Feb. 7, 2011 - Pittsburgh City-County Building
Thanks Mayor Ravenstahl, Members of City Council and the City Parks and Recreation Department.
On behalf of President Leo Gerard, Director John DeFazio and all retired and active members of the Steelworkers Union, I wish to commend you on this exhibit which does a magnificent job in telling the story of how a relatively small group of struggling workers such as Raymond Henderson, shaped not only the African-American community, but made an impact around the country.
It is a chapter of American history that too few know about. But, it is a stark reminder of what life was like for African-Americans in this country, up until the last few decades. The exhibit is also a painful reminder of the in equity of the seniority system within the steel companies. A system that left a damaging legacy of occupational segregation. Denial of equal employment opportunities, despite the fact that this system condemned Black Steelworkers to labor a lifetime in the most dangerous and minimal jobs with no prospects for promotion. The grievances and appeals for fairness for many years fell on deft ears of the companies and their union.
This was during a time that within the African-American community, there was strong discussions and disagreements about how much to stir things up. Some of the black workers felt that the odds were too great. The company was not interested in providing opportunities for blacks. The Union would not fight for them.
But somehow they were able to find the courage, because of their uncompromising belief that their demands were just. Through lawsuits, they bought to the table in 1974 the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC), the U.S. Department of Justice, nine steel companies and the United Steelworkers of America. A consent decree was established with goals and timetables for the hiring and promotion of minorities, specifically African-Americans, women and Latinos, especially in supervision, technical and clerical jobs and management training programs.
Today, many of us stand on the shoulders of Raymond Henderson, Oliver Montgomery, Ola Kennedy, Jonathan Comer and many others who had not only the courage, but the audacity to stand up and speak out.
It started with the hope, and it ended with the fulfillment of a long held idea that they too, like their Italian brothers and sisters, their Polish brothers and sisters, their Eastern European and Jewish co-workers, they too, can achieve the promise of the American Dream.
They contributed to the creation of a black middle-class that produced the steel that built our bridges, our skyscrapers and weapons that strengthen our national defense.
They contributed to the stability of our communities. Paid taxes, bought homes, cars, and educated their children.
Because of their courage and demand for justice and fairness Steelworkers today - white, black, Hispanic, Asian, male, female, old and young - are speaking with one voice.
One voice "for an industrial manufacturing policy, to save and create good manufacturing jobs".
One voice "against unfair trade policies" that place the American worker at risk.
One voice "for the right of all workers to be able to join a union without the threat of losing their job".
Because of those who you honor this Black History Month, Steelworkers have formed the more perfect union.