Unity is focus as Webb and Hoffman are honored by SOAR chapter
By CARL GREEN
Pontoon Beach – The Labor Movement needs to hold tight to its allies, even if members don’t always agree on issues, because the alternative is giving up the future to the 1 percent, a United Steelworkers official said at the annual scholarship luncheon of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) group.
“All we have is our solidarity,” said Ike Gittlin, organizing coordinator for the international union, visiting from Pittsburgh. “If they take out your ally, they take a part of you – a part of the coalition.
“It’s not just here, it’s global, because the money we’re up against is global.”
Gittlin warned against poking fun at Labor’s opponents in Congress for seeming too stupid to understand the damage they are doing.
“They know the policies they are pursuing are destroying this country,” he said. “It’s not that they’re stupid. They’re corrupt, but they’re not idiots. They know what they are doing.”
Sometimes, he added, we might need to make changes in ourselves to ask the right questions about would-be leaders.
“Are they fighting for a better country, in the same way you are, or aren’t they?” he said. “We’ve got to put wealth back in its place.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘What can I do? How can I be a better apostle for a better America?’ ”
WEBB NAMED LABOR
LEADER OF THE YEAR
SOAR Vice President Dennis Barker presented the Labor Leader of the Year award to B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor and secretary-treasurer of the Machinists’ Bluff City Lodge 660.
“While working on the 2004 campaigns, I recognized the leadership qualities of this year's award winner," Barker said. "He continued actively working in his local's International Union and with the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor.
“In 2012, he was elected president of the Federation, and under his leadership, the Fed (as we call it) has been recognized as one of the most respected, active and progressive chapters in the state.
“I am proud to announce this year's Labor Leader of the Year is someone I consider a friend, a brother, and a true friend of this SOAR chapter.”
Two just-graduated seniors from Granite City High School, Madisen Palmisano and Ashleigh Briggs, were presented with the group’s $3,000 Jane Becker/SOAR scholarships. They were the winners of SOAR’s scholarship essay contest on right-to-work.
Madisen said she will attend St. Louis University and Ashleigh will go to McKendree University in Lebanon, IL.
FRIEND OF SOAR
Gittlin presented the Friend of SOAR award to state Rep. Jay Hoffman, of Belleville, chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
Hoffman echoed Gittlin’s concern that working people may be losing their spirit of unity in this era that emphasizes individual possessions over community spirit.
“Where I grew up, two doors down from me was a Teamster, and he drove the Pepsi truck,” Hoffman recalled. “He had a good pension, he made a good wage, he got vacation, he had sick leave, he got paid overtime. Everybody on the block, my dad included, said, ‘I wish I could have a job just like him.’
“Now, unfortunately, if he has a good pension, if he has sick leave, if he has a good wage, and the people who live next to him don’t, they’ll say, ‘Why does he have it and we don’t?’”
Hoffman continued with a reference to right-to-work proposals. “That’s not the way I was brought up. I was brought up to make sure we don’t race to the bottom, we don’t pass right-to-work. So we don’t want to be like Iowa, we don’t want to be like Wisconsin, we don’t want to be like Indiana,” he said.
“We’re Illinois, where we respect work. We’re Illinois, where you get paid a fair wage for your work. We want to make sure that, if you work and you retire, you’re not one illness away from losing everything, and you get a decent pension.
“That’s why I fight every day. That’s why I’ll continue to fight for you.”
Jeff Rains, president of SOAR Chapter 7-34-2, said Hoffman epitomizes Labor’s need to support its friends in public office, noting how Hoffman was almost elected to Congress in 1996, coming within 1,500 votes of defeating John Shimkus.
“If a few more people would have got out there and voted for Jay Hoffman,” Rains said. “We’d be talking about Jay being on a committee in Washington D.C. and doing something there. So we’ve got to make sure we go out in November.”