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63rd National
UE Convention

Take Stand
Against Racism

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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 problem.

"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 don’t know how we can begin to develop and carry out a successful agenda if we’re 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 I’m proud to say we’re 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 Pennsylvania’s 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 community."

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 wouldn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Sargent Co.

Several delegates spoke eloquently for a color-blind society, among them Anna Fisher, Local 1107, who declared, "Let’s 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, that’s not the way it is." Racism confronts us every day, she said.

Harrison endorsed the resolution’s call for continued workshops on racism and discrimination on all levels of the union. "If you don’t educate the people, we will never rid this union, our workplace and nowhere else of racism," she said.

"People don’t 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 disciplinary actions.

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: "We’re going to hell or heaven together. There’s 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.


Speaking Out For Voting Rights


Ida Betts, Local 1094

First-time delegate Ida Betts, Local 1094, called the convention’s attention to the expiration of the Voters Rights Act in 2007. Originally signed into law by President Johnson in 1965, the Voters Rights Act was extended for 25 years in 1982.

"It doesn’t seem right that anybody in this country should renew their citizenship every 30 years," Betts said. "My husband fought for this country just like anyone else, but when he came back from Vietnam in the Sixties, he still had to fight over here for his rights."

Betts, who works for Warner Bros. in southern California, had the encouragement of Ken Lowther, who works for General Electric in northern Ohio, in proposing an amendment to the resolution "Reject Hate and Division, Build Working-Class Unity."

The amendment, unanimously adopted by the convention, calls on UE to support "the efforts to ensure the Voting Rights Act continues in force when it comes up for renewal in the year 2007


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