Resistance and Resilience: Rising Authoritarianism & White Supremacy

June 10, 2024
Posted in Uncategorized

Appendix to SEIU Convention 2024 Resolution #102a

As SEIU, we’re on a mission to create and shape a better future for working people, our communities and our families. We want a future where everyone is valued-no matter where we are from or the color of our skin. We want thriving families and communities. And we want and deserve to shape our own future, not just react to it because of a greedy few. 

To do this, SEIU has been looking closely at the big changes happening that affect working people and our jobs, lives, and communities. We know we’re living in a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA). 

One major trend that is affecting working people is the rising white supremacy and authoritarianism we are experiencing in our countries and across the world. It is creating a situation where workers and communities that have so much to gain from working together are being pitted against each other, all for the purpose of growing corporate power and enriching a greedy few. This is bad for us, our families, communities, and society more broadly. 

Often when people say or we hear white supremacy, we think the KKK. As SEIU learned through the union’s Racial Justice Task Force process in 2016, white supremacy is bigger than that. It’s a deeper problem, rooted in history, that keeps certain groups down to keep power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a greedy few. It’s about valuing everything white over everything non-white, about casting white people as more deserving than people of color, and it hurts both people of color and white people. The only ones who really benefit are a wealthy few. Take for example how the expansion of medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has been rejected in a number of states, mostly in the South, by tapping into racial resentment and stereotypes; casting the expansion as benefiting undeserving people of color. In fact, the failure to expand Medicaid has harmed white working people along with scape-goated people of color. 

At the same time, authoritarianism is becoming more common in countries around the world – including in the U.S. According to democracy experts, the U.S. and several other democracies around the world have now been labeled as “backsliding democracies.” In 2016, the United States elected President Donald Trump. He used his position to spread false ideas, try to take away our freedoms, and weaken our democracy, along with expressing racist, sexist and xenophobic ideas. 

Because of this, white supremacist and authoritarian-leaning groups became more confident and active. They played a big part in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Many of our schools are also feeling the effects of this-with some communities and states pushing book bans and preventing the teaching of history and facts related to racism and LGBTQ+ people. 

We value democracy and we know it’s harder to practice than it sounds. It means not falling for the political polarization we’re seeing now where it becomes ok to fight the results of an election just because the candidate one group wanted didn’t win. Not acting like it’s normal for elected leaders of one party to unseat those of the other party leaving the people they represent without a voice, just because you don’t agree with each other, as happened in Tennessee. Not standing up or speaking out when attempts are being made to outlaw dissent and protest. 

It should also come as no surprise that authoritarian leaders and regimes actively attack workers’ right to organize. They see organized working people and strong unions as a threat to their power. Unions have a history of defending democracy and bringing people together across racial lines. This gives our multiracial and multigenerational union the practice, knowledge and values needed to create an economy and democracy that works for everyone, no exceptions. At the union we are not about promoting an “us versus them.” We want all of us to be able to have safe, healthy, productive lives, regardless of race, view point, or political affiliation. We know that when we all do better, we all do better. 

To fight back against rising authoritarianism and white supremacy, and shaping the future we know we deserve and can have, we need to: 

  • Make sure everyone in the union understands these threats and is ready to respond, building a proactive movement to push back against these threats and organize for a diverse, inclusive democracy where everyone’s voice counts; 
  • Keep talking about how these issues are connected and create a narrative to explain it; refusing to let division and censorship win, and instead, aiming for a future where everyone can thrive when we unite. 
  • Include these challenges in our organizing goals and strategies; and 
  • Stay committed to being an anti-racist union, understanding that we can’t have economic justice without racial justice. 

We have to be ready to deal with ongoing crises like white supremacy and authoritarianism if we want a better future. Our union’s job is to build power for workers and use that power to fight these challenges. We’ll lead the way in finding solutions by bringing in a million new members over the next decade. Together, we’ll create a new era where everyone’s included and the economy works for all, no matter who we are or where we come from. That is the legacy we want to be a part of leaving for the generations to come after us.