Battling Colonization Continued: Why All Unions Should #StandWithStandingRock

Emily R. Champlin,* RJ Federal Fellow, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Photo by: Joe Brusky: No changes have been made to this photo


The #NoDAPL Fight Continues

 Back in December, I wrote a blog post about how the #NoDAPL movement is a poignant example of the fight for reproductive justice.  Unfortunately, that fight continues today.

Just four days after assuming office, President Trump signed an executive order to advance the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This came as no surprise to most, as reviving the Keystone XL pipeline was a campaign promise made by Trump last year. Trump may also have a personal financial interest in the DAPL, as he once owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company building the DAPL. He has since gotten rid of all of his stocks; however, ETP CEO donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Campaign, and ETP’s stock is now soaring.

After the respite of the short-lived victory in December, the #WaterProtectors quickly moved back into position in Cannon Ball, ND to stop the DAPL. They were met with an increasingly militarized police force that had “bulldozers, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected trucks, and Long Range Acoustic Device sound cannons.”

Veterans and other allies report being targeted by police as they attempt to make their way back to the camps – with camping gear and supplies being taken by police after being pulled over.  Also, a judge recently denied the Sioux’s emergency order to halt the pipeline.

Trump’s Empty Promise to Trade Union Families

Trump is a master of distraction.  Rather than confront the real issue involved in the #NoDAPL fight, the continued colonization and oppression of Native Americans, Trump is framing this as being about jobs. He is making false and empty promises to white working families by stating that he will use only union labor for projects like the DAPL, Keystone XL Pipeline, and possibly even the infamous Mexican border wall.

In doing so, Trump is pitting low-income families – and unions—against each other by promising primarily white, low-income union workers temporary jobs at the direct expense of the low-income, Native American families who live on the Standing Rock reservation.

Why Unions Should Oppose the DAPL

Some unions are run by conservative leaders, while others consistently take progressive stances. The conservative leaning unions are traditionally the trade unions. For example, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), have come out in favor of projects like the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipeline, while progressive unions, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have come out vehemently opposed to ignoring what supporting these projects will do to low-income communities and communities of color.

When unions support projects like the DAPL, they undermine the entire purpose of unions: to protect the working class from exploitation. Unions were born out of the oppression of the working class by the upper class. To use the working class as a political tool to oppress the Native American community is dangerous and counterproductive to union goals.

Photo courtesy of: SEIU Local 26

All Unions Need Inclusive Values

 As a millennial with a passion for the power of unions to do good in the world, I believe millennials must re-engage with unions and bring an intersectional perspective to a system that has traditionally only valued white men.

There has long been a divide within unions, where many building trade unions have taken the perspective that any increase in union jobs, no matter the consequences, is a win for workers. They have a long and dark history capitalizing on the racist exclusion of other workers. Their most infamous work was helping to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act into law.

Progressive unions, however, have realized the fatal flaw in having exclusion as a core tenant in the fight for workers’ rights.  It betrays the entire mission of unions to fight for oppressed communities, as “[o]nly a progressive labor movement that sees workers as part of a larger social movement for justice and equality can represent the interests of all working-class Americans, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status.”  I believe millennials are an important part of creating this larger social movement that holds unions accountable to inclusivity.

Trump is pitting marginalized communities against each other, and disappointingly, it is working.  What conservative unions need to realize is that only corporations win in this scenario.  Trump represents the corporate business world, not the working class.  His own companies, and the corporations involved in these projects, are the same corporations that outsourced their labor and production to other countries because unions were “asking for too much.”  For any union to side with them is to work against not only your own interests, but the interests of all oppressed people.  This is why all unions must #StandWithStandingRock.

*The author is a white woman who writes this from the perspective of an ally/co-conspirator in the fight for racial justice.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How