Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Union Viewpoint

Here is a bit from a posting by Mark Halperin at the Time magazine web site:
Remarks by Richard L. Trumka, President, AFL-CIO

“Why Working People Are Angry and Why Politicians Should Listen”

Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School, April 7, 2010

I am going to talk tonight about anger—and specifically the anger of working people. I want to explain why working people are right to be mad about what has happened to our economy and our country, and then I want to talk about why there is a difference between anger and hatred. There are forces in our country that are working hard to convert justifiable anger about an economy that only seems to work for a few of us into racist and homophobic hate and violence directed at our President and heroes like Congressman John Lewis. Most of all, those forces of hate seek to divide working people – to turn our anger against each other.

So I also want to talk to you tonight about what I believe is the only way to fight the forces of hatred—with a strong progressive tradition that includes working people in action, organizing unions and organizing to elect public officials committed to bold action to address economic suffering.


Our republic must offer working people something other than the dead-end choice between the failed agenda of greed and the voices of hate and division and violence. Public intellectuals have a responsibility to offer a better way.
The stakes could not be higher. Mass unemployment and growing inequality threaten our democracy. We need to act—and act boldly—to strike at the roots of working people's anger and shut down the forces of hatred and racism.
We have to begin the conversation by talking about jobs—the 11 million missing jobs behind our unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.


I am a student of history, and now is the time to remember our history as a nation. Remember that when President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” other voices were on the radio, voices saying that what we really needed to fear was each other – voices preaching anti-Semitism and Nazi-style racial hatred.

Remember that when President John F. Kennedy stepped off the plane in Dallas on November 22, 1963, radio voices were calling for violence against the President of the United States. And the violence came—and took John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers and so many others.

But in the United States, we chose to turn away from the voices of hatred at those critical moments in the twentieth century. In much of Europe, racial hatred and political violence prevailed in response to the mass unemployment of the Great Depression. And in the end, we had to rescue those countries from fascism-- from the horrible consequences of the failure of their societies to speak to the pain and anger bred by mass unemployment.

Why did our democracy endure through the Great Depression? Because working people discovered it was possible to elect leaders who would fight for them and not for the financial barons who had brought on the catastrophe. Because our politics offered a real choice besides greed and hatred. Because our leaders inspired the confidence to reject hate and charted a path to higher ground through broadly shared prosperity.

This is a similar moment. Our politics have been dominated by greed and the forces of money for a generation. Now, amid the wreckage that came from that experiment, we hear the voices of hatred, of racism and homophobia.
The talk is well worth reading. Go read the whole thing.

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