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UAW President Bob King: 'President Obama cannot do what he was elected to do unless we build a movement.' Phtos by Don Lehman/UAW Local 249.
WASHINGTON – On Day 2 of the UAW National Community Action Program (CAP) Conference here, UAW President Bob King told the 1,500 delegates that the nation needs a social movement propelled by activists who care about eliminating poverty, discrimination and injustice, and the union needs to rebuild.
“You get what you are willing to accept in life. I’m not willing to accept the injustices that are growing in America,” King said. “It’s our responsibility to help reach down to those who have less.”
UAW members and leaders, he said, have been working to help those working in the parts supply industry.
“If you don’t bring parts supplier workers up, we are going to get pulled down to their level,” said King, “When I came to the UAW, in 90 days I had full pay.”
That, he said, is how it should work.
King, still exhilarated from Sunday’s keynote speaker, former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said America has a lot to learn from the social programs that lifted millions out of poverty and narrowed the huge income gap between rich and poor.
Under the leadership of a president who had been a trade unionist, the former leader – known fondly as “Lula” – led Brazil through a period of growth that gave birth to stipends that helped lift families out of poverty and programs that created billions in lines of bank credit for workers.
In communities throughout the country, UAW members have been laying the groundwork for a large movement, said King. Now it’s time for the union to rebuild itself, partner with coalitions and allies, and build a social movement along the lines of America’s civil rights and suffrage movements.
Also, more UAW members should consider running for political office, said King. “The average worker has more common sense than 75 percent of the politicians,” he added.
Workers, King said, can be proud to have elected Barack Obama, a president who understands the needs of working families. Now it is up to UAW members to help build the movement that will help the move the nation.
“President Obama cannot do what he was elected to do unless we build a movement,” King told delegates who applauded with support. “To win justice, we need a movement that is active every day, not just election days.”
“We want government that serves working people in America. We want government of the people, for the people and by the people,” said King.
“I felt that Bob King was speaking directly to me,” said Earl Scott of UAW Local 7902 in New York. “He made an impact on me when he talked about the need for workers to be leaders and to be candidates and not just voters.”
“I’ve never seen Bob so energized,” said Daniel McDonald, also of Local 7902. “His message about building a movement that includes everyone – not just UAW members – is very inspiring. I am so inspired that I am shaking a little right now,” said the local union president and faculty member at UAW-represented New York University and The New School.
“What struck me the most is realizing that we can’t do it alone,” said UAW member Kathleen Flaherty, a UAW Local 2320 member from Wethersfield, Conn., who is attending her first CAP Conference.
“It was a powerful message, and the issues are the issues that my clients face daily,” added Flaherty, a lawyer with the National Organization of Legal Services Workers.
Elizabeth Shuler: Those ‘under 35’ are our future
AFL-CIO's Shuler: Think about the
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler welcomed UAW CAP delegates to the nation’s capital and spoke of continuing challenges facing the labor movement – including the “bluster and baloney” of political dysfunction from some elected officials.
“Along with our rare snowfall, we’ve also had more than our share of bluster and baloney [in Washington, D.C.]. Like the politicians who make it sound like the greatest, most dangerous threats to America’s future are Social Security and Medicare. Like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell claiming the free enterprise system will collapse if we end tax breaks for shipping good jobs overseas,” said Shuler.
Shuler, the first woman elected as the federation’s secretary-treasurer, used her large activist audience to make a tangible point about building unions for future workers.
“Let’s have everyone stand up. OK, sit down if you’re over 40,” Shuler told delegates, who complied. “Now if you’re over 35, sit down. All of us sitting down right now are part of a generation of workers who enjoyed the benefits of a period of unprecedented union strength. Now think about the new generation of workers that follows ours. What do they need? What do unions have to offer them?”
“It’s up to us to be innovative enough to meet their needs … and to put our values into action so we can win back the hearts of the American public,” she added.
“Listening to Ms. Shuler speak, I was reminded that I was the younger generation once,” said Phil Kelly of UAW Local 2209, who has 30-plus years at General Motors’ Truck and Bus Plant in Fort Wayne, Ind. “I know how much the UAW has done for me. Our future is always and has always been the young people.”
Sen. Baldwin: ‘I intend to make a difference’
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., meets with UAW Region 4 CAP delegates. Video
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told CAP delegates her reason for being in public office: “I didn’t run [for office] to make history. I ran to make a difference.”
Baldwin says she didn’t want to make history, but she already has. She is the first woman elected to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, and the Senate’s first openly gay member. After seven terms in the U.S. House, Baldwin ran and won last November in a hotly-contested Senate race against former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.
As a freshman member of Congress, she was one of just a handful of legislators who had the foresight and courage to oppose repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which deregulated the banking industry with disastrous results.
Baldwin said the UAW’s advocacy affects more than just workers. It impacts all areas of society where social justice is needed.
“Your work is a reminder of what this fight is all about inside and outside of labor,” said Baldwin. “I ran for office to make a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work, for students worried about debt and for seniors worried about retirement security. I ran for veterans who fought for us and need someone to fight for them when they return from war, for small business owners, working families.
“I ran to make a difference, and I intend to make a difference,” added Baldwin.
“Because of your commitment, UAW, we re-elected President Obama, gained seats in the Senate and House, and won important victories for the middle class,” she said. “But what we really won was a chance to continue moving America forward in the 21st century infrastructure.”
After her remarks, Baldwin met briefly with UAW Region 4 CAP delegates, thanking each for their support and taking a few questions from the roughly 50 delegates who gathered to meet and greet her. Region 4 Director Ron McInroy urged Baldwin to continue to fight for high-speed rail in Wisconsin.
CAP delegate Dave Chapman is a member of Local 974 at the Caterpillar facility in East Peoria, Ill. He appreciated the fact that Baldwin understands the UAW’s issues.
“She is on the same page as Bob King. When you get politicians and leaders on the same page, we have a chance,” Chapman said.
Delegate Sherry Kraft is a member of UAW Local 245, where she is a parts and materials attendant for prototype vehicles for Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich.
“She was invigorating,” Kraft said of Baldwin. “She is an inspiration to all of us, particularly her thoughts about how politics are supposed to be about people.”
Rep. Moore: ‘Shake it out!’
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., gave a rousing speech that sounded like a sermon’s song about overcoming struggle. By the end of her remarks, CAP delegates cheered, stomped and even had a new chant: “Shake it out!”
Moore, the proud daughter of a school teacher and UAW member, thanked members for simply being members. She recalled that during her lifetime, the UAW has been in the center of creating the middle class, guaranteeing that employers provide quality benefits and have a well-trained workforce providing quality products and services.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., says it's time to 'shake it out.' Video
“The UAW enabled growth of the middle class. There is a life and death struggle for the middle class and the American Dream, and it is time to shake it out,” said Moore. “While we have lost some battles, we have got to believe that we are going to win the war. We are in the ‘shake it out’ section right now.”
UAW Local 1781 member Tiffany Bush saw herself reflected on the stage today. For her, a 15-year Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan customer service representative, the CAP Conference is an opportunity to be reinvigorated and rebuild the motivation to mobilize.
“I work in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the UAW right now. We are major stakeholders, too. We are fighting against a hostile legislature, hostile governor and fighting off right to work. We just have to shake it out,” said Bush. “We can’t let setbacks stop us. Now is a good time to organize, especially with the Affordable Care Act being implemented fully in 2014.”
Sister Simone: ‘Missionaries for a way forward’
Sister Simone: UAW members are missionaries for a better way forward. Video
Where Congresswoman Moore spoke to the spirit of the fight, Sister Simone Campbell spoke to the spirit of the cause. “Sister Simone,” as she’s known to her admirers, called union members desperately necessary.
“It is all of us together making it work for the better. We the people of the United States form a more perfect union together,” said Sister Simone, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby founded in the 1970s. “You are missionaries for a better way forward. We are not bankrupt. We are richest when we work together. Let us form that more perfect union.”
That perfect union is one that UAW Local 862 member Vickie Morris, a 19-year Ford worker, is trying to implement – one good deed at a time.
“We have to be the voices of all workers, whether it sounds cliché or not. We have to keep up the fight and not be afraid to say we are fighting for what is the right thing, the greater good. If the worst thing that happens to me is that I get my feelings hurt for helping people, then I am blessed,” said Morris.
“We have to really put ourselves in their shoes and really try and listen so that we understand better how to be of service to one another. We have to educate but we have to do outreach also,” she added.
Local 862 President Todd Dunn understands this because he knows the “union way” organically. Dunn grew up fighting for social justice and standing in solidarity. His local union represents nine units with 15,000 members and retirees.
Our own workforce, once they get involved, the more they feel compelled. This is what we do and in doing that, we define our communities,” Dunn said.
Glenn Winters, UAW Local 2093 Education Committee chair and American Axle worker, said teaching his children about social justice is incorporated into their daily lives.
“I believe it’s necessary,” said Winters, a father of two. “We are about bringing people together and missionary work is an intricate part of that work. If we start allowing other workers to fall down, then we are no better than the corporations that are stepping on their backs to bring themselves up at the expense of the workers.”
E.J. Dionne: ‘Justice for the whole country’
Washington Post columnist and longtime political observer E.J. Dionne spoke to delegates giving them reminders about their legacy of solidarity and how much of an impact it had on success of America’s story both for workers and the economy (video).
“With the decline of union membership over the past decades, we have sometimes forgotten Walter Reuther’s association with the great social justice movements of his time and ours, including the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Dionne. “The union movement has always been attached to looking out for the interests of all.”
Dionne said the U.S. has to increase the bargaining power of workers because unions “remind us of the dignity of workers in all stations of life. Capitalism would have gone off the rails again and again if we had not raised the living standards of the middle class.” He then urged the audience to remind the Tea Party that the first word in the U.S. Constitution is “We.”
“The labor movement is at its best when it’s fighting not only for workers,” said Dionne, “but justice for the whole country, the legacy set by Walter Reuther.”
CAP delegate Brian Arp, 46, works for Ford Motor Co. research in Dearborn, Mich., and is a member of UAW Local 245. He said Dionne hit the nail on the head with his remarks.
“He said letting Detroit go bankrupt would have been an irreversible decision, and he was right,” said Arp. “He has solidarity with us at the UAW, and understands that it’s a problem that young people lack an organic education of the labor movement.”
Delegate Mike Bink couldn’t agree more. The president of UAW Local 469 at Master Lock in Milwaukee said it was clear Dionne “understands the issues of working families in this country. And he really inspired us as we prepare to meet with our congressional representatives on the Hill tomorrow,” said Bink.
Compiled by Gwynne Marie Cobb, Sandra Davis Dortch, Jennifer John and Joan Silvi