Secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Rich Trumka gave an impassioned oratory at the United Steelworkers convention in July about the need for union members to vote for Barack Obama on election day. He spoke frankly about the hesitation some members have expressed with regards to Obama, many saying they feel uncomfortable with his race. Trumka confronted this issue of racism among union members with brutal honesty and the utmost eloquence. He quoted Edmund Burke, saying “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” We think his remarks speak for themselves:

“We [union members] know better than anyone else how racism is used to divide working people…we’ve seen how companies set worker against worker… We’ve seen something else too. When we have the courage, the good sense, the trade union values to cross the color lines and stand together arms locked, no one, no one has ever been able to keep us down. That’s why we created the CIO. That’s why industrial unions were the first to stand against lynching and segregation. People need to know that it was the Steelworkers Organizing Committee, this union, that was founded on the principal of organizing all workers without regards to race. That’s why the labor movement, imperfect as we are, is the most integrated institution in America. Now I don’t think we ought to be pointing fingers and calling them racists. Instead we need to educate them. That if they care about holding onto their jobs, if they care about healthcare, if they care about pensions and their homes, if they care about creating good jobs with clean energy, childcare, pay equity for women workers, there is only one candidate on the ballot this fall who’s on that side, only one candidate who’s going to stand up for their families, only one candidate who’s earned their vote, and that candidate is Barack Obama!”

Marissa Colón-Margolies

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