"There's not a single good reason for any worker -- especially any union member -- to vote against Barack Obama. There's only one really bad reason to vote against him: because he's not white. And I want to talk about that because I saw that for myself during the Pennsylvania primary. I went back home to vote in Nemacolin and I ran into a woman I'd known for years. She was active in Democratic politics when I was still in grade school. We got to talking and I asked if she'd made up her mind who she was supporting and she said: 'Oh absolutely, I'm voting for Hillary, there's no way I'd ever vote for Obama.'
Well, why's that? 'Because he's a Muslim.'
I told her, 'That's not true -- he's as much a Christian as you and me, so what if he's Muslim.'
Then she shook her head and said, 'He won't wear an American flag pin.'
I don't have one on and neither do you. But, 'C'mon, he wears one plenty of times. He just says it takes more than wearing a flag pin to be patriotic.'
'Well, I just don't trust him.'
Why is that?
Her voice dropped just a bit: 'Because he's black.'
I said, 'Look around. Nemacolin's a dying town. There're no jobs here. Kids are moving away because there's no future here. And here's a man, Barack Obama, who's going to fight for people like us and you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin.'
Brothers and sisters, we can't tap dance around the fact that there are a lot of folks out there just like that woman. A lot of them are good union people; they just can't get past this idea that there's something wrong with voting for a black man. Well, those of us who know better can't afford to look the other way.
I'm not one for quoting dead philosophers, but back in the 1700s, Edmund Burke said: 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.' Well, there's no evil that's inflicted more pain and more suffering than racism -- and it's something we in the labor movement have a special responsibility to challenge.
It's our special responsibility because we know, better than anyone else, how racism is used to divide working people. We've seen how companies set worker against worker -- how they throw whites a few extra crumbs off the table -- and how we all end up losing. But we've seen something else, too. We've seen that when we cross that color line and stand together no one can keep us down.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Labor leader Trumka hits race head-on for Obama
Richard Trumka, left, grew up in Nemacolin, Pa., a town of 1,000 on the Monongahela River in southern Pennsylvania, and went on to be president of the United Mine Workers. Now, as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, he is trying to overcome the resistance of some union members to Barack Obama -- resistance that is based on racism, he bluntly told the United Steelworkers convention in Las Vegas this week. (USW photo)
John Nichols of The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., writes, "Trumka knew, as well, that there are steelworkers -- and autoworkers and machinists and others -- who are committed to the labor movement but cautious about backing a person of color for president. So the Pennsylvania populist went to the heart of the matter -- challenging ignorance and fear and calling on the House of Labor to identify and reject the politics of race in order to elect an ally to the presidency." (Read more) Here's the pertinent part of Trumka's speech: