A union is based on the simple premise that when working people raise their voices together, the power they have is transformative. As a Union it is our core purpose to fight any force that separates workers from joining together to create that power. Individual workers are vulnerable to the indignities heaped upon them by powerful employers, when we organize, we transform ourselves into a powerful and cohesive force to remake our world.

We cannot represent our members at work while turning a blind eye to racial oppression and discrimination suffered by them outside the jobsite. As a Union it is our moral obligation to condemn racism. Now is not the time for silence.

My role as a union leader demands a partnership with the community at large, the community where our jobs take place, the same communities where our members live and choose to raise their families.

The Covid-19 virus has laid bare long-standing racial inequities in these communities.  Now, George Floyd’s death as a result of police violence makes those same disparities visceral.

While I will never understand what it’s like to live in this country as a black man, I’d have to be blind to see it’s not as an equal in the eyes of the law.

The protests over George Floyd’s death are as much about generations of pain and anguish over racism in policing, as this single incident.  Some of the protests have turned violent and while I cannot advocate for, nor encourage violence, I cannot say that I’m surprised by it. In fact, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. People, all people have a limit to the injustice they can bear before they strike back.

As a union member, I think of the outrage that we have over the senseless deaths in the construction industry. Years of peaceful protest and civil disobedience have gotten us nowhere. Our cries of “How many more must die?” have fallen, for the most part, on deaf ears.

As the protests spread rapidly throughout the country let us remember that the overwhelming majority of protesters are nonviolent but when turning the other cheek results in blood on both sides of your face it takes remarkable fortitude to remain nonviolent.

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn the riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”

The words in quotation marks above are not mine but were spoken in 1967 at Stamford University by Doctor Martin Luther King.

I add my voice to the voices of millions who are demanding justice and equality. It is time to end the police killings of our black brothers and sisters, but just as importantly – as King had begun to make so clear – it is likewise time to end the race-based economy which sets in motion the devaluation of black life, thereby making it impossible for workers of any and every ‘race’ to reap the rewards their labor deserves.

As Unionists it has never been clearer that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Mike Prohaska
Local 79 Business Manager