Union activists jeer National Guard troops on riot duty, eject them from quarters

No doubt the Minnesota National Guard troops ordered to the Twin Cities to keep the peace during the ongoing protests over Derek Chauvin’s trial and Daunte Wright’s shooting would rather have been anywhere else than on standby at the St. Paul Labor Center.

But instead of showing their appreciation for the citizen soldiers whose lives have been upended to protect against a replay of last summer’s riots, a contingent of organized labor activists accused the assembled national guard troops of “repressing protests” and expelled them from the labor center in “a critical demonstration of solidarity between labor and the fight against police brutality.”

On the Left Voice website, labor activist Cliff Willmeng said several others joined him in breaking the citywide curfew to confront the national guard troops at the labor meeting center.

Rank and file union members, community activists, and various union staff members assembled at the Labor Center Wednesday night and found more than 15 armored vehicles, and 50 National Guard troops had been given the keys to the central union facility. Workers from CWA, MNA, UBC and other locals informed the soldiers that union members support the communities harmed by police violence and racism and that the Labor Center was off limits to armed forces participating in repressing protests across the Twin Cities.  

The labor activists in the Pioneer Press account of the ugly scene made it clear where their loyalties lay, jeering as guard troops retreated from their temporary quarters in the building.

The National Guard then rolled out of the Labor Center on Wednesday evening, to chants of “Don’t come back!” and “Whose house? Our house!” and “Na-na-na-na, goodbye!” shouted by a dozen or more labor advocates.

The ousting took little more than an hour, and illustrated the widening gulf between the public safety measures championed by Democratic leaders such as Gov. Tim Walz, who have sworn to protect the Twin Cities from the unrest that caused upward of $700 million in damage nearly a year ago, and the civil rights concerns of social justice activists, including rank-and-file members of the labor movement.

“I was a little surprised at how fast it went,” said Kieran Knutson, president of the Communications Workers of America Minneapolis Local 7250, who arrived at the St. Paul Labor Center on Wednesday evening with staffers, rank-and-file members and executive board officers from eight different labor groups.

The Minnesota National Guard was widely credited with restoring order in the midst of looting, rioting and arson following the death of George Floyd in police custody last May, once Gov. Tim Walz deployed the necessary number of troops.

Though Walz later referred to guard members as “19 year olds who are cooks,” he joined House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown in condemning the labor activists’ treatment of the troops ejected from the St. Paul center.

“The treatment of our National Guardsmen stationed at the St. Paul Labor Center this week was nothing short of appalling,” said Daudt, in a written statement. “These are citizen soldiers who left their families and jobs this week to keep us safe. They deserve better than this.”

But radical labor activists like Willmeng have made it clear they’re just getting started.

The action of union members against the National Guard’s repression of the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates that organized labor is a critical and powerful force and must side with working class people rising up against systemic racism, not on the side of police repression. The united force of working class people, organized and acting on our power, can not only turn the tide in specific protests; it could transform our world. That power has to be reclaimed and wielded by rank and file union members today. Once we do that, no politician, CEO or military in the world will be able to stop us.

The embarrassing incident exposes a fault line between factions in organized labor that continues to widen as leftist extremists take over the DFL.

In a Thursday evening Twitter post, Rep. Dave Lislegard, who represents an Iron Range district, said: “While I am a proud John F. Kennedy labor Democrat I’m not proud of and do not support the actions taken against the men and women in uniform who are serving us all. An apology is in order.”