The Rev. Jesse Jackson gave a speech
to the Transport Workers Union of America's 22nd Constitutional Convention on Tuesday, September 20, 2005. I missed this until now, and highly recommend reading it. Unfortunately, it was cut short due to the fainting of an audience member, but what was said was truly inspiring. He covers all bases: the war, the hurricane and the environmental issues it raised, workers and the fate of unions, and more. In simple, clear language he identifies the common thread that holds all these issues together. Here are some substantial excerpts; I hope you read the whole speech:
good stuff on the flip:
[We] are now facing the impact of Katrina and Rita . . . what does that have to do with transportation workers? When we attack the earth, the earth to protect itself fights back. It has its own sense of survival as a kind of cosmic organism. So with our greed we unleash these carbons and carcinogens in the air, and we attack the shield - the ozone layer. And the sun comes in more directly and melts the glaciers. When they are melted, the water table rises, the water temperature rises, then there's evaporation, then there's condensation and then wind. It ain't that complicated. It's called global warming.
So we attack the earth, and the earth fights back. It makes so much more sense to invest in massive public transportation than private greed. Amtrak makes more sense than Hummers to move the American public.
Why a Hummer between Chicago and St. Louis or Chicago and Milwaukee . . . when you could have first class, safe, energy efficient public transportation? You not only get us there safer and quicker, but you also protect us from a struggle with the earth, a struggle that we cannot win.
So the first lesson to be learned in this struggle, this environmental struggle, which has public transportation implications, we can no longer say, "Look, I'm a bus driver" or "I'm a train driver. I can't get into all that environmental stuff because I'm just driving." Oh, no! You are breathing in this environment. You are affected by the air you breathe, the water you drink, the impact of hurricanes, the impact of storms.
On Bush's proposed "recovery" plan, and its designed effects on workers:
But we've got the "plan" now. We've put on our Bush face now and we've got a plan. We've got a plan for reconstruction. `There will be a new New Orleans. We'll hear jazz again. We'll eat gumbo again. We'll do the second line one more time. I'm here now with a plan.'
But watch this, y'all. Watch this, union. Watch this. We have a $200 billion bailout plan for the Gulf Coast. $200 billion. Whenever Bush sticks his hand out, there's always something up his sleeve.
What was missed in the big news coverage, in the big press conference in New Orleans-- with the Andrew Jackson Building in the background, by the way-- "We must suspend Davis-Bacon." Some people think that's Davis eating bacon, but that ain't what it is, you understand? That really ain't about grits and bacon. That's the "workers' bacon." To rebuild New Orleans, to rebuild the Coast, [Bush says] we must suspend prevailing wages, a deal covering right-to-work states [states with laws restricting unionization] the red states.
Their very first act: "we're going to give you money but we won't give you wages . . ." If we had prevailing wages, it would mean they'd have to lift minimum wages across the whole red-state region. So we're going to have a Gulf State bill, but we're going to suspend prevailing wages.
Now, we know that those who could get out did get out. Those who could not get out were left behind, Bush says, because of "intractable problems" of race and class and poverty. And we must get over that. Of course, that's true. But his very first act was to condemn them to more poverty.
In a state where they've already got a minimum wage that's below poverty-- a subminimum wage now is the law, below poverty-- his very first act was to sign an executive order to suspend prevailing wages. You're coming back to $6 an hour. You still can't afford a car. You can't get out of the next flood.
Most people who are poor are not on welfare. Fifty million Americans have no health insurance. Most poor folks work every day. They catch the early bus. (Applause) They clean up other people's houses. They raise their children and cut their grass. They work every day. Most poor folks are not on welfare; they work every day. And when they get to work, they still don't have health insurance.
It's time for a change. The beauty of America is protecting the common good. We didn't say, "Give me your rich, your elite, your aristocrats." We said, "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses." The common defense. We need public education for all, public transportation for all. Public health care for all. We must fight for the common good and rise above the foolishness of our own separation and fears.
A white coal miner dies in Appalachia every six hours from black lung disease. But whether you are in Appalachia, Alabama, we are all still God's children. We are all still Americans. A sense of the common good, a sense of sacrifice.
And finally, the most inspiring of all, I thought:
Today, what's missing in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge labor movement is [Bush] attacked Davis-Bacon, attacked prevailing wages, attacked workers' rights to organize, and so far we ain't done nothin' about it.
Our silence is betrayal! We should be marching in Baton Rouge today. We should be marching and demanding, "How can you be parading and profiling in Port Arthur and Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana, and then fight to condemn workers to poverty wages?" There's a labor movement in town, and we ain't gonna take it! There is a labor movement in town!
We are not going to take prevailing wages being cut. We are not going to accept right-to-work. We want the right to organize. There's a labor movement in town!
. . . I am not pleased with the Democrats, and I am not scared of Republicans. It's time to fight back in an independent kind of way. It's time to fight back. We need a labor political movement. We need a Workers' Party. We must fight for workers' rights, health care, jobs, justice, education, housing.
This land is our land. (Applause) I am not pleased with the Democrats, and I ain't scared of the Republicans. I've come to fight today. Can I get a witness? Let me hear you scream!
There are Republicans who want right-to-work laws. There are Democrats who are not fighting against them. Then there's us. "Us" needs our own political movement to protect us's interests.
The whole speech is wonderful, and captures the essence of progressive, left wing values by way of Reverend Jackson's forte - the Bible. Read it, and find me a Democrat who will say the same in public and on the record, and follow through on it. Because until we do, that Workers Party he mentioned sounds pretty damned good. I'll get nailed for that, I know, but one does not sacrifice one's principles simply because the only other political party doesn't happen to agree.