The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers lost a valiant friend and fierce ally. Edward M. Kennedy was a champion of working families during his 47-year career in the United States Senate. His fingerprints can be found on virtually every piece of legislation that became law involving health, education, labor, tax, budget and the armed forces.
For the Machinists Union, the seminal event in Ted Kennedy’s career was his 1980 presidential campaign. The IAM, under the leadership of International President Bill “Wimpy” Winpisinger, created hundreds of local “Draft Kennedy” committees in 1979; virtually every district directing business representative and local lodge president led that draft movement. When Senator Kennedy announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination, those draft committees became his community organizers. And when the campaign came up short in Iowa, “I AM for Kennedy” buttons blossomed across the land.
The IAM’s endorsement of Ted Kennedy meant enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers. And it was those volunteers who manned the phones and handed out leaflets when the going got tough. Taking on a sitting President in his own party wasn’t easy, but there were thrilling moments: come-from-behind victories in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California in the final weeks, a narrow loss in Ohio on the final day of the primary season, a side-by-side battle on the Platform Committee, a rules fight on the convention floor, Kennedy’s sail against the wind speech followed by a walkout of labor delegates led by Wimpy.
The friendship forged in the heat of political battle lasted three decades. The IAM could always count on Senator Kennedy to do the right thing and Senator Kennedy could always count on the IAM. Always has, always will.
So, to honor the memory of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I am asking each district and local lodge to conduct a silent tribute to him at their next union meeting. AND, during new business, I ask each district and local lodge to pledge to fight for the health care reform bill that will now carry his name.
R. Thomas Buffenbarger