Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:22 am, in From the USW International President
By Leo W. Gerard
The words Barack Obama uses are deeply meaningful to organized labor. He speaks to union members on a gut level about concepts that define their lives: unity and brotherhood.
Listen to what he says in his closing argument speech:
“Each of us has a responsibility to work hard and look after ourselves and our families, and each of us has a responsibility to our fellow citizens. That’s what’s been lost these last eight years – our sense of common purpose; of higher purpose. And that’s what we need to restore right now.”
That’s the theme of serving as a brother’s keeper that Obama detailed at the Democratic National Convention.
He continues in the “closing” speech:
“Yes, we can argue and debate our positions passionately, but at this defining moment, all of us must summon the strength and grace to bridge our differences and unite in common effort – black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; Democrat and Republican, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, disabled or not.”
These are the lyrics of unity that have distinguished Obama throughout his campaign.
They resonate with union members, who unify to achieve greater good for all and who call each other brother and sister because we are willing to sacrifice for one another.
This is what has lured members of my union, the United Steelworkers, to work for a candidate for president harder and longer than they ever have before.
More than 10,000 Steelworkers have volunteered their time to ensure Barack Obama’s election. They’ve knocked on doors, manned phone banks, filled envelopes with letters of persuasion, leafleted at plant gates, worked to protect voters’ rights and helped with the Steel Blitz for Barack bus tour that took Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney and retired players on visits to battleground areas in Pennsylvania and Ohio over the past four weeks.
Steelworkers gathered together to accomplish these tasks, inspired by Barack Obama’s words of harmony:
“In this election, we cannot afford the same political games and tactics that are being used to pit us against one another and make us afraid of one another. The stakes are too high to divide us by class and region and background; by who we are or what we believe.
Because despite what our opponents may claim, there are no real or fake parts of this country. There is no city or town that is more pro-American than anywhere else – we are one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots.”
By Election Day, Steelworker volunteers will have called and spoken to more than 105,000 union members in a dozen battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. It’s an incredibly time-consuming and frustrating endeavor because to reach that many human beings, 850,000 phone calls will have been made. Many of those were entreaties to answering machines. But Steelworkers carried on, spurred by Obama’s counsel that everyone must work together to be part of the solution:
“I ask you to believe – not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.”
On weekends and evenings, Steelworkers across the country went door-to-door, checking in with fellow union members to ensure they supported Obama and would vote on Nov. 4. This labor-intensive and gasoline-consumptive activity has proven incredibly effective in the past. Steelworker door-knocking aided both Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey in winning their seats over the past four years. Steelworkers volunteered to block-walk and drive-the-suburbs in the past two presidential elections as well, but the number who gave time this year was unprecedented. Their willingness to suffer blisters and high gasoline prices was inspired by Obama’s expression of their shared principles as U.S. citizens:
“Understand, if we want to get through this crisis, we need to get beyond the old ideological debates and divides between left and right. We don’t need bigger government or smaller government. We need a better government – a more competent government – a government that upholds the values we hold in common as Americans.”
At the USW headquarters in Pittsburgh, at district offices across the country, and at local union halls, volunteers spent countless lunch hours stuffing, not their stomachs, but envelopes. All together, the USW mailed nearly 4.5 million pieces of persuasive literature. That is a lot of folding and licking. It was worth the time for Steelworkers who understand negotiation and support Obama’s intent to talk to prevent war:
“I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the Twenty-First Century and I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.”
I’ve been part of the campaign as well, phone banking, block walking, and touring and talking with the Steel Blitz for Barack. I know great leadership when I see it. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was once Obama’s primary foe, mentioned what is for a union leader a key factor in leadership. Here’s what Richardson said during Obama’s half hour presentation to the American people Wednesday night about the Democratic candidate: “This guy is special because I think he can bring people together.”
That is what compelled 10,000 Steelworkers to donate their time and energy to Obama. He creates connections. He unifies. He motivates us all by calling on America to be the best she can be:
“In one week, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo.
“In one week, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history. . .
“. . . together we will change this country and we will change the world.”
Steelworkers joined untold thousands of other Obama enthusiasts across the country to get him elected. If he is, Steelworkers will remain active to support his goals and ours during an Obama administration.