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Excerpts from Walter Reuther's Address to the 1970 UAW Convention

The UAW is important because its about the people we represent. It's about their problems and their needs. It's about their hopes and their aspirations. It's about their dreams. For thirty-some years, we have been working to build those dreams. We have been working and fighting and struggling to build a better tomorrow in a better world. And during this convention we must search together to find new answers to new problems, by developing new programs and new policies, so that we can begin to realize more fully the bright opportunities that lie ahead. We are, without question, the strongest and most effective industrial union in the world. No organization has worked more consistently and more constructively than has the UAW to extend the frontiers of economic and social justice. No organization has fought with greater courage and greater compassion to assert the sovereignty of Man over things, and to place human rights above property rights, and to put people ahead of profit: I think that we can say in all good conscience that together we have written some of the most glorious chapters in the history of the free world labor movement. We have taken on the most powerful corporations in the world, and, despite their power and their great wealth, we have always prevailed, because we have proven that there is no power in the world that can stop the forward march of free men and women when they are joined in the solidarity of human brotherhood. ...

Our membership are the strength of the UAW, and the membership and the families of our members, they are the purpose of the UAW. And in the years ahead, this union must remain true to its commitment to the welfare and the well-being of our rank and file. This union is not about Solidarity House; it is not about your local union headquarters; this union is about the men and women that we represent, and behind them their families. ...

In the last two years we have supported and we shall continue to support the struggle of the grape workers in Delano, California. We supported and marched with the hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina. And we stood and gave practical support to the General Electric Workers in their recent struggle. Why have we done these things? We in the UAW operate on a simple trade union principle; that wherever workers are struggling for basic justice and human dignity, their struggle is our struggle, and we will join them in that struggle, no matter what the sign is on their banner. ...

I think we, all realize that we live in a very troubled world. Collective bargaining, as we 'know it, does not take place in a vacuum. Our members do not live in a vacuum; they live in a real world, a world filled with all kinds of challenges, all kinds of changes, and all kinds of crises. The great tragedy in the world is that just when science and technology have given Man the capability of solving his ancient problems of poverty and hunger and ignorance and disease, Man has failed to create the political and social instruments necessary to insure that this new power will be used to uplift Mankind. Some people say the problem lies in the field of science and technology, but we need to make it clear that the problem is not science and technology; the problem is Man, and his reckless misuse of science and technology. Science and technology have expanded Man's wealth, but not his wisdom. They have given Man great power, but have not given him a sense of deeper human purpose, nor a greater sense of human solidarity. ...

We have urged the end to the tragic war in Vietnam, because we believe that that tragic war is alienating millions of young Americans. It has divided this nation; it is wasting the resources that we need at home; and it is tarnishing our moral credentials in the world. But I want to make it clear that while we in the UAW work to end that tragic war, and we work to build a just peace in the world, we condemn those Americans who burn the American flag and march behind a Viet Gong flag. We reject the concept that says in order to be anti-war, you have to be anti-American. That kind of reckless attitude we believe is destructive and counterproductive. ...

What we need to do in America and in Canada is to find ourselves. We are in trouble because our values are all mixed up in America. We have been more concerned by the quantity of our gadgets and the bright- ness of the chrome on those gadgets than we have concerning the quality of life. We have been brainwashed by the Madison Avenue hucksters and they have gotten our values all mixed up. We need to ask ourselves-What determines the quality and the worth of a society? Is it the glitter of the chrome? Is it the acreage of the blacktop parking lots? These are not the measurements of the quality of human life. The quality of a society can only be determined by how our people order their priorities, how they allocate their resources, and how they pursue their national purposes. And we are in trouble in that area, because we have lost our way, and we have forgotten what is important and what is unimportant. We need to find a better way to translate our increasing technological progress into human terms, so that we can raise living standards and provide more adequate education for our children, and greater security and dignity to our older citizens. And we can guarantee equal opportunity and improve our environment. These are the great challenges ahead. ...

We in the UAW have been in the forefront of every basic struggle in the country, and we have learned some very simple fundamental truths. That you cannot solve a human problem by pitting one human being against another human being. We have learned that the only way you can solve human problems is to get people to join hands and to find answers to those problems together. And it's for this reason that we reject the voices of extremism in America, whether they be white or black; for there are no separate answers. There are no white answers to the problems, there are no black answers; there are only common answers that we must find together in the solidarity of our common humanity. We also reject the irrational forces of violence. We in the UAW know something about violence. We have tasted its bitter fruits from our early beginning. Some of us have been shot at, we have been beaten up, we have had our offices blown up, we have had our homes threatened. And we know that violence solves no problems. It just intensifies old problems and creates new ones. Many of our friends, who stood here before platforms of past UAW conventions, are gone. They were struck down by the irrational and ugly forces of violence. We have lost too many friends, and America has lost too many noble sons. John Kennedy is gone. Martin Luther King is gone. Morris Adler, who was the Chairman of our Public Review Board, is gone. Bobby Kennedy is gone. All of them destroyed in a moment of madness and violence. And we have got to stop violence in America, before that destroys our society.

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