was to move the Aquino government as a whole towards the right.  And under the complete control of United States imperialism.

After this incident…we adopted an oppositionist stance [to] the policies of the Aquino government.  (50)


Scripes, Kim.  KMU; Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994.  Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers, 1996.

The funeral march of Rolando Olalia.

The funeral march of Rolando Olalia.

Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines

KMU Rally

Kim Scipes interviewed a top leader in the Kilusang May Uno (KMU, or May First Movement) Labor Center in 1986 about what it meant to be a genuine and militant trade union:

By “genuine,” we mean that the KMU is run by its members.  The members are given all information and decide the policies which run the organization.  By “militant,” we mean that the KMU will never betray the interests of the working class, even at the risk of our own lives.  The KMU believes workers become aware of their own human dignity through collective mass action.  By “nationalist,” we beleive the wealth of the Philippines belongs to the Filipino people and that national sovereignty must never be compromised.  The KMU is against the presence of the U.S. bases. (Scripes, 10)

Scipes states that:

The statement about never betraying the interests of the working class, even at the risk of KMU leaders’ own lives, is not hyperbole; many KMU organizers, leaders and members have been arrested and or killed. (ibid.)


Scipes, Kim.  KMU; Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994.  Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers, 1996.


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