Buffenbarger – Remarks to the Firefighters Convention

Thank you, Harold, for that generous introduction.  You and General Secretary-Treasurer Vinnie Bollon not only are leading one of North America’s greatest unions but you throw one hell of a convention!

This is spectacular.                       

The IAM Convention will be held here in this very hall from September 9th to September 14th, 2012.

By then, the North American labor movement will be far different than it is today.

In 2012, I hope to see a whole lot more  aggressive leadership than today. 

That’s the kind of inspiring leadership it takes to win better lives for working families. And it is, brothers and sisters, exactly the kind of leadership that Harold and Vinnie have given to this great union of yours.

Harold, I want you to put September 12, 2012 down in your calendar right now. I’m asking you to be here on that day to address our Machinists Convention.

It’s great to be here in Toronto. This is a spectacular city. It is home to nearly 5,000 Machinists who work at the airport, the Bombardier plant and other smaller shops throughout the province.

Throughout Canada, the IAM has over 45,000 members. Most are in the air transport and aerospace industries. But we also have public employees, uranium miners, auto mechanics and machinists.

In World War II, the GI’s coined a word for total chaos: SNAFU. It meant situation normal all fouled up … and they often used a far stronger verb.

SNAFU – that’s what many first responders faced in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. SNAFU – that’s what police, fire and EMT’s faced in the collapse of the Twin Towers. SNAFU – that’s what hundreds and thousands of union members encountered when they showed up at Ground Zero to help.

But what set our union brothers and sisters apart that day was the direction they moved in – TOWARD the smoke and fire of total chaos. As tens of thousands of New Yorkers streamed AWAY, they fought their way to the pile … created a semblance of order in the midst of chaos … demonstrated to the world that blue collar courage knows no limits … that the real heroes often live right next door … and that union solidarity – brothers and sisters – can bring out the best in all of us.

Distributed to you this morning is a DVD, a documentary called Everyday Heroes – Our Stories of 9/11.

The film did not come from Hollywood. It does not star Nicholas Cage.

It was made by us — by the Machinists Union. And it speaks the truth.

When we set out to make that documentary, we meant for it to tell the story of 9/11 from the perspective of our brothers and sisters in the labor movement — the firefighters, the police officers, the emergency medical crews, the transportation workers, the construction workers.

This film is a work of love. It is our way of paying tribute to you and of expressing to you our eternal solidarity.

On that terrible September morning, when tens of thousands were fleeing desperately from the financial district of New York, it was our people — our union people — who went rolling into the heart of the cataclysm.

Many of them — so many — never came back.

343 firefighters died that day. And that’s not all.

According to a study that has just appeared in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, large numbers of the first responders who answered the call on 9/11— and lived to tell about it — suffered devastating lung damage.

How bad is it?                

Consider this.

Every year, say the doctors who wrote this medical journal article, the average adult loses to the aging process 30 milliliters of lung capacity.

For smokers, the average annual loss is 70 milliliters, which is why we all should quit.

But for veterans of the cataclysm at the World Trade Center, what’s the loss? According to the study, their loss of lung capacity comes to as much to 372 milliliters.

You don’t have to be a doctor to figure out what that could mean.

Those numbers say to us that 9/11 is not over — that the consequences are with us today and will be for many years to come.

As a nation, we owe these folks.

We have a duty to take care of them.

And we are also duty bound, brothers and sisters — and I say this with a deep and abiding anger — to bring to justice the savages who planned and ordered this hideous atrocity.

Five years ago, President George W. Bush promised to the people of this country that America justice would bring Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen to justice.

Has the President kept that promise?

No, he has not. Not yet, any way.                                                           

Instead of ruthlessly hunting down the people who attacked us, George Bush and Dick Cheney used 9/11 as an excuse to send our young men and women to Iraq on a wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

And now?

Now, after spending hundreds of billions of dollars — after sacrificing the lives and limbs of thousands of our brave young men and women — we are stuck in the quicksand of Iraq and Osama Bin Laden is still on the loose. 

He mocks us. He laughs at us. And day in and day out, he and his henchmen work on their plans to do it again.

That’s a national scandal, an international scandal.

And it didn’t have to be that way.

You know, brothers and sisters, when I think back to the days immediately after 9/11,  there’s something  that just rises up and just hits me right between the eyes — and here’s what it is.

At that time, we had in the White House a President who had run for office as — and I quote — “a uniter, not a divider.”

Do you remember that?

It’s a fact — you can look it up. And if he had chosen to keep that campaign promise, George W. Bush could have become one of our great Presidents.

This President had a tremendous opportunity.

If he’d had the vision, George Bush could have enlisted the people of this country in a great common endeavor.

In the shadow of 9/11, he could have united us in ways that we have not been united for a very long time. And from that position of strength, he could have addressed in reasonable and responsible ways the whole range of issues that confront this country today.

But that is not what happened.

Instead of bringing this country together, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove opted for extreme political partisanship. And to that end, they set out to divide the country.

Remember: these are the guys who inherited from Bill Clinton what would have been a $5 trillion surplus in the federal budget. With that money, George Bush could have done fabulous things for education and for health care for firefighters and for national defense — and with lots of money left over for tax cuts.

But they blew it — every penny of it. And instead of a Clinton-style balanced budget, we are now looking at a $5 trillion mountain of federal debt.

That’s money we owe — you owe it and I owe it and our kids and grandkids, they owe it, too.

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty damn sick and tired of it.

I am sick and tired of having in this country an Administration that is in bed with the likes of Exxon and Enron and Chevron —- meanwhile we must watch the price of gas go up like an odometer!

I am sick and tired of an Administration that throws away billions of our dollars and thousands of our kids in some hellhole like Iraq — and has not one damn thing to show for it.

I am sick of the lies, sick of the incompetence, sick to death of the corruption.

We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq — but where’s it gone?

Not to our troops. Hell, I’ve heard the stories — and maybe some of you have heard worse — about kids having to write home and ask their families to send them body armor. Or about GIs scavenging Iraqi dumps for scrap metal to weld on to the sides of those soft-skinned Humvees. Or American soldiers paying $100 for the protective inserts that go in the new helmet, and paying that — if they can — out of their own pockets.

And the people of Iraq? We promised them that when Saddam Hussein was gone, they would have some basic things — like electricity, clean water, schools.

After three years, what have they seen? From what I hear, not much. And in Baghdad, I’m told, every day in every way it’s getting worse as Sunnis shoot Shiite pilgrims and Shiite death squads slay entire families.

So who’s to blame?

If you ask the Bush Administration, the answer is “Nobody.”

How about Congress?

Isn’t it the job of the House and the Senate to investigate? To look into to the multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts that have gone to politically-wired outfits like Halliburton?

Yes — it is their job. But they’re not doing it.

“More Americans can name the three stooges than the three branches of government,” said David Letterman the other night. “Well, that’s because the three stooges are more likely to get something done.”

Sooner or later, the lid will come off on the corporate corruption and war-profiteering that’s gone on during the war in Iraq.

It stinks — stinks to high heaven.

But the leaders of our do-nothing, see-nothing, hear-nothing Congress don’t want to know about it — or about anything else, for that matter.

The Congress today is a lapdog of special interests.

I’ve heard it described as George Bush’s pet poodle — but I don’t think that’s quite right.

If you kick a poodle, after all, it might bite you back.

Not this Congress.

It is tempting to say to you, brothers and sisters, that what we need in this country today is a new STYLE of leadership.

But you know, that’s not necessarily true.

In the past, we’ve had Presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike, who’ve been able to see the larger picture and to put the country first. On Harry Truman’s desk, there was that famous sign — “The buck stops here.”

In the Bush Administration, the buck has no brakes. It stops nowhere — and nobody takes responsibility for anything.

An example?

In Israel, they failed to destroy Hezbollah in their thirty day war — and already, the military chief of staff is out the door and there’s a pretty good chance that the Prime Minister may soon follow.

And in the USA?

Well, you tell me.

Is there any other country in the world — or any other Administration in the history of the United States — in which Donald Rumsfeld would still be Secretary of Defense?

Look — Rumsfeld should have been gone years ago.

So should his cronies … and his lackeys … and his pet generals … and everybody else who got us into this mess … and who cannot figure out for the life of our men and women now serving in Iraq how to end this nightmare.

But in this Administration, they don’t go. They don’t resign. They don’t step aside. Even “Brownie,” you’ll recall was “doing a good job.”

From the President on down, they’re incapable of admitting to an error.

And in that, they are not alone.

Across the broadest spectrum of political and civic life, we face a sleepy, stay the course, don’t rock the boat, hold the line, defend the status quo style of leadership. We see it in the House of Representatives. We see it in the Senate. And, unfortunately, we see it even closer to home.

Political scientists call it transactional leadership. It works this way: You slap my back and I’ll slap yours. You do a power point; I’ll nod appreciatively. You put forth a budget; I’ll ignore the funny math. You make a motion; I’ll second it. You make a speech; I’ll send out a press release.

Transactional leadership is all words, and no action.

But there’s another kind of leadership. It’s called transformational leadership. And FDR, Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ and, yes, Ronald Reagan were its greatest proponents.

For them, the defenders of the status quo were a bunch of semi-senile seventy-something’s — guys whose brains had taken early retirement and whose deepest instincts were to demean anything that might even resemble a new idea. Roosevelt called them economic Tories – a not so subtle slap at their ancient and fossilized thinking in the midst of the Great Depression.

From FDR to LBJ, Democrats were the exact opposite. They were men of action. Decisive, bold, aggressive politicians who were willing to take risks.

And at their side were real labor leaders like Sidney Hillman, Walter Reuther and Al Hayes. Decisive, bold, aggressive labor leaders who were also willing to take risks.

And that, my friends, is what we need today.

Urgently, we need to clean house. From the House of Representatives, to the White House, to the House of Labor, we need to clean house. Top to bottom.

And that is something that together, we can start doing in November.

In America today, we need strong, committed labor activists. We need brothers and sisters who understand what is really important for our survival and who will step up and fight for what is right.

But even more, we need strong, decisive, aggressive and bold labor leaders — men and women who are honest and responsible and who will bring us together.

And that’s where you come in.

If labor won’t stand up and be counted, then who will?

In this fall’s election campaign, Machinists and Firefighters will be in the thick of it. Side by side, we’ll be working to elect Senators and Congressmen who will fight for the rights and the interests of working men and women.

But there’s an opportunity this fall that Harold Schaitberger and Tom Buffenbarger see, an opportunity to alter the dynamics of American politics. In thirty-six states, the chief executive officer – the governor – is on the ballot this year.

All over this country, Machinists and Firefighters will be working to elect governors. And we’re going everywhere. You know as well as I do that no matter where you go, Americans think a lot alike — and in the so-called red states, folks are just as disgusted with what’s going on as they are in the so-called blue states.

What we need today is JUICE — remember that acronym: J —U—I—C—E.

No matter where they live, Americans are sick and tired of seeing their offices and factories closing down and their jobs flying away to foreign countries. We want a government that will fight to keeps our jobs at home.

So, the “J” in JUICE stands for JOBS!

“U” is for utility regulation.

In every part of the country, families are staggering under the weight of utility bills.  And believe me — it is going to get worse. We need to strengthen — not to weaken or abolish — the power of the states to regulate utilities in the public interest.

The same is true for health and auto insurance rates, which for no good economic reason are spiraling out of control. Insurance rates — That’s the “I” in JUICE.

The “C” in JUICE stands for commuter woes.

Americans are spending, on average, 5 to 15 hours each week just getting to and from work.  With longer and longer commutes, the forty hour week is long gone. Because we have not invested enough in our transportation infrastructure, we’re facing a new kind of mandatory overtime – unproductive, unpaid and unsettling – as we sit in traffic going now where.

And finally, there’s the E in JUICE — and that, of course, is educational equity.

If we in this country can afford to fight a war while at the same time handing out huge tax breaks to our neediest billionaires, it seems to me that we can also find a way to pay for first class schools for all our kids. We want our kids to have a fair start in the race of life, and right now that start is anything but fair and equitable.

If we really want to compete in the world of the Twenty First Century, we must find the means to offer to our young people an alternative pathway to success. Not every kid can go to college – in fact, fewer than one in five ever get that sheepskin. So we need high tech institutes that will give blue collar kids training in cutting edge workplace skills.

JUICE — that’s what we need.

Who has the JUICE in your state?

The governor’s office is the place where those issues — jobs, utility regulation, insurance premiums, commuter woes and educational equity — get dealt with effectively.

That’s why we need to focus our efforts on these governors’ races.

And that’s where you come in. We have got to get ALL our members out to vote on November 7th.

Why? Because 35 million Americans who voted in 2004 will sit out this election. That’s right. THIRTY-FIVE MILLION Americans will stay home …  comfortable in the misconception that not much is happening in these off-year elections … sedated by the silly idea that their vote is not needed … asleep to the impact these governors can have on their lives.

We’ve got to break them of that lazy-boy recliner attitude.

We can start that process by pointing them to www.rallyaround.us. There they can put their names on a virtual wall and pledge to vote on November 7th for governors who have the JUICE.

But we’ve got to do more.

If we turn out ALL our members– our combined membership of Machinists and Firefighters, we can make a difference. If we get every single one of our active and retired members out to vote – all 1.2 million of them – then our impact can be decisive.

In Texas, California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, we have much work to do.

But if the Machinists do their job, if the Firefighters do theirs, if together we help elect or re-elect governors who have the JUICE, then we will have altered the dynamic of our democracy.

And millions of working families will be far better off with a Governor Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas…

Governor Phil Angelides  in California …

Governor Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania … 

Governor Ted  Strickland  in Ohio …

Governor Jennifer Granholm in Michigan …

Governor Jim Doyle in Wisconsin …

Governor Elliot Spitzer in New York …

Governor Rod Blagojevich  in Illinois …

Governor Martin O’Malley in Maryland. 

These are great candidates. And with our help, every single one of them will win in November.

Brothers, we CAN make history!

Sisters, we WILL make history! 

I know that — you know that — we all know it. 

And in the immortal words of  Larry the Cable Guy, let’s  get out there and “get ‘er done.”