Update: Trumka’s transcript

by Michael O. Allen on October 10, 2008

This is a transcript of my post a week ago on AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka speech on Racism and Obama.

“You see brothers and sisters, there’s not a single good reason for any worker — especially any union member — to vote against Barack Obama.

There’s only one really bad reason to vote against him: because he’s not white.

And I want to talk about that because I saw that for myself during the Pennsylvania primary.

I went back home to vote in Nemacolin and I ran into a woman I’d known for years. She was active in Democratic politics when I was still in grade school.

We got to talking and I asked if she’d made up her mind who she was supporting and she said: ‘Oh absolutely, I’m voting for Hillary, there’s no way I’d ever vote for Obama.’

Well, why’s that? ‘Because he’s a Muslim.’

I told her, ‘That’s not true — he’s as much a Christian as you and me, so what if he’s muslim.’

Then she shook her head and said, ‘He won’t wear an American flag pin.’

I don’t have one on and neither do you.

But, ‘C’mon, he wears one plenty of times. He just says it takes more than wearing a flag pin to be patriotic.’

‘Well, I just don’t trust him.’

Why is that?

Her voice dropped just a bit: ‘Because he’s black.’

I said, ‘Look around. Nemacolin’s a dying town. There’re no jobs here. Kids are moving away because there’s no future here. And here’s a man, Barack Obama, who’s going to fight for people like us and you won’t vote for him because of the color of his skin.’

Brothers and sisters, we can’t tap dance around the fact that there are a lot of folks out there just like that woman.

A lot of them are good union people; they just can’t get past this idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man. Well, those of us who know better can’t afford to look the other way.

I’m not one for quoting dead philosophers, but back in the 1700s, Edmund Burke said: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’ Well, there’s no evil that’s inflicted more pain and more suffering than racism — and it’s something we in the labor movement have a special responsibility to challenge.

It’s our special responsibility because we know, better than anyone else, how racism is used to divide working people.

We’ve seen how companies set worker against worker — how they throw whites a few extra crumbs off the table and how we all end up losing.

But we’ve seen something else, too. We’ve seen that when we cross that color line and stand together no one can keep us down.

That’s why the CIO was created. That’s why industrial unions were the first to stand up against lynching and segregation. People need to know that it was the Steel Workers Organizing Committee — this union — that was founded on the principal of organizing all workers without regard to race. That’s why the labor movement — imperfect as we are — is the most integrated institution in American life.

I don’t think we should be out there pointing fingers in peoples’ faces and calling them racist; instead we need to educate them that if they care about holding on to their jobs, their health care, their pensions, and their homes — if they care about creating good jobs with clean energy, child care, pay equity for women workers — there’s only going to be one candidate on the ballot this fall who’s on their side… only one candidate who’s going to stand up for their families… only one candidate who’s earned their votes… and his name is Barack Obama!

And come November we are going to elect him president.

And after he’s elected we are going to hit the ground running so that, years from now, we’re going to be able to tell our grandchildren that 2008 was the year this country finally turned its back on men like George Bush and Dick Cheney and John McCain.

We’re going to be able to say that 2008 was the year we started ending the war in Iraq so we could use that money to create new jobs building wind generators, solar collectors, clean coal technology and retrofitting millions of buildings all across this country

We’re going to be able to look back and say that 2008 was the year the tide began to turn against the Rush Limbaughs, the Bill O’Reillys, the Ann Coulters and the right wing hate machine.”

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