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Date: Sat, 9 Aug 97 10:07:31 CDT
From: scott@rednet.org (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: NAACP labor brunch calls for unity, activism
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 16000

NAACP labor brunch calls for unity, activism

By Denise Winebrenner, Peoples Weekly World
9 August 1997

PITTSBURGH - Participants in the labor brunch at the 88th Convention of the NAACP had plenty to cheer about, but the loudest applause was reserved for the Rev. Joseph Lowery, retiring president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Lowery, who has led SCLC for the past 20 years, has announced plans to retire as soon as a successor is chosen.

In a wide-ranging speech, Lowery praised the new AFL-CIO leadership. "But," he said, "what they have done so far must be the opening hymn not the benediction."

Then, touching on the present world and national situation which he called a period of "transition," Lowery warned that the American dream will die without "the potent, effective voice" of the labor and civil rights movements in redefining America.

"We have witnessed the passing of an era," he said, "an era of the Cold War, and anti-Communism - an era of hysteria." and that the United States was "between that era and the birth of a new era that is filled with more uncertainty than assurance."

Lowery said that during the Cold War the nation's leaders could "neglect our democratic institutions; defy codes of ethics; ignore traditions of compassion; could aid and abet the emasculation of values; could abuse workers - as long as they were fighting what they called the 'Evil Empire.'"

Lowery said people have been hit by "hurricanes of twisted priorities" and "demagogic politicians. The moral and economic landscape today is strewn with debris of broken promises, shattered dreams, crippled laws, defaulted mortgages, disrupted education and vocational careers much like the landscape of communities hit by a hurricane."

Noting that organized labor is a "core" member of the coalition of conscience, Lowery compared the battle for social justice with a basket ball game.

He said that issues like decent-paying jobs, health care, education, the right to strike and bargain, integration, affirmative action, environmental responsibility, workplace health and safety, welfare reform had been, for too long, "back court" issues.

"We have to move them to the front court," he said. "We must move to the front court of equity and sanity and must leave the back court of growing disparity between those who have more than they will ever need and those who never had what they do need."

Then, tweaking the delegates, Lowery asked, "Why were we so quiet when they assaulted affirmative action? Why did so many 'Negroes' join the chorus that we don't need affirmative action? Our unity and activism must address the assault on affirmative action," he said.

"If you think the playing field is level, you're insane. If you think inequality doesn't exist, you're a fool. Unity and activism," Lowery said in closing, are inseparable.

"Can you imagine Einstein without mathematics; can you imagine Duke Ellington without 'Satin Doll'; Aretha without R-e-s-p-e-c-t; intellect without W.E.B. Du Bois; eloquence without Frederick Douglass; Tuskegee without Booker T. Washington? How in the hell can you imagine unity without activism?"

Brunch participants applauded the call by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for unity and the need to avoid splits between labor and the civil rights movements.

He said the struggles against the right wing provides the common arena for both organizations to work to defeat those who seek to defeat working men and women in this country. "We are, once again, two movements, one goal," Mfume said.

Mfume recounted his 10 years as a member of AFSCME and his years of public service on the Baltimore City Council and in the House of Representatives. "I retired with a 100 percent pro-labor voting record," he said proudly.

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists President William Lucy presented awards to Dolores Huerta, vice president of the United Farm Workers, and Moe Biller, retiring president of the Postal Workers.

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