Building trade union support for Mumia

By: Sherry Wolf

"I would rather be executed than cross a picket line," said death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was defying ABC reporters from the "20/20" TV news magazine show who wanted to interview him during the recent lockout of 2,500 ABC technicians, members of the National Association of Broadcasters and Technicians/Communications Workers of America (NABET/CWA).

Even from the isolation of death row, Mumia is standing in solidarity with workers being denied job security and decent wage increases.

Some unions have begun to return the solidarity by mobilizing to win a new trial for Mumia.

Here's a brief look at the current efforts of some trade union militants fighting to stop the execution of Mumia:

  • After activists circulated petitions and fact sheets about Mumia's case among teachers, the Oakland Education Association passed a resolution last fall to hold teach-ins on Mumia's case. School officials opposed the event, but the union voted to hold it anyway. The teach-ins took place in January as classroom discussions after planned school-wide assemblies were called off by administrators. Mumia's lawyer Leonard Weinglass was involved, along with members of anti-death penalty groups from the area.
  • In New York, the 170,000-member National Health and Human Services Employees Union 1199, the Service Employees International Union passed a resolution in support of a new trial for Mumia and also donated funds to make free buses available for the November 7 demonstration in Philadelphia.

    With only a handful of 1199 delegates active around the case, it was possible to get brief announcements about upcoming Mumia activities in the delegate assemblies as well as support for local initiatives like the daylong Mumia conference on February 13.

  • Even inside a union local with a conservative leadership, such as Transit Workers Union Local 100 (TWU) in New York City, a few Mumia activists in the track division were able to get a resolution passed by agitating among their coworkers.

    And New York teacher activists who were unable to get the United Federation of Teachers to pass a resolution condemning the planned execution or calling for teach-ins are circulating petitions and showing the HBO video inside their schools to get their co-workers and students mobilized.

  • At Chicago's UPS hubs, a group of Teamsters in Local 705 who have been fighting around workplace issues have instituted Mumia Mondays, where the New Abolitionist is sold and petitions are circulated.

The key in all these cases was the initiatives - sometimes seemingly small and modest - taken by individual activists.

They used fact sheets, petitions, videos and the New Abolitionist to get the word out. These tools are important for reaching out to millions of working people who could be won to supporting Mumia.

Mumia activists should think about how they can bring the issue up at work. And in the coming months, activists inside and outside the unions should appeal for union money to help finance the Millions for Mumia demonstrations in Philadelphia and San Francisco on April 24.