"... youve embraced something which cant be documented. Youve embraced it because its easy to blame-shift and dump all of societys problems on one ethnic group. Its easy to do," Havaich told them. "But you cant defend it."
A UE Steward Takes on Racism and Bigotry
Ed Havaich, UE Local 751 chief steward, examines literature on white supremacist organizations with Mia Giunta of the Pennsylvania Network of Unity Coalitions. A UE National Convention workshop, led by Giunta, will examine how unions can respond to hate groups.
Filing a Grievance Against Hatred
The two businessmen failed to answer his questions or back up their beliefs with facts. "You guys are ignorant," Ed Havaich told them matter of factly.
Enraged, one of them nearly flew across the table to tackle Havaich, a UE Local 751 chief steward.
This was no grievance meeting with General Electric management, however. Instead, Havaich was questioning two adherents of the Christian Identity movement, a neo-Nazi religion.NO DEFENSE
Havaich routinely visits chat rooms attached to white supremacist Internet sites, to confront bigotry with level-headed questions. But on more than one occasion, Havaich met face-to-face with the Nazi-minded businessmen, one of them a stock broker with a six-figure income. At their first meeting, the pair presented Havaich with a box of pamphlets and tapes promoting hatred against Jews.
The two businessmen confessed that they hadnt studied the boxs contents, but Havaich did, reading every pamphlet, listening to every tape. When they met again two weeks later, Havaich was full of questions but the two businessmen had few answers.
"I told them, youve embraced something which cant be documented. Youve embraced it because its easy to blame-shift and dump all of societys problems on one ethnic group. Its easy to do," Havaich told them. "But you cant defend it."
In his on-line discussions and visits to hate-group web sites, Havaich finds the haters arguments based on emotion and incorrect information. "Theres a lot of emotion from very little substance," the UE chief steward says. "They speak in ambiguities. They tend to generalize. When you really look at this stuff it has about as much substance as the meringue on a lemon pie. Theres just nothing there."CHALLENGING
On web sites, Havaich frequently sees appeals to white workers on the basis of fears of unemployment and feelings of powerlessness. "Again, its based on emotion," suggests Havaich. Cyber-space white supremacists plant the idea that one race or ethnic group is responsible for social problems, appealing to deep-seated prejudice rather than analyzing the actual operations of the economic system. These web sites are platforms for hatred based on fear and ignorance, where intelligent questions provoke insults, he says.
Havaich, who sees his on-line challenge to racism as an extension of his work as a UE leader, argues that hatemongers can and should be challenged.
"Armed with information you can aggressively go after these people because you know that they burn out very quickly," Havaich says. "If you do it in a very polite, civil way, you can actually get a person to back up and get them to the point where they actually say I have no rhyme or reason, I just believe it."
Once emotion is divorced from a racist argument, it crumbles, he says.RACISM AT WORK
In his 22 years with GE, Havaich has found that some workers "carry racial baggage" with them onto the shop floor. "It comes up. It comes up a lot," he says. On the job, Havaich says, disagreements can become racial due to an individuals perception of anothers advantage.
"We do it have it in the ranks," he says. "We need to aggressively pursue that, we need to address and address it often, we need to address stereotypical thinking. We need to address the flimsy basis upon which this stuff is based."
Discussing these issues recently with Mia Giunta of the Pennsylvania Network of Unity Coalitions, Havaich proposed developing "an army of people who can respond" to the message of hate groups.EDUCATE AND ORGANIZE
TO CHALLENGE RACISM
Giunta, a former UE organizer who assists communities in responding to hate group activity, agrees that education and organization are key factors in challenging racism.
"Its like a union organizing campaign," she says. "Working with a community or union in countering racist activity involves speaking to the issues, talking to people one-on-one, and drawing from working-class traditions, history and experience."
"If we cant change or impact society, at least we can put racism on life support in UE," says Havaich. "I applaud UE for its aggressive stance on this because working people cannot be divided on these issues. Corporations will divide us against each other. Thats always been my concern."
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