Charlottesville (Virginia, US) and Europe’s extreme-right – Trade unions against racism, fascism and Nazis

(16 August 2017) The demonstration that brought together different extreme-right groups and which openly displayed racist and neonazi symbols in Charlottesville, 12 and 13 August, was appalling. We join our US union colleagues in condemning the hate speech and crimes, the intolerance, the bigotry, neonazism and white supremacism that manifested itself so openly.

Like many in the US we were aghast to see people carry Nazi-flags without being arrested and without being condemned. Some participants were fully armed and have been photographed fighting with and hitting anti-fascist protestors. An extreme right sympathizer killed a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injured 19 others.

These white supremacists felt encouraged by President Trump’s initial lack of condemnation of their positions. He only corrected this when ex-KKK leaders and others were indulging that he supported them and after many made clear his conduct was not acceptable. European politicians like Merkel spoke out before him, calling the scenes “absolutely repulsive – naked racism, antisemitism and hate in their most evil form…”  People would have expected Trump to say like Merkel that he supported “those who peacefully oppose such aggressive, far-right views”.  But he has not. Trump has a history of bigotry, supporting the birther movement and attacking immigrants for example.  Trump continues to blame both left and right for the events thus equalizing racists with those who fight against discrimination and racism. Richard Trumka, the head of the US trade union confederation AFL-CIO resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council together with several leaders of major business groups over the President’s lack of condemning the acts of domestic racist terrorism.

These groups are not exclusive to the US. Far-right groups are represented in many Parliaments in European countries and in the EU parliament. They felt emboldened by Trump and people like Marine LePen sought to rub shoulders with him. Intolerance against refugees, migrants and Muslims and scapegoating them for the social and economic problems faced by many people is what they feed on. There are many main-stream media that fuel this with one-sided reporting on Islam, migrants, Roma as posing threats as the EU’s fundamental rights agency has researched.  Examples enough of politicians that would rather condemn anti-fascists than consider that the social and economic policies supported by these same politicians and which increase inequalities are a primary cause of working people concerns. We have to look at the social and economic situation that pushes many in poverty, low wage and precarious jobs . Migrants are not responsible for this. Neo-liberal policies are, and are much to blame for creating the space for the abhorrent politics of these far-right groups.  Trade unions build a voice in our work places and in society. Many unions are organizing workers to speak out. Unions stand up for values of social justice, equality and democracy. With the European Parliament elections around the corner (June 2019) we will be defending and promoting the interests of workers and society for equality, just transition, for pay rises and decent working conditions, for investment in public services and for a social Europe. We want policies that address social dumping, precarious work and we want an end to the attacks on bargaining. That provides the road to Another Europe in which exploitation and discrimination have not place.

Mrs. Merkel will soon be tested if she will stand with peaceful antifascist demonstrators. Neo-Nazis from Germany and other countries will come to Spandau (Berlin) to commemorate the suicide of Rudolf Hess, deputy of Hitler, 30 years ago on 17 August on Saturday,  19 August. The German trade union confederation DGB including Verdi and many other organisations will seek to prevent this demonstration. We wish them success.

More on union positions

EPSU affiliates discussing rise of extreme-right in Europe

DGB Brandenburg/Berlin is part of the coalition for a world open and tolerant Berlin

ETUC’s Platform Future of Europe

Statements of US unions regarding Charlotteville (VA, USA)- for example:




The annual report of the Council of Europe’s  anti-racism report (2017) notes the increase in populism, hate speech in political and media discourse.

Discrimination against Roma is recorded by the European Roma Rights Centre and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency amongst others.

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