Guest Commentary: By Our Powers Combined


Labor & Anti-Racism Movements Forge New Connections in Police Disarmament Language

By B.B. Buchanan

Labor has a long and checkered history with regards to racial justice, from the division of the AFL into the AFL and CIO (largely a division based on commitment to racial justice), to the racial backlash in labor through the 60s, to the racial language used to describe the movement of jobs overseas. In many cases the issue of race is talked about in union circles as a tool by bosses to divide workers – eliding the fact that workers of color endure forms of class marginalization that their white peers simply do not experience. In many racial justice movements, there is a clear analysis of job precarity and exploitation, but often this stops short of discussing unions. Because of labors perception as a white space, there is often a gap between these two movements, although the workers who sit at their intersections are often the most affected by the continued institutional silence on racial and economic justice.

How can we push these institutions to lift up those at these intersections? UAW 2865 has, as usual, led the way in pushing the labor movement to think critically about its role in advocating for racial justice in a time of rampant white supremacy. Exactly what can labor do? What is its responsibility to workers, many of whom are Black and Brown? And how can we think systematically and deeply, resisting neoliberal shock doctrines, to forge a labor movement that is deeply committed to social and economic equality? One of the central ways labor can make this possible is expanding what we consider contract language, reimagining what withholding our labor in solidarity looks like, and acting to build a membership that is both expansive and politically educated.

In a recently unveiled contract proposal (Full Proposed Language), UAW 2865 has acted to do exactly the actions discussed above. This language calls for the disarming of campus police across the UC system, seeing their continued armament as a threat to the safety and health of Academic Student Employees (ASEs).  In language both broad and specific, the union lays out the connection between the health and safety of workers and the problems facing these workers; a threat posed both by the roots of policing in white supremacy and strike breaking and in the increased militarization of police forces broadly and the UC police in particular.

One of the biggest hesitancies in confronting police violence in our communities and workplaces, from a labor perspective, is the fact that police are often unionized. In a time when union density is low, some have argued that standing up to police terror would divide labor in a time when unity is urgent. But UAW 2865 established, in 2015, that from a labor perspective police unions cannot be unions because their function is at odds with the goals of the labor movement as a whole – their function is to protect the private property of capitalists and protect white supremacy. The labor movement is trying to dismantle both.

By forging connections between labor and anti-racism we can attack the deep roots of white supremacy and labor exploitation – confronting the full matrix of domination at once. Keep an eye on UAW 2865, and their negotiations, to see how labor is pushing itself to think in new ways, bargain in new ways, and build a labor movement that sees racial justice as a key tenant to a just workplace.

BB Buchanan is a PhD student in the Sociology Department and an organizer of SWERV (Students and Workers Ending Racial Violence).

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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28 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: By Our Powers Combined”

    1. David Greenwald

      This is actually involves contract negotiations with UAW 2865, which represents academic employees, which has proposed language in their contract which is groundbreaking. It argues that campus police, across the UCs, should be disarmed for the health and safety of workers. This is an actual issue that is happening now that no one is really covering.

        1. David Greenwald

          How many times have the campus police actually needed to use a weapon on campus in a situation that either the DPD or YCSO couldn’t have handled?

  1. Ken A

    It is interesting that she writes “Labor has a long and checkered history with regards to racial justice”  vs. “Labor unions have a long history of racism and only country clubs stayed all white longer with many unions still 100% white in the 1970’s”

    I was wondering if by “disarm” they also wanted to take pepper spray away from campus police and had a laugh when I read “Lethal weapons, including, but not limited to, guns, tasers, and pepper spray, are prohibited from use by all police and security forces on University campuses.”  Someone needs to tell them that tasers and pepper spray are not “lethal” weapons.


        1. Jeff M

          Actually no… you are sometimes very hard of hearing.

          The main thing they have wrong is that the cops are a material cause of the social problems they claim as their cause.  The truth is that these unwanted actions of the cops are materially a symptom of the social problems they claim as their cause.  And also a symptom of their lack of civilized behavior that they justify as righteous based on the problem they claim as their cause.

  2. Tia Will


    Someone needs to tell them that tasers and pepper spray are not “lethal” weapons.”

    I think a few numbers might be informative. Tasers are lethal weapons.Pepper spray is less so, but none the less, not benign.…taser…

    In 2015, the Washington Post reported that in the 11-month period from January to November 2015, 48 people died in the United States in incidents in which police used Tasers, according to police, court and autopsy records.

    I cited these because they are more recent. For older information that some may consider more objective, the CDC has data as recently as 2014. Wikipedia also has information on taser deaths.

    In 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported at least 61 deaths associated with police use of pepper spray since 1990 in the USA. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) documented 27 people in police custody who died after exposure to pepper spray in California since 1993.

    I cannot give details but am aware of at least one pepper spray incident in a California prison within the past 5 years in which a uniquely susceptible individual died as a result of pepper spray use after the individual was restrained.

    1. David Greenwald

      The official terms is less-lethal weapon.  While it is true that a taser can and has lead to deaths, there is a big difference – a taser is being used to incapacitate with the by-product being death as oppose to a gun where its use is a shoot-to-kill.

      Still I think too many are getting caught up in this and not focused on the bigger question – do college campuses really need full time armed police forces or could they get away with unarmed private security that calls in police agencies to assist when the conditions warrant?

    2. Ken A

      The police union will not like this but I agree 100% that every college in America would be fine with private unarmed security (and this might help to lower tuition).

      I know that Tia has more scientific training than I do so she is aware that there is a difference between someone who died “after exposure” to pepper spray or a death that “was caused by” pepper spray.

      If a guy has had six beers and then takes some LSD, PCP and Crystal Meth to rev things back up and happens to die in a cop car odds are that the “pepper spray” was not the “primary cause” of death.

      1. Tia Will


        That is precisely why I included the anecdotal, but true case of the prisoner who was a long time prisoner in a California prison, whose medical history was ( or should have been) well known to those responsible for his care and yet who died following being pepper sprayed despite the fact that he had already been restrained and handcuffed and was fully under control.

        When a prisoner is confined, the state is responsible for their care. This was an extreme, but hardly an isolated case.

    3. Howard P


      A fist can be a lethal weapon. A baton can be a lethal weapon.  Any form of restraint can be a lethal weapon (ex., handcuffs). Words can be a lethal weapon.  A sneeze from an infected person can be a lethal weapon.  Neglect can be a lethal weapon.  Deaths have occurred from all of those.

      Uniquely susceptible folk are just that.  Thinking the term “lethal weapon” goes more to the intent of the user, than the end result.

      Guess, based on your definition of a lethal weapon, neglect of the homeless, not dealing with MH issues, not providing medical assistance, even if someone resists, are likely potentially lethal weapons.

      Am not disagreeing, but seek to expand.

      1. Tia Will


        I am in complete agreement with your last two paragraphs. I do think it is important to differentiate between intent and means which I did not do well in my initial post. Using the correct terminology is equally important and my initial post fell short on that also. I’m working on it.


  3. Tia Will


    I agree with your differentiation between intended lethality and incidental lethality. I also agree that the pertinent question with regard to this article is whether or not an on campus armed force is needed. I would be interested in seeing actual statistics, say for example, on UC and state university campuses of how many incidents have occurred over a 5-10 year period in which either lethal or less lethal weaponry was needed to control a dangerous individual or group on campus. Then we could actually be forming evidence based opinions.

        1. Alan Miller

          TW, yes they have.  We work with UC police and Aggie Hosts at Whole Earth Festival.  They definitely do, especially after the Pepper Spray Incident (or “11-18” if naming in the convention of “9-11” (and yes I know no one died on 11-18 so stop your replies)).

          I’m not sure that all personality types are really open to de-escalation techniques.  I know I have had officers use it on me a couple of times, and stopped and thought to myself, “good job, I’ve just had nonviolence used on me by a cop”.  I’ve also experienced the opposite.  Still, really good to tech it and expose all to the concepts.

  4. Jeff M

    Let’s understand this for what it really is.

    If you are a modern angry leftist protesting activist today, especially BLM and Antifa types, you are consistently “progressing” in making a case that physical violence is justified to combat the injustice you are just so sure you know the causes of (you don’t… but that is another topic).

    Your barrier to being able to exploit your new found epiphany that hurtful words said by others are a call to arms is… law enforcement.   So it is natural that you would want to neuter law enforcement to remove the barrier.


    While I completely agree that it would fantastic if we could reduce the occurrence of police using deadly force, this screed is completely bass-awkards for what we actually need.  We need more police with more tools to make the children behave like the civilized adults they should hope to grow up to be one day.   Civil disobedience sucks when you have a fine system that allows you to be heard and get things done through orderly and standard political protocol.  And here is the other important reason why civil disobedience sucks… those that employ it are emotional, myopic, narrow-focused and frankly quite wrong about the sources of the problems that so irritate them.  So they push for some justice that results in no better results… and often much worse results.

    Sure, let’s throw a group tantrum, form a mob enabled by modern social networking technology… and burn the place down!   That will teach them!   That will causes righteous justice and progressive change to make the world a better place for all!

    Right…   A unicorn just came out my rear.

    [moderator] edited. Please stop the derisive insults.

    1. Howard P

      At the risk of being banned here, why can this poster get away with the word “stupid”, with no reaction, and I got excoriated by several, for using the ‘s-word’ (yesterday, different thread)?  I even used it as a noun, referring to a behavior, here it is used as an adjective… guess it’s OK to use the s-word, if used as an adjective, but not as a noun.  Just a wake-up…

      Frankly, (although I’m not) the word “stupid” should not go on the “damned forever” list… time, place, manner.

      [moderator] “guess it’s OK to use the s-word, if used as an adjective, but not as a noun.” — no it’s not, I’m just not online every minute of the day. Click the report button next time, please.

      1. Jeff M

        I am referring to the text, not the person.   Many of the most bright and thoughtful people on the planet are capable of coming up with stupid stuff they say or write.

        Generally I get to that “stupid” label when the point of the writer lacks a comprehensive viewpoint.

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