Workers Vanguard No. 902
9 November 2007
For Class-Struggle Defense to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
International PDC Campaign
The fight to free death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is a defining cause for all opponents of the racist American “justice” system. But this struggle also bears enormous consequences for all who are in the capitalist rulers’ cross hairs. Mumia was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, the December 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Police, prosecutors and judges conspired to railroad Mumia—a former Black Panther, a supporter of the MOVE organization and a renowned journalist—employing frame-up methods used to victimize countless union activists, black militants and leftists over the years. In seeking to silence this powerful “voice of the voiceless,” they aim to intimidate any who would struggle on behalf of workers, black people and the poor.
With Mumia’s life in the balance, the Partisan Defense Committee—a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—and its international fraternal organizations have campaigned over the past few years to rekindle mass support for his freedom. From New York City, Chicago, Oakland and Los Angeles to London, Paris and Berlin, we have initiated rallies calling to free Mumia and to abolish the racist death penalty. These rallies have brought together representatives of left, labor and civil rights organizations raising their own views on which way forward in this struggle.
In this campaign, we have focused particularly on bringing Mumia’s cause to the trade unions. Our policy is that of class-struggle defense, based on the Marxist understanding that capitalist society is fundamentally divided between two classes—the capitalists who own the means of production and the workers whose labor they exploit. The legal lynchers must be answered by mobilizing the social power of the working class. We do not deceive those who would fight on Mumia’s behalf by peddling the lie that pleading with the capitalist courts and political parties will bring him justice. Mumia is the victim of a racist and political frame-up. And now his fight is at a critical juncture, as he and his supporters await a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on whether to uphold his death sentence or keep him in prison for life, or alternately to grant him a new trial or further court hearings.
Over 800 individuals and organizations, including unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers, have signed a PDC statement demanding Mumia’s freedom and the abolition of the racist death penalty. Titled “We Demand the Immediate Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an Innocent Man,” the statement cites the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Daniel Faulkner. As a sign of its commitment to Mumia’s cause, the London Underground Engineering Branch of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union paid for the statement to run as an ad in a local black newspaper. As a resolution adopted by the SUD-TMT postal sorting workers union in Paris in October 2006 stressed, Mumia’s imprisonment “constitutes a real warning to all those who will one day stand up to and take on the oppressors of minorities and more widely the working class.”
While supporting all possible legal proceedings on Mumia’s behalf, we fight against relying on the legal system that has shown it will stop at nothing to kill him or consign him to a “life” in prison hell. Mumia was in the sights of the FBI and Philly cops from the late 1960s, when he was a 15-year-old leader of the Black Panther Party. To secure Mumia’s conviction, cops and prosecutors intimidated witnesses and suppressed and falsified evidence. The Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) has repeatedly threatened Mumia’s supporters, leading a howling mob in July 1995 outside the 1199C hospital workers union hall in Philadelphia to stop a fundraiser for Mumia and continuing such harassment to this day, including by organizing boycotts of musicians and others who have spoken out for Mumia. Judges at all levels have denied evidence exonerating Mumia, with the courts repeatedly refusing to hear the Beverly confession. With very few exceptions, the capitalist politicians, both Democratic and Republican, have abetted the cops and prosecutors, with the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passing a resolution last December condemning the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis for naming a street in honor of Mumia.
We fight for mass protest centered on the working class, whose social power lies in its ability to choke off the profits that are the lifeblood of capitalism. That power was displayed in December 2005 when New York City transit workers in Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 defied the state Taylor Law and went on strike, crippling the financial center of world imperialism for three days. Writing in solidarity with Local 100, Mumia quoted Karl Marx’s statement that the law “is but the will of one class made into a law for all.” Mumia continued, “The same law demanded that Blacks take the back of the bus. The same law outlaws the right of those who labor to withhold their labor, to better their condition, and those who follow them.” Mumia has long spoken out on behalf of labor. During a lockout of 2,500 unionized ABC technicians in 1998, he refused an interview by reporters from the “20/20” TV news show, stating that he would rather die than cross the picket line.
The crucial importance of bringing out labor’s forces for Mumia was the center of discussion at a PDC-initiated rally in Harlem in October 2006, which was addressed by a TWU Local 100 official, Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, representatives of the PDC and others (see “For a Class-Struggle Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!”, WV No. 880, 10 November 2006). Speaking for the New York Labor Black League for Social Defense, Local 100 member Tom Cowperthwaite emphasized:
“Especially now, we who are outside the prison walls must not forget Mumia, nor our obligation to appeal to labor and the entire working class to act now—stop the executioners! In 1995 when the first death warrant was signed, a worldwide protest by unions, civil rights activists and death penalty abolitionists forced the rulers to grant a stay of execution just days before Mumia was scheduled to die. Today, we need even larger mobilizations of union power.”
Fraternally allied to the Spartacist League, the Labor Black Leagues have focused their efforts on bringing out union support for Mumia. Based on the only significant integration in racist America—the workplace and factory floor—the trade unions have the social power and potential to become battalions in the struggle against racial oppression and exploitation and to shake the foundations of this decaying capitalist system.
Mumia’s case is a microcosm of capitalist class rule and the black oppression that is intrinsic to it. In the U.S., the barbaric death penalty is the legacy of chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. The road to black freedom lies in the struggle for revolutionary integrationism—the full integration of black people into an egalitarian, socialist America. The fight for black freedom is the strategic question of the American proletarian revolution. There can be no socialist revolution in the U.S. unless the working class takes up the fight for black freedom—opposing every manifestation of racist repression and discrimination—and there can be no liberation of black people without the overthrow of this capitalist system.
If undertaken with a mobilization of the union movement, the fight to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty would be a first, giant step toward infusing workers with the consciousness that this system must be overturned through proletarian socialist revolution. But this requires a struggle against the policies of the labor misleaders, who rarely use labor’s strike weapon even in defense of their own members and look instead to the Democratic Party, the courts and other agencies of the enemy class. The labor bureaucracy’s pro-capitalist program is a major obstacle in the fight for Mumia’s freedom.
An International Fight
When the SL and PDC first took up Mumia’s defense more than 20 years ago, we brought his case to civil rights organizations and anti-death penalty gatherings, to the campuses and to left and labor organizations in the U.S. and internationally. Aiming to make Mumia’s case known to the public, we fought to get his columns published in the black press and to publicize his case in liberal journals such as the Nation and the Village Voice. The PDC also initiated united-front rallies in an effort to mobilize broad social forces, reaching out as well to prominent personalities and political figures. Many saw in Mumia’s fight for freedom and justice a reflection of their own struggles against racism and reaction—from aboriginal people in Australia and youth of North African origin in France to black people throughout North America. By the fall of 1990, statements of support for Mumia encompassed unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers.
These efforts laid the groundwork for the outbreak of mass protest that answered the warrant for his execution, which was signed on 1 June 1995. Over the next few days, protesters took to the streets around the world. On June 19 in Johannesburg, PDC labor coordinator Gene Herson addressed some 15,000 workers at a trade-union demonstration where the crowd chanted, “Save Mumia Abu-Jamal!” Mumia’s struggle has resonated especially strongly among black workers in South Africa, where the death penalty had long served as a tool of apartheid state terror. Today, South Africa’s National Council of Trade Unions and National Union of Mineworkers are among the signatories to the PDC statement demanding Mumia’s freedom.
In Italy in June 1995, a demonstration for Mumia was made an official part of a larger protest in Rome of over 60,000 workers fighting against pension cuts. After a speaker from the Mumia contingent from Naples called for his freedom, one of the official platform speakers announced: “I think that I can safely say that all of us here want to express our solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal, that we all defend Mumia Abu-Jamal. Do you all agree?” The workers shouted their agreement.
As Mumia’s execution date drew near, a united-front labor/black mobilization initiated by the PDC in downtown Manhattan on August 3 drew 1,000 people, including contingents from union locals representing hundreds of thousands of workers in the Northeast. On August 12, five days after Mumia won a stay of execution, contingents of workers marched with their union banners alongside the PDC at a protest for Mumia in Philadelphia initiated by Workers World Party’s National People’s Campaign.
In a column written four days after the stay was announced, Mumia told his supporters, “Let us utilize this precious time to build a stronger and broader movement, to not ‘stay’ one execution, but to halt them all!” Mumia’s case had become the focal point of struggle against the racist death penalty. His name had become a household word. Articles about Mumia and his own written commentaries were a regular feature of the U.S. black press. Mumia’s face was emblazoned on the T-shirts of student activists and youth in the ghettos; his name became a symbol in hip-hop for racist frame-up and also rolled off the lips of many union activists.
But over time, a massive movement was demobilized by a political program advanced by liberal and reformist organizations—Workers World Party, Socialist Action, the Revolutionary Communist Party, among others—that centered their protest actions around the call for a “new trial” for Mumia. In doing so, they hoped to attract prominent bourgeois liberals who view Mumia’s case not as emblematic of the capitalist legal system but as an aberration that stains the fabric of American “democracy.” This strategy undermined the very basis of the support Mumia received from masses of people who identified with his opposition to oppression and injustice, which are inherent in capitalist society.
Mumia Is Innocent— Free Him Now!
The PDC’s class-struggle defense strategy is rooted in the pioneering work of the International Labor Defense (ILD) led by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the American Communist Party and, later, of American Trotskyism. In leading the struggle to free anarchist immigrant workers Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s, the ILD constantly combatted illusions in the capitalist courts and politicians sown by the reformist Socialists and labor tops of the day (see “Lessons of the Fight to Free Sacco and Vanzetti,” WV Nos. 897 and 898, 31 August and 14 September). This is no less important today as we seek to revitalize mass protest for Mumia.
Our efforts to reach out to NYC unions generated a June 2006 letter from the AFSCME District Council 1707 city workers union to Democratic Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who as Philly D.A. in 1981 led the prosecution of Mumia. In expressing support for Mumia, the letter stated: “A new open trial without insincere legal trappings will prove his innocence and go a long way to make our nation whole to our people and the rest of this world. Killing him would reinforce the most backward notions about our nation.” It is important that the union has opposed the threat to execute Mumia and declared his innocence. But any idea that the capitalist justice system is fair and impartial can only undermine the effort to mobilize labor’s social power.
How this question plays out was seen at the 24 April 1999 “Millions for Mumia” demonstration in San Francisco. That day, the West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) carried out a port shutdown in solidarity with Mumia. Centrally initiated by Jack Heyman, an ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member at the time, this was a powerful example of the kind of social power that must be brought to bear in the fight to free Mumia. But Heyman himself undermined this action by tying it to appeals for a new trial.
The central demands of the S.F. protest—to stop the execution of Mumia and for a new trial—were tailored to attract support from Democratic Party politicians and other bourgeois liberals who view Mumia’s case as an isolated “miscarriage of justice.” Heyman, a key speaker at the rally, uttered not a word against either the “new trial” call or the Democratic Party. Heyman typifies those in the labor bureaucracy who adopt an appearance of militancy as a deceptive cover for reformist politics. The “Millions for Mumia” protests marked a high point in the number of people marching for Mumia. But within a few years, the thousands who had come out for Mumia rallies dwindled to a few hundred.
Those who call for a new trial often claim that this is “what Mumia wants”—as if Mumia has not been fighting all along for his freedom! Rachel Wolkenstein, a PDC counsel who served on Mumia’s legal team from 1995 to 1999, answered this at the May 5 London PDC rally, which was also addressed by speakers from the Communication Workers Union and the RMT (see “International Rallies Demand: Free Mumia!” WV No. 893, 25 May). Wolkenstein observed that in earlier struggles for class-war prisoners, the call was not for a “new trial for the Guildford Four, or for Angela Davis, or Huey Newton” but for their freedom. Responding to comments from the floor, she observed that Mumia “knows perfectly well every word I said here. He sent greetings to this rally, brief though they were, making the point that he was fighting for his freedom.” As the French CGT Limoges railway workers union wrote in a March 1 letter: “There is no need for a new fast-track procedure in the appeals court. All the facts and evidence” of Mumia’s innocence, the letter noted, “are known.”
Seeking to obstruct a class-struggle fight for Mumia’s freedom, the liberal writer David Lindorff and the rad-lib Michael Schiffmann claim that fewer people have turned out for Mumia recently because the PDC has pushed such “divisive” issues as the confession of Arnold Beverly—i.e., the overwhelming evidence of Mumia’s innocence and the state frame-up. The notion that the Beverly evidence is divisive is utterly belied by the range of prominent individuals and labor organizations that have signed on to the PDC statement containing the confession, which Beverly submitted in a 1999 affidavit that is printed along with supporting evidence in the PDC pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!
In the U.S., ads with the PDC statement and signatories have appeared in the Nation magazine and in such widely read black newspapers as NYC’s Amsterdam News, the Chicago Defender, the Philadelphia Tribune and the San Francisco Bay View. The ad has also appeared in the French Communist Party’s L’Humanité, the Morning Star in Britain and junge Welt in Germany. It also ran in Share, Canada’s largest-circulation ethnic newspaper.
Some 250 union organizations, officials and members in the U.S. have signed the PDC statement, including four chapters of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Amalgamated Transit Union, International Longshoremen’s Association and AFSCME locals and the Chicago-area United Auto Workers Women’s Committee. International supporters include CGT railway workers in France, COBAS postal workers in Italy, SNTE educational workers in Mexico and hospital workers in Vancouver. A Hamburg, Germany factory stewards council of the giant IG Metall union and the Greek All-Workers Fighting Front, a half-million-strong union federation, have also signed on. Other union groups, such as the Conference of European Harbor Unions, have issued their own statements demanding Mumia’s freedom. Mumia has been made an honorary member of a number of unions, including the National Union of Journalists in London, which recently issued a letter instructing its members to mobilize for Mumia (see WV No. 898, 14 September).
In an August 17 letter to Mumia’s lead attorney, Robert Bryan, ILWU Local 10 wrote that Mumia is “the victim of a political frame-up on false charges of killing a Philadelphia police officer and that he was sentenced to death based on his political history and beliefs.” SEIU Local 616, representing 14,000 public sector workers in the Bay Area, wrote in a 13 June 2006 letter: “Mumia has spent almost a quarter century on death row for a crime he did not commit, a crime that someone else has confessed to.”
Michael Schiffmann has provided a valuable service by unearthing and publicizing crime scene photos showing that much of the evidence of Faulkner’s killing was doctored by police in order to prosecute Mumia. However, Schiffmann & Co. have used this and all other evidence of Mumia’s innocence not to argue for his immediate freedom but to press for a new trial. And in throwing mud at the Beverly confession, they undermine the fact of Mumia’s innocence and the depth of his frame-up. Beverly’s testimony is that he and another man were hired to kill Faulkner, who had become a problem for the mob and corrupt cops by interfering with the graft and payoffs involved in illegal gambling, drugs and prostitution. Lindorff, Schiffmann et al. reject this powerful evidence of innocence because it shows that Mumia was the victim not of a rogue cop, bad prosecutor or racist judge but of an entire “justice” system upholding the interests of the racist capitalist rulers.
Unchain Labor’s Power!
At the Harlem PDC rally, Pam Africa questioned the PDC’s labor centrality, pointing to the participation of poor and unemployed people in protests for Mumia: “They stood beside the workers. I’m saying we must give credit to all those people who worked to free Mumia.” Rachel Wolkenstein replied:
“Our numbers on a street in a demonstration show our desire to stand for something
. But that is not the same thing as being able to stop this system, shut it down! These are very different things. And that is why we talk about the power of the working class. It is not a dismissal of the good will, the heart, the needs and the oppression that otherwise exists in society. It is not a statement that those people who are unemployed are not part of the struggle. But that is the duty of the labor movement: to organize the unemployed, to fight for jobs for the unemployed, to unionize people across the board.”
If labor is to mobilize its power on Mumia’s behalf, it must do so independently of the capitalist politicians, racist cops and courts. Prior to the rally, the 300,000-strong SEIU Local 1199 added its name to the PDC statement. However, the leadership of this union and others were busy at the time working over their members to vote for “pro-labor” capitalist politicians in the midterm Congressional elections. Wolkenstein pointed out that they “would do better, if they were here today as a first step fighting for Mumia.” She won applause for saying that they should have “been prepared to bring out their membership in defending the transit workers when they were out on strike” and should “commit themselves along with every other union here, that labor will stop in this city until Mumia is free.”
During this campaign, we have repeatedly had to fight against the notion that the capitalist cops belong in the labor movement. At the Berlin rally, Gert Julius of the Tempelhof/Schöneberg local of the DGB union federation said that one “shouldn’t use the blanket label of Bullen [cops] for the police” and that “trade unions are for everyone.” Steffen Singer of the Spartakist Workers Party, German section of the International Communist League, responded: “As Marxists, we understand that being—that what you do—determines consciousness. And the task of the police is indeed to carry out, with arms, the laws of the bourgeoisie, its rule. In practice, you can see that in any strike.”
Some U.S. union officials have told the PDC that they would not officially support Mumia because of the presence of cops, corrections officers and security guards in their unions. It is the cop “union,” the F.O.P., which has led the campaign for Mumia’s execution and brutalized Mumia’s supporters. How can the unions mobilize for Mumia if they are infested with the cops, the paid guardians of the racist capitalist system? Cops out of the unions!
As the hour of decision in Mumia’s federal appeal approaches, trade unionists and all supporters of his fight for freedom must prepare for action. The PDC has called for emergency protests following a negative decision, as have other organizations, and a national demonstration has been called for three weeks later. Union activists: Bring out your co-workers! Spread the word! These rallies must serve as a springboard for mass protest. The kind of pressure that can have an impact on the capitalist courts is the social power of the multiracial labor movement demanding that Mumia, an innocent man, be freed now!