Steelworkers’ president scores GOP for racist attacks on Obama

WASHINGTON – It took Steelworkers President Leo Gerard – always direct and often outspoken – to say, out loud, what many allies of President Obama have long been afraid to say: That Republican die-hard opposition to everything the nation’s chief executive proposes is based on his race.

That statement, something even Obama himself avoided making after a direct question from public broadcast journalists in late 2013, came in a wide-ranging off-the-cuff Gerard speech on Feb. 11 to members of the United Steel Workers Rapid Response Team, gathered here for the annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference of unions and environmental groups.

Gerard ran down a range of progressive initiatives Obama has proposed during his five years in the Oval Office. Then he launched his blast at the GOP.

“I’ve watched how many of these programs he’s put forth, and how many things those red-state Republicans in the House and the Senate have done to them. It’s because they don’t want a black man in the White House,” Gerard said, getting a standing ovation from hundreds of Rapid Response activists. “He doesn’t want to say it, but what other conclusion can you come to?” Gerard added about Obama’s reaction.

Gerard also had a few other choice words for Republicans, while urging Rapid Response activists to recruit so many USW colleagues that they would double their rolls. Those troops could then go out and campaign for green jobs, against so-called “free trade” pacts and oppose Trade Promotion Authority – fast-track – that would allow them. They would also distribute data about pro and anti-worker candidates.

“On the night President Obama was inaugurated for his first term,” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell “convened all the GOP senators in a restaurant. They locked arms and all pledged to the goal of making him a one-term president,” Gerard said. “George Becker (Gerard’s predecessor as USW president) “told me once to ‘forgive but not forget.'”

In so many words, “Our values are his values,” Gerard said of President Obama, despite labor’s opposition to the president’s fast-track plan and the so-called free trade treaties. Despite all the GOP obstructionism and opposition, the president won re-election, Gerard said, adding, “It was by five million votes, and that’s a blowout. But they didn’t accept it,” he said of the GOP.

Gerard also quickly pivoted to urging his Rapid Response team to lobby hard for a permanent infrastructure bill, including highway and mass transit projects, and with strong Buy-America provisions, too.

Those dollars, plus a proposed National Infrastructure Financing Bank that USW also supports, would create more than construction jobs, Gerard noted. Decaying bridges and roads need USW-made steel plate and cement, and leaky water and sewer lines need USW-made pipe, he declared.

Photo: Inability to accept that an African American family is in the White House, says Leo Gerard, president of the USW, is behind GOP opposition to everything the president proposes. Organizing for America


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.