Clarence Hairston, Local 150, didn’t shout into the microphone. He didn’t need to — his words had a power all their own, amplifying his message throughout the convention hall. "Racism shouldn’t exist in this world," he declared.
"It’s hard for a young black man to get a job. They want to work hard to make a living," Hairston said. "This resolution should be strongly supported. Racism should be entirely out of our lives."
Delegates agreed. The resolution "Fight Racism, Build Working-Class Unity" was adopted without dissent, and nearly one out of every seven delegates rose to address the issue. Only the financial plan drew more comment.
The resolution examines the pernicious presence of racism in American society, from "driving while black" to "voting while black," in the 2000 election to the judicial assault on the black-led Charleston, S.C. dockers’ union. The resolution points out that following the Sept. 11 atrocities, there has been a rise in anti-Arab, anti-Islamic prejudice and hate crimes.
'UNITY CAN NEVER
"Progress for working people — in building unions, at the bargaining table, in legislatures — depends on our ability to achieve and maintain working-class unity," the resolution states. "Unity can never be taken for granted — our success ultimately depends on our success in the fight against racism."
"Fight Racism" lays out the union’s policy, including: "Reaffirms UE’s policy of aggressive struggle against racism and in support of equal rights for all; calls on UE locals to defend our members aggressively against on-the-job discrimination" and "Condemns attacks on Arab-Americans and Muslims on the basis of their ethnicity and religion."
The first to speak, Barbara Prear, Local 150, commented that "as a black woman coming out of the south, there’s no way I can help but speak out;" the final speaker, Rodney McCraw, Local 1174, spoke as a white man admitting to prejudices.
Prear asserted that the attack on the Charleston Five represented an attack on labor trying to free itself.
Racism shouldn’t exist in this world and certainly not in the workplace, said William Newsome, Local 150.
Local 506 is proud of its role in helping to establish Citizens Against Racism in Erie (CARE), Pat Rafferty told the Convention.
Shirley Harrison, Local 1135, took to the floor to exhort delegates to examine the racism within the union’s ranks and within the room. "You can’t heal it unless you acknowledge it," she said.
Further, Harrison insisted, this issue and resolution impact not only people of color. "You cannot call yourselves trade unionists without taking a stand," she said; there ought to be long lines at each microphone.
'WHEN THE PERSON AND
Marianne Hart, District 10, called on union members who are not people of color to condemn the use of racial slurs and inappropriate words. John Thompson, Local 690, backed up that proposition. "Racism does exist in our country and our shops. We shouldn’t be silent when someone utters a racist remark." In light of recent events, he said, "this resolution is desperately needed."
"Corporations, the bosses, want division between workers," proclaimed Eric Marcks, Local 893. "Racism is an evil that permeates throughout our workplaces."
The sweat of poor blacks and poor Italians brought profits and success to Sargent Lock in New Haven, Conn. They also built Local 243 into a strong union, said Ray Pompano; that unity has produced the best wages and benefits in the city.
Nina Williams, Local 799, expressed the hope that someday America can be a country in which the person and not the color matters.
Education about racism must start in the home, on the playing fields of youth sports, proposed Cliff Hall, Local 151. (Despite the name, Hall said, "I’m Spanish.") Shirley Thrush, Local 799, described how multicultural initiatives in schools can foster an atmosphere of equality. Paul Spors, Local 1121, said he has known discrimination as a disabled worker. As a native American, Kim Peniska, Local 1187, spoke out against racism directed at African-Americans, too.
John Lambiase, District Six, Glenn Bush, Local 1107, Lynda Leech, Local 618, Larry Winland, Local 770, and Lou Panza, Local 689, all took stands against racism and in support of the resolution.
Standing in support of the resolution, Rodney McCraw admitted to prejudices that he was raised with and that he absorbed from the media. "I have to realize that I have the problem and learn to get over it," he said. "We need to work together."
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