Frank Talk At Election Time

The not-so-good news is that there are a considerable number of White members and non-members (though represented by the union) who are unenthusiastic about the Obama candidacy. Despite the fact that Senator McCain has a horrible voting record on veterans' issues (which affect many of our members) and the fact that McCain is ready to privatize anything that he can touch, there are White union members who believe that they share something special with the Senator from Arizona.

The president of AFGE is a White man named John Gage. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Senator Obama. It is interesting to see that sort of support from a White man. He is fit to be tied that ANY union members would vote from a mindset affected by prejudice be it racial, gender based or ''other''.

What is interesting about Gage is that he does not beat around the bushes: as far as he is concerned, the ugly head of prejudice has been reared and there are those workers, and not just or mainly in AFGE, who are prepared to vote with their fears rather than their hopes.

So, the other day I received a call from President Gage. He read me a statement that he is going to release on radio stations. It is a powerful statement and it is largely addressed toward the ugly head of prejudice rearing its head and workers being crushed by the policies that we have experienced under the last eight years of Bush.

This is a courageous step and I say that not because I work for this union. The reality is that too many unions for too many years ignored the existence of racism and sexism within their ranks.

Leaving aside the unions that until 1964 kept workers of color outside of their ranks, there has been an intense fear by many, if not most White male union leaders that any discussion of race or gender bias would prove to be divisive.

The result? Absolute denial of the fact that workers are already divided and that the key question is what steps can be taken to address that divide and build long-term unity.

In the midst of the 2008 Presidential election, growing numbers of White union leaders, such as John Gage, are actually speaking out on the question of racism, sexism and every other ''ism''.

As many AFGE leaders have opined, there are many good reasons to vote FOR Senator Obama, while there is one very bad reason to vote against him: race. Yet for me, as a Black man, for all that is positive in White union leaders taking these steps, we must acknowledge that the union movement would probably be in a very different place if it had not attempted to hide from discussions of race, not to mention, hiding from carrying out consistent anti-racist work to overcome structural, systemic discrimination that has kept workers of color all too often in a second class status.

So, while it is important for Black people to support and applaud the steps taken by leaders such as Gage, it is just as important for us to point out that this cannot be a one-shot deal.

Regardless of who wins the Presidential elections this November, the reality is that a discussion on race and the history of race and other forms of prejudice in the USA has been forced upon this country. The union movement is no exception. In fact, if the union movement is, itself, to rebuild and play a leading role in fighting for genuine social justice, then it will have to pursue the discussions that are now underway and chart a new direction toward addressing the divisions that exist and the discrimination that hides in plain sight.

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