Take Up Our Quarrel – Bob Brownstein’s 2016 COPE Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech

In two months, I’ll be 70 years old. I’ve been fighting for the rights and well-being of working people for longer than many of the people in this room have been alive.

I made my first speech in favor of health insurance for all Americans in June of 1964. The MediCare Act was signed a year later, but after that the next steps took decades. Finally, the Clinton Administration managed to provide health insurance for quite a few children. But in the Year 2000, the SC County labor movement launched an effort to make us the first county in the country to provide coverage for ALL children. And we didn’t stop there. With a little help from President Obama, we helped launch Covered California and expand MediCal. And now our BOS has approved a new initiative to generate coverage for undocumented. We are finally virtually there — where every other modern country has been for years — health coverage for all.

What should we learn from this story?  We’re on a long road — a road with few short cuts and a lot of steep hills.

Well, when you’re on a long road, it’s critically important to keep your eyes on the prize so you don’t make a wrong turn. What’s the prize? There’s a lot of pieces of it — wages, and health care and housing and retirement — there’s the right to organize.

When you put them together — it’s all about justice.

Unfortunately, we have to do more than simply walk that long road to justice.

There are people and organizations that have built road blocks to stop us.

At many points, we have to fight to open the way.

Sometimes, the opposition will try to stop us by confusing the issue.

If you listened to the Republican presidential debates, in the few minutes when the candidates weren’t hurling crap at each other, they talked about freedom. The right wing economist, Milton Friedman, even wrote a book entitled, Capitalism and Freedom.

When you think about it, that’s funny. Modern Capitalists and Corporations have found a way to get along with virtually every dictatorship on earth. They had no problem with Pinochet in Chile. They can work with Putin in Russia. In Beijing, corporate capitalists are members of the Chinese Communist Party. But there’s one kind of organization dictators absolutely cannot tolerate — free trade unions. Why? Because when they say freedom, they mean the 1% should be free to control the lives of everyone else. When unions say freedom, we mean the right of people to stand together to determine their own future.

Sometimes, they don’t just try to stop us, they try to push us backwards.

After all the bloodshed and sacrifice to pass the voting rights act, we thought that fight was won.

But then, a conservative Supreme Court overturned its key provisions..

That let a State like Alabama require an official voter ID to register and then close the DMV offices in Black communities so African-Americans couldn’t get the ID card.

While they did it, Supreme Court Judges Roberts and Scalia waved them on.

Yeah I know Scalia is with his maker now. I guess It’s lucky for him he was an accomplished public speaker here on earth cause before he gets through those pearly gates, he’s got a lot of explaining to do.

Here’s another example of the way they try to push us back.  We’ve been doing a helluva lot to help low wage workers. ObamaCare mandates that large employers provide health insurance for full time employees. And our side has been raising the minimum wage all over the place – now fighting for fifteen.  So what do they do… they cut back on workers hours…the number of P/T workers has increased.   That leaves people desperately scrambling to patch together enough part/time jobs to pay the rent.

But we can push back too — and we are — with the Opportunity to Work Initiative. San Jose can be the first large city in America with an ordinance requiring that employers offer additional hours to existing P/T workers before they hire any new P/T or temporary employees.

I like to read history.

Heck, By the time you’re 70, most of your life is history.

History tells us that in 1776 the British had kicked the heck out of Washington’s Army and chased him all across New Jersey to the Delaware River.

But there were men and women who wouldn’t yield. There was Thomas Paine — He wrote — These are the times that try men’s souls… and he wrote that 1776 was no time for the Sunshine Patriot.

Well, 2016 is No time for the Sunshine Activist.

We who are passing the torch know that.

So we who have fought many  long battles that brought us as far as we’ve come tonight, we feel we’ve earned the right to make a request of those come after us.

We ask only one thing.

Take up our quarrel with the foe.

Take up our quarrel with the businesses and landlords that exploit working families.

Win the Opportunity To Work campaign.

Raise the Wage and lower the rents.

Take up our quarrel with the firms that would use technology to create an economy based on piece work – with subminimum wages, no security, and no benefits. Regulate the hell out of the Ubers and the Task Rabbits and the rest.

Take up our quarrel with the Chuck Reed’s and their Wall Street backers. Tell them that after a lifetime of toil, every American is entitled to retirement security. How do you spell retirement security — P. E. N. S. I. O. N.

Take up our quarrel with the Rat Contractors.

With skilled union labor, Build and Rebuild the roads and rail lines and the highrises and hospitals  and hotels.

But there’s one thing we won’ build.

We won’t build walls against other working people striving for a decent life.

Take up our quarrel with the racists and the hatemongers … tell them that Solidarity Forever means solidarity for everyone.

We aren’t going back to Jim Crow.

We aren’t reopening the internment camps.

We won’t stand by while they debase and deport our neighbors because of the way they pray or the color of their skin.

Take up our quarrel with the foe.

And keep your eyes on the prize.

On the prize that lies at the end of the union movement’s proud and lengthy road.

And when you’re on a picket line and you hear the chant — Que Queremos? What do we want?

Answer with that single word that strikes terror into the hearts of the Koch Brothers, and of Supreme Court Judge Roberts and of Donald Trump.

Justicia.

Justice.

Si Si puede.

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