Bruce Popper Remarks @ Installation of Union Delegates

Rochester, NY  June 21, 2013

I would like to start by reading something that was written some years ago.

“The denial by some employers of the right of employees to organize and the refusal by some employers to accept the procedure of collective bargaining lead to strikes and other forms of industrial strife or unrest, which have the intent or the necessary effect of burdening or obstructing commerce…

“The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rate and working conditions within and between industries….

“It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by worker of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”

Does anyone know where this passage is from?

It is from Section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act enacted in 1935 in response to large numbers of workers organizing unions.  It is still the law of the land.  But you wouldn’t know it from the behavior of many of our elected officials.

A majority of the United States House of Representatives and of the United States Senate no longer believe in those principles.  They no longer believe that workers should have the right to organize nor bargain collectively.  It is likely that  a majority of justices on the United States Supreme Court feel the same way.

Were it not for the efforts of our union and many other progressives across the country who fought for President Obama’s reelection, we would now be facing the opposition of all three branches of the Federal government.

In a few minutes, you will take the oath of office and be installed as a Union Delegate of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.  By running for election to this office and by taking this oath, you agree

to represent the workers in your work area and to enforce their contract,

to communicate and inform workers on issues of significance, and to bring the workers’ views back to the union officers,

to educate yourself and then your coworkers about what it means to be a union, and

to organizemobilize, and unite workers to fight for justice.

This is no small task, for you are joining a movement that is under heavy attack.  But that is why your commitment to be a Union Delegate is all the more important, important to the future of our community, important to the quality of life of our families, important to the very survival of democracy in our nation.

If it were easy, it would have already been done. [REPEAT TOGETHER]

In the struggle for economic and social justice, we have no time to waste.  As a Union Delegate, I urge you ‘do not consume your time on petty matters.’  Do not waste your time on fools.  Rather focus on the bigger picture:  that our movement is about justice for all working people, and that the outcome of that struggle will determine the very fabric of our society.

Few things are more important than that.

I would like to leave you with the words of Frederick Douglass.  His words are engraved over the entrance to 1199 SEIU’s headquarters in New York City, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Labor Center, saying:  “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  He spoke these words in Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857 amidst some of the most difficult days of the anti-slavery movement.

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. [REPEAT TOGETHER]  Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. [REPEAT TOGETHER]  It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Congratulations.  Welcome to the struggle.

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