Day 2 Photo Gallery
State of the Union Address
Remarks by Julian Bond
Thank you. Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for that warm welcome. Mr. President, delegates, members of the UAW. It's a great, great pleasure for me to be here and a special added pleasure to be here when you give an award to Millie Jeffrey. I can't think of anybody who would be more deserving, and I can't think of a movement for social justice that she was not involved in the 20th century.
But I'm also delighted to be here because I know of the mutual benefits that grow from the historic alliance between organized labor and the movement for civil rights, benefits we all must work to strengthen and defend today.
Forty-three years ago in 1963 I stood in the audience at the March on Washington and heard Walter Reuther's strong defense of the freedom movement. He said then, “We cannot defend freedom in Berlin so long as we deny freedom in Birmingham.” If we fail, he said, the vacuum of our failure will be filled by the apostles of hatred who will search for answers in the dark of night and brotherhood will yield to the bitterness and bloodshed, and we will tear asunder the fabric of American society.
Eight years ago I was invited to speak to your annual convention here in Las Vegas. Because I was vacationing in Minnesota, this was going to be a quick day trip: Fly to Las Vegas, make my speech and fly out. But when I got back to the Las Vegas airport, my flight was cancelled and I was stuck. I didn't even have enough cash for a ride back into town.
Desperate, I looked around the crowded terminal to see who, who could lend me some money, and I saw two men whom I thought might help me if I asked. One of them was Steve Forbes, the rich businessman then running for president, the other was John Sweeney. Which of these two men was going to lend me enough money to get back to town? Would it be the multi-billionaire politicrat, the son of privilege, the promoter of the flat tax, or would it be the president of the AFL-CIO?
I made the right decision. I asked John Sweeney for a loan, he gave it to me, I paid it back. I didn't have to spend the night in the Las Vegas airport. But this time, just in case, I brought cash.
Now, I'm a card carrying union member. And I'm proud to serve on the board of American Rights at Work which was formed to ensure American working women and men that they have the right to organize unions and bargain collectively with their employers. And I'd be remiss if I didn't thank organized labor for its consistent support of the NAACP's work over the years. You've been a good friend and we are deeply, deeply appreciative. There has never been a time when representatives of organized labor didn't serve on the NAACP's board of directors or in our leadership.
Helping me govern the NAACP today are Richard Womack, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO; Bill Lucy, secretary-treasurer of AFSCME; Clayola Brown, international vice president of UNITE HERE; and E.B. Martin, a member of the executive board of the New York City Labor Council; Nate Gooden of the UAW; and Charles Smith of National Education Association.
Now, the unions I've mentioned aren't the only ones that support the work we do to strengthen our democracy. We are proud to list many, many others as fellow soldiers over many, many years in the ongoing fight for human rights.
In 1961 when Martin Luther King addressed the fourth constitutional convention of the AFL, he spoke of the unity of purpose between the labor movement and the movement for civil rights. He said then, ‘Our needs are identical to labor's needs: Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.
Well, those were the days when the movement for labor rights and for civil rights worked and marched together in common cause. Those were the days when good music was popular and when popular music was good. Those were the days when the President picked a Supreme Court and not the other way around. Those were the days when we had a war on poverty, not a war on the poor. Those were the days when patriotism was a reason for open-eyed disobedience, not an excuse for blind allegiance. Those were the days when the news media really was fair and balanced and not just stenographers for the powerful. But those were not the good old days.
But we today are part of a progressive coalition in America that over decades addressed these human concerns and created a truly compassionate government. It introduced Social Security and protection for workers. It helped outlaw racial discrimination. It made preservation of the environment a national priority. It gave Americans access to the courts when calamity struck and readdress was required. All this and more came about because a coalition of the concerned worked together, voted together, marched together to make the benefits of our democracy extend to all.
But in recent years in a stealthy, devious campaign the enemies of justice and fair play have whittled away at the components of that progressive coalition. They promoted deeply flawed economic and foreign policies. They pass tax cuts that are not only unfair but are unaffordable. Ideas of government that once were marginal, even delusional, have moved to center stage. The whacky became the reality; the unimaginable taken for everyday truth.
How did they do it? How did they make political hay
from barnyard straw? They did it by coupling ostentatious piety with
a victim mentality. They put in Martin Luther King and they misused
his message, all the while profiting from a supine press.
These people have restricted access to the courts. They've capped damages for even the most egregious practices. They've eviscerated class-action lawsuits and, not coincidentally, shielded industry after industry from legal scrutiny. They launched an aggressive campaign to seduce black clergy and now they've created a brand new political party. Its initials are FBGP. That stands for the Faith-Based Grant Party. Their hope is to create an alliance of the neocons and the Theocons all tied together by federal cash. They want private charity to replace government's helping hand. They want to substitute faith-based organizations, free to proselytize and discriminate free from the fairness and secularism required of the public sector.
They offer America a challenge. Do we want to fight
social inequality through the common power of a democratic government
accountable to all of the people or will we pass the problems of the
poor and neglected off to the church and the Salvation Army?
Their budget is Bush. It gives the real meaning of the
ownership society, a society where you’re on your own. They're
waging class war from the top down, literally taking food from the mouths
of poor children and giving more largesse to millionaires. They're practicing
trickle down economics, and we're tired of it trickling on us.
Recent events only serve to underscore how the war in Iraq has weakened rather than strengthened America's defenses, including our levies. Early on they decided to use 9-11 as an excuse to disobey the rules, including the Geneva Convention and the United States Constitution.
The war isn't just about torture; it's about tortured lives. The problem isn't that we can't prosecute a war in the Persian Gulf and protect our citizens on the Gulf Coast here at home; the problem is we can't do either one. And the result is that people are needlessly dying, dying here at home and dying abroad.
All the while they've continued an assault on our civil liberties and our civil rights. They've orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. They've increased poverty every year they've been in office. They've created dangerous deficits, they've substituted religion for science, and they've wrecked environmental protections.
We pay starkly for this folly, not just in money spent
and lives lost abroad but in
They've gone after labor unions, making it harder for workers to organize, forbidding TSA employees the right to collectively bargain for better pay and better working conditions. We can recall the bitter words of Victor Hugo that there was always more misery in the lower classes than there was humanity in the upper classes.
Today a significant portion of our population faces permanent privation with the percentage in poverty going up. Today we're the most economically stratified of all industrial nations.
The gap between rich and poor is larger here than in Britain, Italy, Germany, Canada, France, Finland, larger here and growing faster here than anywhere else. And for those workers whose skins are black or brown, the gap is greater and the prospects bleaker.
Today the net financial assets of black families in which one member has a postgraduate degree are lower than in white families in which the highest level of education is graduation from elementary school. But we know black union members make more than their unorganized and unrepresented counterparts, and we know they're more likely to have health insurance. That economic security creates a climate in which social justice prospers. Economic stagnation breeds an environment of political scapegoating and social hostility.
We in the civil rights movement and labor movement are under assault. Our enemies are well-funded. They're well-placed and they're devious. The current chair of the civil rights commission is a man named Gerald Reynolds whose claim to fame is his outspoken opposition to raise base college admissions. He once ran an outfit called The Center for New Black Leadership, one of many organizations dedicated to overturning the goals of the civil rights movement by putting a black face on civil rights opposition. The very names of these groups, The Institute for Justice, The Center for Individual Rights, The American Civil Rights Institute, are as fraudulent as their aims are frightening. They've stolen our vocabulary and now they want to steal the just spoils of our righteous war. They're the money, the motivation and the movement behind school vouchers, behind the legal assault on affirmative action and other remedies for discrimination, and behind a tax on equality everywhere.
They've had a collection of black hustlers and hucksters on their payrolls for years, promoting a new generation of black leaders. Like ventriloquist dummies they speak in their puppet master's voice, but we can see his lips move and we can hear his money talk. They've financed a conservative constellation of make-believe black front organizations, all of them with more names on the letterhead than there are on the membership lists.
Now comes another fraudulent group with a phony name: The Center for Union Facts. It's put together by a man who campaigned against drunk-driving laws, against smoking bans, and against the federal minimum wage. His target this time: labor unions. His network of fake grass-roots organizations like The Center for Consumer Freedom echoes the make-believe, black-faced organizations attacking civil rights. And as with civil rights, the assault on unions comes from inside the government as well, including the NLRB. And the current labor department has dedicated itself not to protecting workers but to undermining unions.
The new global economy allows employers maximum flexibility while providing record-breaking profits. Workers are treated as mere commodities, valued only in terms of the bottom line and left at the bottom of the economic ladder. Corporations act globally, jumping across borders from country to country and continent to continent looking for the most compliant climate in which to ply their trade while their high pass lobbyists patrol the corridors of power, pushing policies like NAFTA, CAFTA and GATT.
As factories move across the border, good jobs go with them. Capital travels around the world in the blink of an eye. And in that blink more than jobs and wages are lost. Families slip from comfort into poverty. Communities begin to erode. Dreams fade and then they die.
Here at home more than 20,000 workers were fired or discriminated against for union activities. That's one worker being penalized or fired every 26 minutes for expressing his or her basic right to join a union. That's because our labor laws are so weak that employers routinely break them.
But as William Cullen Bryant taught us, truth crushed to Earth will rise again. We have truth on our side, and we will rise again. There are signs all around us, including the public opinion polls that people are now saying to the administration, “You're doing a heck of a job.” And you know what happened to the last guy who was told that.
The successful strategies of the modern movement for civil rights were litigation, organization, mobilization and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.” Indeed, she said, it is the only thing that ever has.
Now we find ourselves refighting old battles we thought we had already won, facing new problems we've barely begun to acknowledge. We ought to take heart. If there's more to be done we have more to do it with, much more than those who came before us and who brought us along this way.
Let's remember the words of one of the heroes of yesterday, A. Phillip Randolph, a man who clearly understood that the movements for civil rights and labor rights were two great movements with one common goal. He said, “At the banquet of life there are no reserved seats.” You get what you can take and you keep what you can hold. If you can't take anything, you won't get anything. And if you can't hold anything, you won't keep anything. And you can't take anything without organization. Thank you.
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