The tension was electric, the room was wired. Television and radio crews and photographers directed cameras and mikes towards the rear of the convention hall. Delegates and guests fidgeted, glancing back at the door, too.
Suddenly there were shouts and cheers, the flash of strobe lights, and the entire Convention rose to its feet, applauding. The lanky figure of the nation’s top consumer advocate could be seen proceeding purposefully toward the dais — pausing slightly, with a pleased and embarrassed smile, to shake hands along the way.
Ralph Nader didn’t disappoint. He began by praising the union’s democracy. UE, he said, "sets a model for how unions should be run."
The outspoken corporate critic, a leader in the campaign for passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, wasted no time in linking the 2000 campaign, big money and the continuing carnage in U.S. workplaces.
Some 100,000 workers die each year due to occupational hazards. Did Clinton make one speech in eight years on occupational safety and health? Nader asked. Did Gore? No — because "OSHA is a dirty word" to the corporations pouring cash into both Republican and Democratic coffers, Nader said.
The Green Party candidate delivered a blistering condemnation of the corruption of the political process, accusing the major parties of being "soft on corporate crime" — worker safety crime, consumer fraud, environmental crime, shareholder crime. Working people deserve better than "bad Democrats and worse Republicans," he said.
Economic growth is not translating into prosperity for everyone, Nader said: the 40 percent of the population on the bottom have a combined wealth equal to that of one man, Bill Gates. Neither of the major party candidates talks about transforming the federal minimum wage into a living wage. Despite record corporate profits and stock prices, one out of every three workers earns less than $10 an hour, Nader observed.
Never has the United States seen such a great disparity in wealth, resulting in a concentration of power in too few hands. In the collision course between democracy and big business, most Americans lose, Nader declared.
At the top of a Nader Administration agenda would be "flat out repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act," the candidate said to roof-raising cheers. Federal labor law "keeps tens of millions from organizing," he said.
Urging support for his candidacy, Nader asserted, "If you’re taken for granted, you’re going to be taken." Most unions give support to the Democrats without getting anything back. The only way to get attention of major parties is to deny them the vote. Third parties reinvigorate democracy, Nader insisted.
One delegate from each district asked Nader a question: Tom Dunne, Local 1172; Gerry LaValley, Local 274; Marianne Hart, District 10; John Thompson, Local 690; Jeff Van Meter, Local 766; and Barry Rideout, Local 120.
"This has been a great reception," Nader said in conclusion. "I really appreciate it. If I don’t get a single vote from you, I will always fight for labor."
[Editor's Note: The following morning, convention delegates took up the issue of whether or not to endorse Ralph Nader for president. Unfortunately, due to Federal Election Commission rules, we cannot reveal the outcome of this debate on our website. Here's why ...]
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