None of the 31 resolutions coming
before the 63rd UE convention received as much delegate comment as "Reject Hate and Division, Build Working-Class Unity." One
after another, delegates took to floor mikes, in a discussion that spanned two sessions,
to endorse union action and education to combat all forms of discrimination.
In a series of thoughtful and sometimes emotional comments, delegates
spoke to the destructiveness of racism and discrimination and the political dimensions of
"The most important thing that we should be about building here is a
working-class agenda," suggested Butch Pridgen, District One. Racism is a
major obstacle. "I dont know how we can begin to develop and carry out a
successful agenda if were clouded by hate and distrust of each other based on
race," he said.
Pat Rafferty, Local 506
Addressing the concerns of minority workers at the Erie, Pa. General
Electric plant has not always been among the accomplishments of Local 506 in its
61-year history, admitted Patrick Rafferty. "Now Im proud to say
were taking the bull by the horns." He praised the local executive board for
its formation of a unity council, which has affiliated to a community coalition, Citizens
Against Racism in Erie (CARE).
Rafferty called attention to Pennsylvanias ranking as fourth in the
nation in hate-group activity, and said the Local 506 unity council will address that
issue. The Ku Klux Klan, he said, is "the last thing we want to see in our
When a KKK group came to his Ohio community only three weeks earlier,
citizens recognized the need for a response, said Ed Havaich, Local 751. "We
need to rise up with a united voice and say, you are not welcome."
Management instigates racism between union people, said Jeff Morealli,
Local 506, speaking from his experience at the Erie GE plant. If we could see who
belongs to hate groups, suggested Lynda Leech, Local 618, "it wouldnt
surprise any of us to find our bosses and our corporate officials and our government
officials sitting there. They will stop at nothing to keep us divided," she said.
Ray Pompano, Local 243, wondered if the corporate-controlled news
media doesnt share some of the blame for the rise in hate crimes. "Many of us
are still stereotyped by our race, color or nationality," he said. African-Americans
appear in the media as criminals; missing from the news are hard-working co-workers at the
Several delegates spoke eloquently for a color-blind society, among them Anna
Fisher, Local 1107, who declared, "Lets change black and white to human or
to person or to American." But Shirley Harrison, Local 1135, gently
advised Fisher that "in the real world, thats not the way it is." Racism
confronts us every day, she said.
Harrison endorsed the resolutions call for continued workshops on
racism and discrimination on all levels of the union. "If you dont educate the
people, we will never rid this union, our workplace and nowhere else of racism," she
"People dont want to face up to the fact that they are
racist," commented Barry Rideout, Local 120, referring to white co-workers who
look the other way when blacks are treated differently with regard to work assignments or
Marianne Hart, District 10, expressed her outrage that California
abolished affirmative action through a ballot initiative. "It seems to me that
California is in the forefront of abolishing workers rights and human rights,"
she said, urging UE local leaders to fight similar trends in their states.
Tom Dunne, Local 1172, urged delegates to eliminate racism and
homophobia within their churches.
After describing her first-hand experiences of racism as a worker at the
University of North Carolina, Verna Taft, Local 150, told delegates:
"Were going to hell or heaven together. Theres not but one train. We
might as well work together," she proposed.
Ken Dunn, Local 218, James Sherman, Local 404, Dennis Crawford,
Local 506, Randy Ross, Local 692, Andy Goodman, Local 616, Sue Smock, Local 506, Ida
Betts, Local 1094 and Ken Lowther, Local 707, also spoke on the resolution.