Back Unity Rally
Proud to Be ... UE!
During Eries "Unity in the
Community" rally on Nov. 28, a man came up to Betsy Potter of Local 618 and said,
"Wow... UE really comes out and pitches in, dont they? You must be very
proud." Potter responded, "Yes, weve got a lot to be proud of." Four
UE locals had volunteers working on the rally, which took place in response to the Ku Klux
The report that the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan planned a
rally on the steps of the Erie County Courthouse on Saturday, Nov. 28 brought a swift and
sure response from the community and the UE locals in Pennsylvanias third-largest
UE members had a leading role in the successful "Unity in Our
Community" rally that drew some 1,500 area residents to Mercyhurst College that
afternoon, 32 blocks away from the KKK event. Designed as "a celebration of
diversity," the rally combined speeches with arts and crafts, music and entertainment
The unity rallys organizers, the Pennsylvania Network of Unity
Groups and the Citizens Against Racism in Erie (CARE), had the unions backing from
the beginning. Alerted to the KKKs plans, Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark
immediately contacted Erie locals and pledged the support of the national union.
"While the KKKs presence in Erie is certainly bad news for your
community, it does give us as trade unionists an opportunity to speak to our members,
their families and neighbors about the dangers represented by such groups and anti-labor
forces in our country that benefit from their activity," Clark said in a memorandum.
UE Locals 506 and 618, representing workers at the General Electric plant
here, were involved in planning the rally. When Rev. Bob Lewis of CARE sent up the
flag that he needed leaflets, Local 506 donated the paper and Local 618 did the printing.
More than 20,000 pieces of information, including leaflets, agendas and instructions,
blanketed the city. Local 506 Fin. Sec. Wayne Burnett worked tirelessly in
helping to get out the word.
"We as Local 506 members must relay a message that as brothers and
sisters, we cannot condone the presence of masked or unmasked individuals who would come
to our city and try to shatter our union and community principals," wrote Burnett in
a Local 506 News Supplement. Encouraging members and their families to attend the
rally, he added, "Unity in the Community is the theme for that day, but
it should also be a theme we abide by every day."
A letter to the editor published in the local newspaper on Nov. 19 said
the upcoming KKK rally was "a sobering reminder that ugly thinking lurks in our
nation is now coming to visit our community personally." Local 618 Pres. Betsy
Potter and Bus. Agent Lynda Leech wrote that "hate groups despise unions
because labor promotes the unity of all workers. All forms of discrimination weakens
unity; thats why UE is dedicated to the principle that discrimination of any kind
must be exposed, opposed and ultimately stopped."
On Nov. 28, Betsy Potter coordinated volunteers for the unity rally. Donna
Cramer, Local 506 brought her children to the unity rally and worked on the food
committee providing refreshments. Wayne Burnett and his wife Constance volunteered during
the day. (Constance Burnett also read a poem during the rally.) Other UE volunteers
included Pat Rafferty, Dave Adams, David Kitchen, Ben Thurlow and Pete Lucas of
Local 506, Lynda Leech of Local 618, Rich Drylie, Charles Tangle and Betty Thurlow
of Local 683 and Scott Buterbaugh and Tom Migdal of Local 692.
From the speakers podium, Local 506 Pres. Dave Adams
explained UEs position against racism and told the rally that this policy has been
mandated by the unions annual policy-setting conventions. Lynda Leech, Local 618,
read an uplifting poem she wrote on an anti-racist theme. Betsy Potter, Local 618, told
the crowd how unions were the first organizations to integrate, and then led a chant of,
"The people united, will never be defeated!"
The rally, which was also addressed by Mayor Joyce Savocchio, was
such a success that State Rep. Linda Bebko-Jones proposed making it a yearly event.
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