Transcript: World After Covid with
Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Helena Cobban

Webinar recorded on June 24, 2020 


Video and Session Transcript

Helena Cobban (00:03):

Hi everyone. I'm Helena Cobban. I'm the president of Just World Educational. And I want to welcome you to our third session of our webinar series, “The World After COVID.”  The world has been changing extremely rapidly for the past few months. So that's why we're doing the project here and talking in particular about America's role in the world.

So today I am extremely happy to welcome Bill Fletcher, Jr. Bill. It's really good to have you with us.

Bill Fletcher (00:50)

It's great to be here, Helena.

Helena Cobban (00:51)

Thank you so much. And Bill, I guess you're with us from extragalactic territory, and you can maybe tell us a little bit more about the view from outer space later, but I love your background. 

Bill Fletcher (01:00):

Thank you.

Helena Cobban (01:01):

So, the two earlier sessions that we've done in this series were webinars with Richard Falk and Medea Benjamin. And in case you didn't actually manage to catch those earlier webinars, they are now available. We have archived videos and you can find the links for them at And Charlotte, by the way, we have a wonderful person working with us behind the scenes here, Charlotte Kates, who will be hosting the Q and A session after the discussion that Bill and I will be having. Charlotte is going to be posting all kinds of useful things in the chat.

So if you go to open your chat, then you will find all the links and resources and information. If you have any questions throughout the webinar, or tech questions,  you can send them to Charlotte in the chat there. And then later when we have the discussion with the Q and A, you can submit your questions either through the chat or through the Q and A button, all of which you should find at the foot of your Zoom screen.

So, anyway, Bill Fletcher, who is a veteran activist for labor rights, decolonization and racial justice. He's the former president of the TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. He's a widely syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator; he's co-authored books on Black workers in the labor movement. And he's the sole author of a book called, “They're Bankrupting Us and 20 other myths about unions.”

So a long time labor activist, his current website magazine is Global Africa, So I just want to put in a little personal thing that I found very moving about Bill's background and his writings.

10 years ago, Bill Fletcher wrote a blog post about a text by W.E.B. DuBois called “The Souls of White Folk.” And it's not very well known - it's not as well known as his earlier collection of essays, “The Souls of Black Folk.” But I think, especially for me as a person who enjoys white privilege in this, you know, white privileged world that we have, it was stunning because W.E.B. DuBois was writing this exactly 100 years ago in 1920.

I'm going to share my screen. And people who know me know that this always takes a long time to get organized. Oh, and I guess we need to do this in slide view slideshow.

So hopefully you are now seeing the links that I have put up to Bill Fletcher's 2010 take on W.E.B. DuBois’ “Souls of White Folk.” And then I found the text of “Souls of White Folk” itself. And both of these, I urge people to go and read if they want to understand kind of what's been happening since the end of World War I regarding white privilege being embedded in the international system.

So, sorry, that's all a little bit of a long introduction, but Bill, it's great to have you with us. We're going to be discussing the black lives matter here movement here in the United States and its global resonance. We're going to be talking about the effects on the United States’ global hegemony. We're going to be talking about what kind of lessons people trying to organize in this era of the erosion of American hegemony, what lessons we can take from the anti-apartheid movement back in the 1980s and 1990s.

And then at the end, we'll talk about the Democratic Party and politics in this country. And the ways that many people in the Democratic Party seem to be stoking a second Cold War with China, and what that means for all of us who are organizing in this country.

So Bill, first of all tell us your assessment of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. You've been a Black American activist for just about all of your life. What does this emergence, eruption right now of the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you?

Bill Fletcher (06:10):

Well, Helena, there's several things. I think it's important to offer the context, and the context includes that the efforts around the broad movement for Black lives began several years ago, particularly in the aftermath of the the Ferguson uprising and the killing by the police of Michael Brown. And so you had this eruption and this rise to the surface of the slogan Black Lives Matter, which then became the name of an organization and then became associated with a broad movement of not just one organization, but several, mainly younger African Americans, who were putting the issue of police atrocities on the table.

They were also trying to connect the issue of police atrocities and repression to broader issues facing Black America. And then there was a subsiding of this effort. And particularly after Trump was elected, the movement seemed in many ways to be off the screen.

Now people continued to organize, but there was a decline in activity. I think what we've seen in the last several weeks is a result of several things coming together and creating a critical mass situation: The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic collapse, which was sparked by COVID-19, but not caused by COVID-19. The several lynchings that took place - almost like on a weekly basis - of African Americans.

Trump's fueling the fire on all of this, a larger environmental crisis, and then certain things that many people are probably not paying attention to, but that there was circumstances that there were factors that did not directly involve African Americans that contributed to this, such as the reality that a disproportionate number of police killings in this country have been carried out against Native Americans. So there was the fusion of these different factors together that, I would argue, led to this explosion.

And it's been remarkable on many levels, including how multi-racial it is how international it is. And we'll talk about that later. And but it's very diffuse and it's spontaneous, Helena. And that's really important for the listeners to get, in that this is not a movement or rebellion led by one organization or even two,  and therefore even slogans like “Defund the Police” or “Abolish the Police” that have been raised in the movement, carry with them various interpretations depending on the different social forces that have been involved. The question we face now is what comes next.

Helena Cobban (09:58):

Yeah, I guess that is a huge question. And we'll get to that in a moment. Just before we move on, I want to play a little slideshow that I pulled together. Just images of the resonance of Black Lives Matter around the world, because I think this is an important aspect of the global dynamic right now.

So here we go with share and, so, here it is. Black Lives Matter resonating worldwide. This, I found, it’s from the North of England. It's obviously an Afro-Brit person with very important slogans that she's holding up. You know, I grew up in in England, and I was always struck after I came to this country, how much more advanced Americans, white Americans, were in recognizing the ills of slavery than white Brits had been when I was growing up.

Whereas, of course the, the slave trade was completely started by Europeans. I mean, and, and run by Europeans, including British, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and Europeans, you know, instituted and ran the institution for a very long time. And so here we have this Afro-Brit, and actually her t-shirt is great. It says, “More Blacks, More Dogs and More Irish,” as a take on the signs that they used to have up saying, “No Blacks, No Dogs and No Irish.”

And then this is in Bristol. Some of you may have seen what happened. This is a guy, Edward Colston, who was a famous and much admired slave trader in Bristol, UK. So last week he was toppled off his pedestal and then the demonstrators rolled him along the street.

And I'm kind of interested in the racial makeup of the people rolling him along the street there, and there he goes into the river. So he, I mean, he got treated for all those hundreds of years, a whole lot better than the enslaved African people whom his companies took across the Atlantic.

So now I've gone across the English Channel to France and we have Afro-French. And the guy on the left is saying, “I can't breathe,” in French. So the slogans definitely have lot of resonance.

And this obviously also in Paris, and this is a wonderful demonstration organized by, I think, a French woman of Moroccan origin, but a massive demonstration there. And here's another Afro-French woman who has been organizing in memory of her brother Adama Traore, who was killed by the police, there in front. So this is a worldwide phenomenon. This is from Brussels. And finally, this is from Rio de Janeiro. “Vidas negras importam.” I mean, the slogans are worldwide. So, Bill, take it away. What do you think is the meaning of all this?

Bill Fletcher (13:45):

Well, I at first I thought, well, this is good. You know, people expressing solidarity. And it reminded me of things that happened during the Vietnam War and people around the world were opposing U.S. aggression. But what's different about this is that it's, in some ways, Helena, I've started thinking of it as the outlines of a new international, because it's not simply supporting us in the United States, but it's saying that we, and our struggles, are facing a very similar if not the same opponent. So whether it's in occupied Palestinian territory, whether it's in Paris or London or any number of other places, people are raising up the issues of racist oppression and profound social inequalities.

And they're making the George Floyd atrocity a teachable moment utilizing their own experiences. And this really is quite remarkable. And I think that, for us in the United States, we're not used to that kind of solidarity, even in some of the more advanced movements. And so I think that looking at what the world was doing means to me that certainly those of us in the Black freedom movement need to understand that our circumstances are not unique.

And Helena, this is a very controversial position, because there are forces within the Black freedom movement that vehemently object to what can only be described as acts of solidarity, where other people's movements take some of the symbolism and slogans of ours and apply them to their conditions. And you'll have people saying that that's somehow appropriating our experience.

Now as a child of the sixties and seventies, I was very used to people around the world identifying with the Black freedom movement in the United States and around the world. Black Panther Parties that were showing up in all parts of the world, the Young Lords Party among Puerto Ricans emulating the Black Panther Party.

No one said that was appropriating. It was flattering. It was solidarity. Now, unfortunately, there are some people that are suggesting that if one puts out a cry, “Puerto Rican lives matter” or “Palestinian lives matter,” that somehow is taking away from Black Lives Matter. And I'd say, no, not at all. And I think that what we're seeing around the world is, one, that Black is the color of the racially oppressed, and that there is an identification with the victims of racist oppression. And I think that that's something that we have to really hammer away with.

Helena Cobban (17:33):

Yeah, it's really been very moving to me. I mean, you and I are both here in what we call the DMV. People outside don't understand that that's not the Department of Motor Vehicles. That's the District, Maryland, Virginia kind of connervation around in and around Washington DC.

And, you know, I've been down to two of the appropriately socially distanced actions here. And it's been very moving to see all kinds of people, but it does seem to be a Black led movement, which I think is great because, you know, there seems to be a very mature, at many different levels, Black organization – not, as you said, not just one organization, but a network of organizations. So you were quite right to say that this is a kind of a confluence of the COVID crisis, which is wreaking such havoc in communities of color in this country, and in all marginalized communities around the world. You know, it's really a marker of being economically and socially marginalized that you become much more susceptible to COVID, that's one thing.

And then the economic complete collapse of the U.S. economy for essentially three months and the police oppression. So, you know, none of these things on their own is new, but they have all come together in this kind of perfect storm. That seems from my point of view, to be dragging the United States off its pedestal, the pedestal it appropriated as global hegemon. And maybe we haven't yet pulled the statute completely off the pedestal and rolled him over to the river and dunked him in the river.

But this global hegemony seems to be really in question right now. So that makes the need for adjustment, especially for, you know, white Americans or anybody who has believed in this kind of global hegemonic role, the “indispensable nation.” There must be parallels with the ending of the settler colonial projects in Southern Africa, that you are so familiar with, or other colonial projects around the world that you were working on in Africa and elsewhere, back in the 1980s, 1990s.

What kind of lessons can we get take today from the anti-apartheid movement or the other anti-colonial movements of that era that will help us as Americans to build non hegemonic relations with people in other countries? This is “The Souls of White Folk,” right?

Bill Fletcher (20:49):

Well, before I answer that, I actually do want to make reference to, in a peculiar way, the “Souls of White Folk” essay. And let me explain why there has been a lot of discussion about parallels between this moment and other moments. Many people talk about 1968, 1969. And I would say: No, 1919, that in the aftermath of World War I, there was the misnamed Spanish flu, because it was actually an American flu. There was a depression, there was “red summer,” which were the pogroms against African American communities. There was the Red scare, the attack on radicals. There was a Seattle general strike. And all of these things came together, creating a very explosive situation, both domestically, but also internationally, when you add on the Versailles treaty and what was going on in the aftermath of World War I. Which brings me to “The Souls of White Folk,” and why I think it's really such an important essay.

Because DuBois, in the middle of World War I, took a position that was different from other socialists, in support of U.S. involvement in the war. And he caught a lot of hell for that. And it was good that he caught hell, because he was wrong. But World War I, and the Russian revolution, and the Versailles treaty, radicalized DuBois. And “The Souls of White Folk,” you can feel it when you're reading it.

You can feel both the poetry of it and the anger that's contained in it. And I think it's analogous to right now, that this confluence of forces is potentially bringing forth a whole new echelon of radicalized people who are going to be looking to do something. And if they can't find anything, they will fall into cynicism. That's one of my big, big fears, which then takes me to your question. Whether the relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world is changing and has been changing for quite some time, in large part because of the restructuring of global capitalism, and most recently because of the idiocy and incompetence of Donald Trump, but what happens in the, if you want to take the South African situation that I think is important for us to keep in mind, is that, in a moment of crisis, there are multiple paths that can unfold.

And there is frequently the mistake that is made by those of us on the left, who in looking at these moments of excitement and moments of mobilization, that we project the optimal outcome, as opposed to recognizing that there's a series of several different possibilities. In the case of South Africa, the fact that the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, the two major groups were led by revolutionaries, in many cases, Communists and other revolutionary forces, led many people to assume that the South African transition would be a revolutionary transition. And that it wouldn't be just the end of apartheid, but it would be the end of the particular kind of capitalist experiment that was playing out in South Africa.

And it turned out that wasn't the case, that there was in fact, a dramatic mass mobilization. There was incredible international support with high levels of organization among the peoples’ movements, but the neither the ANC nor the PAC could militarily defeat the South African Defense Force, nor could the South African Defense Force militarily defeat the ANC and the PAC and the others. And so it was a standoff of sorts. And so there was a transition away from apartheid, but it did not bring with it fully revolutionary conclusions. And there were many of the leaders that took power, some power after liberation made a mistake, in my humble opinion, of not pressing forward with the kinds of structural reforms that were so necessary to keep progress moving in South Africa.

We made that same mistake in the United States, then as a result of the 1960s and early seventies in plateauing. We came to a plateau, and could not get off that plateau. The current movement faces that as a possibility, and this is one of the reasons that organization and strategy become essential. And those are some of the lessons that I learned.

Helena Cobban (26:42):

Oh, I think the recording is going on. But thanks for looking at that. So, lessons from South Africa. You're quite right, that in that case, neither side was able militarily to impose its will on the other, so you had to have a negotiation which did not give, you know, many supporters of the ANC everything that they wanted, certainly in terms of like economic redistribution and restructuring. But it was, it was still a very inspiring movement for me.

Bill Fletcher (27:28):

It was incredibly inspiring for the entire world and, having visited South Africa several times after liberation, you could get that sense, but you also got the sense, and this is beginning in 1999, of growing frustration. And the fact that the leadership of the country had accepted a neoliberal globalization, or what I call a capitalist fundamentalism as the guiding guide, even though the leadership used left language and left rhetoric, could spin all of this as if they were Marxists, but were nevertheless accepting the precepts of neoliberalism.

We have to be very careful about that here because Helena, I mean, one of the things that's been striking over the last several weeks are the corporate forces that are waving the flag of Black Lives Matter, and it's like when you have Nike praising Colin Kaepernick, and you have the Major League Baseball owners saying Black Lives Matter, it's dizzying. You know, on the one hand, you want to say, well, this is good. The movement is pushing these people. But on the other hand, you have to be concerned that that the result is sort of an inflection of the direction.

Helena Cobban (29:05):

And certainly if you look at what's happening in terms of economic policy coming from the federal government right now, you know, they have been shoveling money into the financial institutions and the big corporations. Whereas what it seems to me to be really needed is a very extensive kind of New Deal, right? The government itself would hire hundreds of thousands of people to go out and do basic infrastructure jobs, road building, fixing bridges, building and staffing hospitals, teaching children, all of those things that our country so desperately needs. By the way, I learned something interesting the other day, I learned that the Civilian Conservation Corps - which is another thing that we need, we need a kind of a dedicated green aspect to this New Deal-type employment - The Civilian Conservation Corps was actually headed by General George Marshall, a military man who brought kind of, military levels of organization and foresight and strategic thinking to the job.

And later went on to, you know, undertake the Marshall plan in Europe. But I mean, this is great. We could actually repurpose a whole chunk of the U.S. military that is currently deployed at 800 bases around the world and have them work with unemployed people in this country to do Civilian Conservation Corps-type things.

There are all kinds of exciting ideas out there, and you're right. We need to strategize from now because the corporations that you mentioned are not about to solve the problems of low income people.

So if we look at the international dimensions of this: When we were talking about the demise of apartheid, that was in a sense the full flowering of neoliberalism and the capitalist economy around the world. But do you think that the capitalism and neoliberalism, whatever they call the Washington consensus – haven’t they taken a huge beating with this current crisis?

Bill Fletcher (31:39):

Yes, no question. So capitalism, as you know, goes through different stages of accumulation and neoliberalism itself was not the result of a plan that was created by some geniuses, even though there were some geniuses that had a plan. It was largely an experiment or a series of experiments in response to the crisis that Keynesian economics found itself in, by the end of the 1960s. And it's been very successful for the rich, for the elite, a very successful experiment. It has been taking serious hits since the 2008 collapse, but it has not disappeared.

And I believe that that there's a few things there. One is that there is a debate within capital regarding what can and should succeed neoliberalism. And there is also a weakness on the part of the people's movements about what the people's movements can advance.

And that's in part related to both the crises, a crisis of socialism and a crisis of the, what Samir Amin called the “national populist projects.” Both of those have led to a situation where many of the people's organizations are really unclear. What is the next step? And there have been experiments, the so called “pink tide” in Latin America, which had certain important successes but has been pushed back.

We had the the so-called Arab spring, the Arab democratic uprisings, which one can argue have actually not really ended, but they went through a certain stage that did not complete a revolutionary process. So you have this problem and in this problem, in this moment and problem, some of the dangers include forms of right wing populism and Bonapartism that are showing themselves throughout the world, not just in the advanced capitalist world.

The polarization of wealth, the environmental crisis, limiting resources, changing shifts in population have provided fertile ground for right-wing populist movements. And some of these populist movements embrace elements of neo-liberalism, as well as elements of our kind of welfarism, but a racist welfarism as you see, like in Poland. And where this going to, how this is going to play out, remains very uncertain.

And when I talk about Bonapartism, what I mean is that there may be circumstances where neoliberal capital is no longer able to rule through political figures that really embrace it, but where people's movements are not capable of removing neoliberal capital. And in that situation, there could be all kinds of situations from fascism to military dictatorships, to semi-authoritarian regimes.

Helena Cobban (35:48):

Right. I guess they say that every crisis presents both great opportunities and great risks, and it's up to us to try to maximize the opportunities and guard against the risks. One last question, China. Do you think that we're going to see a rising Cold War against China as being kind of an organizing principle for broad sections of the ruling elite in this country, including in the Democratic Party?

Bill Fletcher (36:26):

Well, the, the, the ruling classes of the United States truth be told, are very confused about how to relate to China. Because China is integral to global capitalism. We're not dealing with the China of Mao Tse-Tung, we’re dealing with a China that has integrated itself into global capitalism with Chinese characteristics, so to speak. And so these transnational corporations rely on China. The United States truth be told, relies on Chinese investments. And so you have that as a problem. Then you have sort of, I'm going to call it a mass sentiment. I don't mean everybody has it, but a mass-based sentiment, that is trying to make sense of the restructuring and global capitalism, the relocation of industry in many cases outside of the United States, but more frequently within the United States, but to rural areas.

It's trying to make sense of what you were saying before about hegemony, but in racial terms. In other words, it's not just that the U.S. economy may not be hegemonic, but that white people have found themselves now in this very different position. I'm talking about working classes and professional managerial classes and and small business owners, who have found themselves in a situation that they weren't expecting, of a declining living standard.

And it's in that moment that right-wing populist scapegoating becomes very, very persuasive. To basically blame things on China, to blame things on Mexico, etc. So you have this political factor that's going on. And then you have the question of the fact that China is not a puppet state, even though it's tied into global capitalism, it's not a puppet state of anyone else. It has a very strong military, very sophisticated high tech, and is building sea power. And this means several things. One, for many of China's neighbors, including Vietnam and the Philippines, people are worried. They're worried about Chinese hegemonism. And then for the United States, there's a question, will they now have to compete with another global military power?

And so this makes for a very dangerous situation. As you were saying before of a cold war, a new cold war, the Chinese are not. You want to make many criticisms of the Chinese government and I make plenty of them. But I don't see evidence of the Chinese are interested in provoking a cold war with the United States. What they've said, pretty much, is something that we say on the streets of the Bronx, which is, “if you start the fight, I'm going to finish it.” And I don't think that enough people appreciate the significance of that.

Helena Cobban (40:24):

Good point. Interesting. Well, we're going to open it up now to a few questions that we've gotten coming in and that we, we only have about a 10, 15 minutes for questions. I'm going to hand things over to my colleague, Charlotte Kates, who's going to host the whole Q and A period. If people have additional questions, please send them in via chat or via the Q and A, which you'll find at the bottom of the screen. So Charlotte, over to you.

Charlotte Kates (40:57):

Okay, great. Thank you so much. Thank you, Helena. And thank you Bill for an insightful and informative discussion that has provoked some excellent questions to, to dig deeper into some of the issues that have been brought up already in this conversation. We have a few questions from Beth Lyons who is actually the alternate representative of the United Nations of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a long time international criminal defense attorney, raising some several interesting points.

And one question that Beth is asking is what are some of the ideological issues that need to be addressed now to keep up the momentum? You mentioned in the beginning the different ways that international solidarity is viewed within a lot of these discussions. In addition, there's been in the mainstream media language in the past few weeks -  the term “white privilege” has entered the discussion. What things need to be done in order to transform this form of this notion into a force for equality and justice, particularly in the United States, which is a society based on white supremacist bourgeois rule?

Bill Fletcher (42:11):

So Charlotte, more importantly, Beth Lyons is a friend of mine for decades. And I miss her. And so it's good that Beth connected.

So in terms of ideological issues, let me try to answer this briefly. So one thing was what I mentioned before, which is what I'd call sort of Black exclusivity or Black uniqueness. And this is where I think it's a reflection of the infection of postmodernism in our movement. And it's the idea that our situation is so unique that any comparisons and analogies are appropriation and are therefore incorrect.

And this view keeps us on the defensive permanently because it denies us the ability to build strategic alliances with other forces that are facing racist oppression. This is one challenge. The second challenge related to what Beth was raising about white privilege is that the term “white privilege,” I think, has been corrupted. The term “white privilege “as articulated by people like Theodore Allen - and in fact, you could even go back to Lenin, and his references to national privilege - was not about a personality disorder.

It was about a system of oppression. And the system of oppression that brings with it, privilege. Privilege is equivalent to identifying a differential in treatment between populations, that's imposed upon them by the ruling elites. So for example, when you have white people that come into a meeting and they'll say something like, “Well, let me just acknowledge my privilege.” That's, like, absurd.

First of all, I'm not really interested in hearing that, right? It doesn't mean anything. What means something is whether you're going to be a John Brown or an Anne Braden, right? You're going to actually engage in the anti-racist struggle, recognizing that you have an interest in the outcome. So ideologically we have to, to borrow from Cabral, return to the source. And in this case, we have to return to what the essence means, the essence of white privilege: that we're fighting a system of white privilege, a system of white supremacist, national oppression. It's not about making white people better people, though white people will become better people when we defeat white supremacist national oppression.

Charlotte Kates (45:09):

Thank you so much. We have a couple of additional questions that have also come in as well. We have a question from Martha Schmidt, which is looking at the issue of police unions in the United States. You've written about this topic and it's also a large topic that has come up for discussion in the movement, particularly among people involved in labor activism as well. What do you think about police unions in the United States? Should they be permitted? The International Labor Organization allows states to except police from the right to organize. And just to say that Martha Schmidt is another exceptional longterm human rights lawyer who has joined the conversation today.

Bill Fletcher (45:55):

Thank you. Well, I believe that any worker or employee should have the right to unionize  - including soldiers - and in some parts of the world, soldiers are unionized. I think that telling, particularly in the public sector, some workers that they cannot unionize puts us on a very slippery slope, which is what the right wing would like to do, whereby they could start with police and then move to teachers.

And I would put a dollar to a donut that that is exactly the order that would follow: police and then teachers, and then it would go on from there. So that's point number one, second, police or law enforcement unions are among the most conservative elements of organized labor, hands down. This is not a discussion about individual law enforcement officers.

I know some police that are great people. I know some people in corrections that are great people. This is not about who you know, it's about the system. And recognizing that the system of law enforcement is part of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. It has a particular role, and that role creates a certain kind of culture, a quasi-military authoritarian culture that affects the people that are in it. That's the reality of it.

And so when you have law enforcement in with the rest of the union movement, as I've been saying the last several weeks, it plays the role of an anchor on a ship that's trying to move harbor, but the anchor has been deployed. And it holds the ship back from gaining speed. And you can see that in any number of unions where they have significant law enforcement components, many of whom are very active.

So my personal feeling is that law enforcement unions should all be together. There should be like one national law enforcement union and they should be together and they should not be part of organized labor because they're not operating - as I was saying in this article in In These Times - they don't operate based on the ethic that A. Phillip Randolph articulated, one of the great leaders of the labor movement. He said the essence of trade unionism is social uplift. Labor has been, the liberal movement has been, a haven for the dispossessed, the poor, the disenfranchised.

That is not the ethics of law enforcement unions. The ethos for the law enforcement unions is to protect their members. And so if we're talking about building a 21st century labor movement, it really needs to be guided by what Randolph was suggesting. Now, one other piece of this is that while the law enforcement unions are the most conservative, they're not the only conservative force.

And that the U.S. trade union movement has a long and checkered history when it comes to race and gender, in terms of who was included, who was excluded. You know, the Industrial Workers of the world were the only federation that refused to accept segregated affiliates and, you know, you've had back and forth over the years. So my feeling is that there's a broad discussion that needs to take place in the movement about the role of law enforcement in a democratic society. The role that law enforcement unions should play as well as other unions, but also this broader question about how do we deepen the struggle for racial justice.

Charlotte Kates (50:15):

Thank you so much. And we do we have one more question, I think, that we'll get to and I'm going to combine a couple of questions here. Ardeth Platte asks, As a mentor and mobilizer, what you do or suggest be put before the movement to capitalize on the opportunities before us? It seems like a key time to lift the demands.

And going back to Beth, she mentioned that you discussed the spontaneity of the movement in the beginning, as opposed to the leadership of one or two organizations in this context. What do you think the role of organization is in maintaining and moving the current movement forward?

Bill Fletcher (50:52):

And let me just add one more. Someone asks about Bonapartism. Bonapartism is a reference to a political situation in which no particular class is strong enough to dominate the state and that a group or a clique rises to manage the state. The state remains capitalist, but there's a stalemate in the class struggle. And that's what it refers to, it was from Marx and his discussion of Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III in France.

To your question, what should we do? I'm glad you asked. One of the things that I've been pushing, is that I believe that organized labor and its allies and community groups, longstanding community groups, need to join forces in this moment and build on the momentum and energy to develop a people's anti-repression coalition. And that this needs to be a national effort, it needs to be an effort that insists that there should be no troops deployed in the United States to address the social crisis; that the police need to be - that law enforcement needs to be restructured and demilitarized.

There needs to be justice for the lynched, and there needs to be anti-austerity. So, in other words, because we're talking about a spontaneous movement, we're not talking about a movement led by XYZ political party or, or ABC political movement. We're talking about a disparate movement that has all these different forces, and there are these demands that are coming forward.

We've got to listen to that and formulated in a way that moves forward a process. So we're actually moving forward in a battle to introduce structural reforms in the system that push things to the left in the absence of some sort of people's anti-repression coalition or pro-democracy effort, whatever you want to call it. One of the dangers, which you can see historically, is that the right will be sitting back sharpening their knives. They will be waiting for our movement to crest and to decline.

If you think of Italy in 1919, and the factory takeovers that were spreading, of the strikes, and many people believed that Italy was on a verge of a socialist revolution, 1919, and within three years fascism, right?

The movement, the great workers movement that had emerged, declined, there was insufficient organization. It was disunity on the left and, in that situation, the combination of the landed interests and elements of capital join forces back Mussolini, and well, you know the rest. And that's what we have to be concerned about.

Charlotte Kates (54:13):

Thank you so much for those words. And now I'm just going to hand it back over to Just World Educational President Helena Cobban for some concluding thoughts.

Helena Cobban (54:23):

Thank you so much, Charlotte, you do a great job helping us with the webinars and Bill, thank you. I love your view from outer space, but clearly your feet are firmly on the ground. And it's just been a real pleasure to have you. I'll say goodbye to you in a moment. But just before I do, I want to remind people that there is a video being made of this webinar, and we've made videos of the earlier ones with Richard Falk and Medea Benjamin. Now what we're doing is, we're building those videos and associated materials into an online resource center that we will continue to build up that we hope will become a great resource as our Syria resource center already has become. But of course this always costs money. So if you want to support our project, go to our website,, and you'll find the donate button there and all donations are very gratefully accepted.

Another thing I ask you to do is, as you leave the webinar this time, you will get sent to our evaluation form. I'm sorry, it didn't work last time, but we really do want people's input to help us design, to make this project be as useful as possible to as many people as possible. So, if you can fill out your evaluations, that would be great.

Lastly, we have next Wednesday at 1:00 PM, Vijay Prashad is going to be with us. Okay. we'd go right through my slideshow and end up with Vijay Prashad. So, Vijay Prashad,  I'm sure you many of you know about him. He is an amazingly inspiring leader of global thought and is the chief editor of LeftWord Books, the director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and he's the chief correspondent for Globetrotter.

He's published numerous books and many, many wonderful reports. His newest book, Washington Bullets, is going to be released on July 8th. So I'm delighted that we're going to be able to have a sort of little preview from Vijay of the book. The book, by the way, has a preface by president Evo Morales Ayma. So I'm sure it's going to be a wonderful book, and we very much look forward to seeing all of the attendees and talking with Vijay Prashad, next Wednesday at 1:00 PM.

And now comes the sad time when I have to say goodbye. And thank you to Bill Fletcher, Bill, it's been a real pleasure to be working with you again. We've done a couple of projects recently, and thank you so much.

Bill Fletcher (57:37)

It's my pleasure. Thank you so much. I enjoyed this well.

Helena Cobban (57:40)

You're raising such important issues, and thanks to you. Thanks to Charlotte Kates and thanks to all of our attendees here - people who ask questions, people who didn't ask questions. Please fill out your evaluation forms and we look forward to having you with us next week. Thanks and goodbye.


Session Resources

Speakers for the Session


Bill Fletcher, Jr.


Helena Cobban


Support Just World Educational

If you find this project worthwhile, engaging, and useful, please consider supporting our mission. We strive to expand the dialogue on vital international issues by providing educational materials and a platform for critical thinkers.

JWE has a golden opportunity to make a difference in this country...
Richard Falk

Stay in touch! Sign up for our newsletter: