By CARL GREEN
President-elect Joe Biden has been a frequent visitor to the St. Louis area and the Metro-East, bringing messages of hope and unity – and support for the Labor Movement.
Some of the candidates and causes he has supported here have moved on or fallen by the wayside, but his point has remained clear – Americans need to do their part to make things better if they expect to reap the benefits, and then the nation must keep up its end of the deal.
These glimpses are from Labor-Tribune coverage of Biden’s appearances. Taken together, they give a surprisingly clear view of the man and of what kind of president we can expect.
“We’ve got to restore the basic bargain in America,” Biden said at a 2018 campaign rally in Fairmont City. “The bargain was that if you contributed to the well-being of the outfit you worked with, you got to share in the benefits. That bargain has been broken.
“Folks, I want to make it real clear, unions have been getting clobbered all across the country. There’s been a war declared on Labor’s house for the last 20 years. The problem that they don’t get – from the chamber-of-commerce types all the way to the guys in white collars – is that unions built the middle class.”
A JOB IS MORE THAN A CHECK
In October 2018, Biden spoke on behalf of Sen. Clair McCaskill’s bid for re-election, at a meeting at the Machinists District 9 Hall in Bridgeton. That night, he explained his strong support for Labor unions.
“Of all the sacrifices Labor made – the dues they paid, the picket lines they marched, the way in which they engaged in getting what was due them, they also are the only ones who benefited every American worker. We owe you,” he said.
“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity, about respect. It’s about your place in the community, and it’s about your sense of self-worth. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, ‘It’s going to be OK’ and mean it.”
McCaskill went on to become a popular political commentator for MSNBC, and it wasn’t long after that when Biden began his run for the White House.
WORDS MATTER; VALUES, TOO
Earlier that same day, Biden spoke to a packed house at Ironworkers Local 392’s hall in Fairmont City in support of soon-to-be Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Congressional candidate Brendan Kelly, who now heads the Illinois State Police.
Several speakers gave rousing, high-volume calls for Democratic candidates and causes. Biden took a different approach, at first speaking softly and using his trademark “folks” to connect with everyone, and only after that bringing the strength of his message. It’s an approach that now is familiar from his presidential campaign.
Biden called for a new political climate based on love of country and support for each other.
“Folks, we need to recognize that words matters. The words being spoke matter,” he said. “They are sinking into the psyches of our children, and our silence is complicity. Folks, we will not be silent! We will not surrender! The first thing we have to do is change the political climate, for our children’s sake and the sake of all America.
“As corny as it sounds, we hold these truths self-evident – that all men are created equal. We have never given up on that or these values – integrity, decency, respect, giving no safe harbor to hate, leaving nobody behind, committing to things bigger than you. The only thing that unites us is our ideals.”
DANCE PARTNERS AT CENTRAL PORT
In March 2014, then-Vice President Biden was in Granite City to celebrate the success of America’s Central Port, which had been developed on the Mississippi River using seed money from the much-maligned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Biden said it was an example of how public funding for infrastructure can be a great investment for the nation.
“What you do here is incredibly important,” he said to workers, union leaders and residents in a packed warehouse. “That means jobs, and not just here, but the jobs in factories that are shipping through here. Without the public funding, you couldn’t do it. There is no reasonable way it could have been done.”
The Delaware native offered special thanks to the Labor representatives in the room. “You know, there’s an old expression back my way – you go home with them that brought you to the dance – and the folks who brought me to the dance were the Longshoremen, the Seafarers, the Steamfitters, the Plumbers, the Pipefitters, Ironworkers, Laborers, Operating Engineers, Bricklayers, Steelworkers.
“That’s the only reason I’m standing here today as vice president, and I could never have been elected without them,” he added. “They also are not only the backbone of American industry, but the spine.”
THE RIGHT TO A UNION
In July of 2018, Biden was in St. Louis to help the campaign against Prop A, to make a Missouri a so-called “right-to-work” state, which voters later soundly defeated.
Biden pointed out that all workers benefit from healthy unions that keep wages in the livable realm.
“If union workers don’t make a fair wage, every other worker loses,” he said. “We fought hard to keep right-to-work out of Delaware. It’s not in the best interests of workers.”
A NEW ‘GREATEST GENERATION’
In October 2016, Biden was back in St. Louis, this time campaigning to help then-Secretary of State Jason Kander get elected to the U.S. Senate. Biden said Kander, born in 1981, represented a new version of the “greatest generation,” consisting of young Americans responding to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Kander, a former member of United Transportation Union Local 933, had become a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
“He’s a patriot,” Biden said. “He came home to serve just as he left to serve. He served in the Missouri House and as Missouri secretary of state. He’s the kind of person we need in politics in both parties – young, optimistic.”
THE MIDDLE-CLASS BARGAIN
Kander, Biden said, understood the need to repair the nation’s bargain with its residents that formed the strong middle class.
“There’s always been a promise,” he said. “If you do well, if you play by the rules, there’s a basic bargain. If you help the enterprise do well, then you do well. Well, that bargain’s been broken. And ladies and gentlemen, not only does Jason get that the middle class has been hammered, he gets that it’s not just their economic standing, but our dignity.
“We’ve gone through crisis to recovery to resurgence, and now it’s the time to restore the middle class. It’s the single most significant responsibility we have as a nation,” he added.
“For far too long, Congress has put millionaires and billionaires who can afford access to politicians ahead of everybody else, ahead of folks who are working multiple jobs when 15 years ago, they were making more money working one job. They’re putting all those folks behind.”
CONGRATULATIONS AND A UNION JOB
After selling insurance, young Eric Green completed the Building Union Diversity (BUD) program over seven weeks and soon landed a trades job and joined the Carpenters Union. In 2016, he went to a union luncheon at the Goody-Goody Diner, and who showed up but Joe Biden, with Jason Kander in tow.
Biden said he was familiar with the BUD program and offered some encouragement to Green.
“It felt like it was a confirmation,” Green said later. “I felt like this was a great opportunity. I had heard he was a politician who supported us. I felt like this was an opportunity to do my best, because that’s what he and President Obama had been supporting. Just to know that they knew about the BUD program was kind of big to me. It was just telling me to take advantage of this.”