4 November 2016

Defend Standing Rock Activists!

On October 27, police and National Guardsmen brutally attacked some 200 protesters attempting to block construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Over 140 people were arrested and more than 50 injured as the cops deployed Humvees, armored trucks and a bulldozer to clear a protest encampment and push activists off the land. Police shot protesters with rubber bullets, gassed them with pepper spray and caged some in what activists described as dog kennels. Since August, police have arrested more than 400 people on charges of criminal trespassing, participating in a riot and resisting arrest. We say: Drop all the charges! Hands off the protesters! National Guard out!

As for the DAPL itself, Marxists have no reason to either support or oppose it. In general, oil pipelines serve a socially useful function of transporting fuel and are overall safer than other forms of oil transport. But cutting corners to boost profits is the name of the game for the energy barons and the capitalists in every industry. There is concern that an oil spill would threaten the Standing Rock Sioux reservation water supply. In order to combat the capitalists’ cost-saving schemes, which are often the cause of pipeline leaks and other industrial accidents, what is needed are fighting unions that would enforce union control of safety standards and practices in construction, operation and maintenance.

Then, both the Sioux and workers on the job would be better off. But such a perspective is not that of Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers union, which represents construction workers on the DAPL. In a September 6 statement that drips with racist vitriol, O’Sullivan condemned the Communications Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union and other unions supporting the protests for having “sided with THUGS against trade unionists.”

For all his revolting bigotry, O’Sullivan hardly has a monopoly within union officialdom when it comes to siding with the bosses in the name of protecting jobs. The way forward is the forging of the unity of the workers and oppressed under a new leadership. As we observed in “Standoff at Standing Rock” (WV No. 1096, 23 September): “A class-struggle union leadership would insist on full pay for the workers every day, whether construction is carried out or not. Workers shouldn’t suffer if the pipeline is delayed—the company should!”

The escalation of repression at Standing Rock is of a piece with centuries of racist atrocities against American Indians, whose near-extermination was integral to the consolidation of U.S. capitalism. To this day, Native Americans are disproportionately mired in poverty. Only the destruction of American capitalism through socialist revolution and the inauguration of an era of socialist development will redress the great historic crimes against American Indians and lift them from material scarcity and oppression.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1099, 4 November 2016)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.