With Labor and American values under attack, ‘words matter’
By CARL GREEN, Illinois Correspondent and TIM ROWDEN, Editor
When former Vice President Joe Biden looks at America, he sees the Labor Movement at the forefront, fighting to save the values that made this country great in the first place.
Biden made that clear in a pair of campaign visits here Oct. 31, starting at Iron Workers Local 392 hall in East St. Louis, where he stumped before a crowd of more than 800 people for a whole list of Democratic candidates, including 12th District Congressional candidate Brendan Kelly, gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, lieutenant governor candidate Julianna Stratton state Treasurer Mike Frerichs, attorney general candidate Kwame Raoul and others.
Later that evening, at Machinists District 9 Hall in Bridgeton, Biden rallied for Senator Clair McCaskill, 2nd District Congressional candidate Cort VanOstram and candidate for St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell before a crowd of more than 1,000.
“We’ve got to restore the basic bargain in America,” Biden said. “The bargain was 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,” he said.
WAR ON LABOR
“Folks, I want to make it real clear, unions have been being getting clobbered all across the country…There’s been a war declared on Labor’s house for the last 20 years… The problem they don’t get, from the chamber of commerce types all the way to the guys in white collars… unions built the middle class,” Biden said, to thunderous applause and cheers of assent.
“That’s not hyperbole, they built the middle class… Because of the sacrifices made by my relatives in Lockland Valley and Scranton and so many people all across this country, unions have not only done that, unions are the reason why non-union workers have a 40-hour week, they’re the reason why they have safer conditions. Every right that non-union workers have are because of the sacrifices made by Organized Labor.
“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,” Biden said. “We owe you.
“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck,” he added. “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.”
WAR ON VALUES
It is not just Labor that is under attack, Biden said. It is our very way of life.
“Folks, three times this past week, the forces of hate have terrorized our fellow Americans for their political beliefs, the color of their skin or the religion they practice – a series of explosive devices mailed to a bunch of us and to then to the media; the cold-blooded murder of two African-Americans at a Kentucky supermarket; and then the worst anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history – 11 Jewish worshipers killed in a synagogue I know well in Pittsburgh, where two of my friends belong.
“Folks, we need to recognize words matter,” Biden said. “The words being spoken matter. They are sinking into the psyches of our children, and our silence is complicit. 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,” he said.
“The only thing that unites us is our ideals,” Biden went on. “Democrats and Republicans, we all basically subscribe to the same ideals. The fact is it’s kind of simple – basic fairness, decency, respect, the notion of harmony.
“Our political opponents are not our enemies,” he said. “The press is not the enemy of the people. Before we’re Republicans or Democrats or Independents, we are Americans!
WHAT EACH OF US CAN DO
“Folks, I never thought I’d have to say this, but we’re so much better than this!” Biden said. “We’re so much better as a nation. I know it feels sometimes these days like anger and hatred and viciousness are going to overwhelm us. And it’s up to our leaders to change the tone, to dial down the temperature, the restore the dignity of our national dialogue. And, folks, it’s also on all the rest of us as well.
“Each one of us has the power to begin to change the tone in our day-to-day lives, the way we interact, the way we use the Internet, folks, in the way we talk to one another… We can overcome this moment together, but only by being the best of ourselves, the version of America that I see as I travel the country, the America that’s worthy of being called ‘That shining city on the hill.’
“Folks, think about it. We’ve become a little distant as a society. It’s a lot easier to text someone something bad or good than look them in the eye.”
START BY SAYING ‘THANK YOU’
Biden, who many have suggested should run for president in 2020, steered clear of any future political ambitions he might have. Instead, he related a story about visiting Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.
“My wife went down to Puerto Rico with Save the Children after the hurricane, and I went down to the Virgin Islands, specifically to a place called St. Croix which had been devastated in terms that all the electricity was down,” he said. “We were going all around the island looking at it, so we could make a report. And all of these bucket trucks from all around the country were coming in, people restringing wires, putting up poles and generators.
“On the east end of the island, I walked into this old gas station after getting some gas and I walked out and over the corner of the station they’re putting up a little transformer. So I walked over – and it’s important for you labor guys to understand this, because you know it – I walked over and I yelled up to the guy in the bucket, I said ‘Hey, man, thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing. You’re saving people’s lives. The lights are on in the hospital again,’” Biden said.
“And this guy looked down at me. I won’t say exactly what he said, but he said ‘Are you screwing with me, mon?’ Are you screwing with me?’ And I said ‘No.’ And he brought the bucket down. And he said ‘Are you serious, mon?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m serious. Thank you.’ And he got silent and he said to me ‘Thank you, mon. No one’s ever thanked me before.’
“When you get a storm and the guys keep the storm sewers open so your basement doesn’t flood, how many times do you go out and say ‘thank you’ to them?” he asked. “How many times do you say thank you to the people, ordinary people, who bust their necks and are the reason why we have the society that we have?
“It’s more than just the political dialogue,” Biden said. “We’ve got to start talking to one another again.”