ATLANTA – The nation’s economic crisis and the importance of the fight against racism were high on the agenda at the CBTU’s annual convention May 21-25 in this city.

The nation’s economic crisis is the result of failed trade policies and the lack of a national industrial plan that creates and sustains good manufacturing jobs, according to Bill Lucy, the coalition’s president.

In his speech to 1,200 delegates at the gathering Lucy declared that, “as bad as the economy is for all working people, workers of color have been hardest hit. The strides made by African American workers in the 1990’s have been wiped out in this current economic crisis,” Lucy said, “and millions of people of color are no longer making middle class incomes.

Lucy quoted former President Franklin Roosevelt who had asked, “Do you judge a nation’s greatness by what it gives those who already have too much or by what it gives to those who have too little?” He said the question was as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.

At a town hall meeting on the economy AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka expanded on what he has been describing as the trade union movement’s responsibility to lead in the fight against racism.

“Many white union members who first opposed Obama because of his race ended up supporting him because he stood with workers and supported working family issues,” Trumka said. “But now the union movement must move beyond the election and understand that Obama’s election is not the end of racism. The danger within the labor movement is that we try to define every problem in strictly economic terms. Because of that, to the extent that unions talk about racial injustice at all, we characterize it as a subset of economic injustice. But not every issue can be cut as economic.”

Trumka said, “If we want to prevent white members from falling into the trap of believing that racism is now a thing of the past, as a movement, we have a responsibility to educate them that there is a racial dynamic to the issues we face.”

He used health care as an example and noted that, even if all the problems of high co-pays and cost shifting were to be solved, African Americans would still have less access to health care. Trumka pointed out that as long as such divisions exist the struggle for unity among workers will be a more difficult one. .