American union federations should not accept police associations as members.
Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:
- More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
- Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout
We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.
Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.
Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.
Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:
“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”
It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.
But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.
American labor should not affiliate with police associations.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 Central Time. They podcast the program plus other statements on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site