Cop-Free AFSCME Manifesto

It’s important to remember the history of unions and police. Workers have not always allowed police in our unions. In fact, in 1897, delegates at the convention for the American Federation of Labor (later the AFL-CIO) refused the membership of a Cleveland police association, soundly reasoning that it was “not within the province of the trade union movement to specially organize policemen, no more than to organize militiamen, as both … are too often controlled by forces inimical to the labor movement.” It was a historical mistake to ever let police join—a morally bankrupt bargain made in the interests of preserving political power for the union bureaucracy and appeasing reformists. And it’s impossible for us to fight for racial and economic justice while allying with the torchbearers of racist exploitation.

This movement cannot focus on changing the minds of AFSCME’s leadership. If that were our strategy, we would be doomed to fail. Union leaders like AFSCME’s Lee Saunders will always have more to gain by preserving the status quo than by supporting radical actions that increase solidarity for the entire working class.

Instead, we must build power from the roots, and focus on organizing our fellow rank-and-file, especially those within marginalized communities who are the most acutely affected by police terror, and who would have the most to gain from police disaffiliation. We can do this by building consciousness among each other about the ways that police and the prison industrial complex destroy communities and misuse union power, and how our union shields them. We should also focus on strengthening inter-local and inter-council bonds beyond the traditional union hierarchies—only as an organized, unified front can we hope to counter the stagnancy of our leadership.

As part of this strategy, it would be wise to organize for disaffiliation primarily at the local and council levels. Councils with little or no police presence will be the easiest to work within. And it’s there where we can first introduce statements and resolutions demanding disaffiliation.

In councils with a greater police presence, it will be more of an uphill battle. Power-mapping and allying with local organizers will be especially important there. If, at present, we cannot find a way to pass resolutions for full disaffiliation within those councils, we must demand a freeze on new police and carceral locals by introducing resolutions barring their future incorporation. This will help cap their numbers and put the brakes on their reactionary influence within those councils, and within AFSCME as a whole. It will also give us more momentum to demand full disaffiliation.

We welcome further debate and discussion of these tactics from people who share our vision of a cop-free AFSCME, and we likewise welcome collaboration from similarly aligned organizations and movements across the world. A better world is possible, but only if we organize and fight for it.

In Solidarity,