Labor joins community at Ferguson march

FERGUSON, Missouri – I work for a union, the Service Employees International Union, and I work at the St. Louis office of the Healthcare IIMK local. One of the facilities to which I am assigned is a nursing home here and several of my other sites encircle this north St. Louis County suburb.

The city of St. Louis is a progressive-voting town where Republican candidates don’t even bother running for office but St. Louis County is conservative. Among the 29 percent of the population that is white are the sons and daughters of many who fled the inner city in earlier times. Voter participation among that section of the town is far greater than it is in the African American population with the result being a mostly-white town government and police force.

In the town itself, black people hold the lower-paying jobs and white people tend to hold the jobs that provide what is closer to a living wage.

SEIU is a social justice union; SEIU Healthcare IIMK is one of the more progressive locals; and the St. Louis office has a reputation for being the “radical corner,” a really active part of the local.

On Saturday, August 16, I arrived an hour early for a march here. It was raining, the turnout was not looking too promising, and a waterlogged assortment of flowers and candles in the middle of Coppercreek Rd. (where Michael Brown was executed) cut a morose scene in the sunless morning. Rev. Jesse Jackson was under a popup tent talking with local media. I was passing out “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” buttons that my wife and I made the night before. It was only a few minutes before the march was to start, and turnout was still dismal.

Noon hit, the clouds parted, bullhorns fired up, and waves of protestors came seemingly from nowhere to swell our ranks. The march was underway, and hundreds were chanting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

I began to notice the purple shirts donned by my union members, before and behind me. SEIU banners were being carried, and purple bracelets were everywhere I looked. Other members that had not “purpled up” were scattered throughout, shouting their heads off. I could not have been prouder. As the mile-long column marched down the main street of Florissant, whole families poured from their doors and joined the procession. Ice cream trucks parked in the suicide lanes handed out rocket pops to kids marching. The opposing lane was loaded with cars honking in solidarity and raised open hands protruding from every window.

What does this have to do with unions, you ask?

Unions are made up of workers. Workers pay dues to hire support staff and representation. SEIU members live in north St. Louis County and north St. Louis City, so we are proud to support our workers in any capacity that we can. There should be no divide between labor and community. If it is the peoples’ struggle, then it is the workers’ struggle…and that is the struggle for all of us.

No justice? No peace.

Photo: Ferguson August 19, 2014. Earchiel Johnson/PW



Nicholas James
Nicholas James

Nicholas James is a union rep living in St. Louis, Missouri. Political button and sticker maker. Speaks English, Spanish, German, and Croatian.