Stuart Appelbaum's Remarks at October 2009 JLC Dinner
Good evening. I would like to thank you all for being here this evening
I’m Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Jewish Labor Committee; and I’m also president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and I’d like to welcome you to our 2009 Human Rights Award Dinner.
Before anything else, there are some people who worked very hard to make this evening a success and I’d like to recognize them:
The executive director of the JLC; Sybil Sanchez.
Our dinner coordinator; Sharyn Gare.
And the JLC’s communications director; Arieh Lebowitz.
As well as Janet Wandel, Natalie Cimbol, Helen Murphy and Steve Pezenik.
There are some other people here who deserve all our thanks. It’s the wait staff here at the Hilton – they’re members of UNITE-HERE – and I want them to know how much we appreciate their hard work!
Tonight we have the honor of recognizing the contributions of three, outstanding leaders:
The president of AFTRA, Roberta Reardon.
The president of the New York City Central Labor Council; Jack Ahern.
And the president of the Morton Williams grocery store chain: Morton Sloan.
But that’s not all.
We’re equally honored to be joined by the three uniquely distinguished men who’ll be presenting our awards:
Paul Almeida, the president of the Department for Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO.
Bronx Borough president; the Hon. Ruben Diaz, Jr.
And a long-time friend of the JLC, the new and exciting president of the AFL-CIO, Richard L. Trumka.
This evening is a special time for the Jewish Labor Committee.
Tonight we’re, of course, recognizing the contribution of three, very special people.
But we’re also honoring the work of hundreds of men and women whose names aren’t in your program: they’re the activists who have given – and continue to give -- so much of themselves to making the JLC what it is today – and what it always will be:
A union voice in the Jewish community; and a Jewish voice within the House of Labor.
I’m sure some of you may be asking what that really means.
You may be asking, “Who is the JLC?”
Well, let me take a stab at answering that question.
Who is the JLC?
We’re activists in L.A. who’ve been organizing to build Jewish support for a campaign to organize car wash workers.
We’re in Philadelphia, where we have been signing up rabbis in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.
In Boston, we’re fighting to stop the abuse of workers at Commercial Cleaners Company.
In Chicago, we’re working to help UNITE-HERE win their strike at the Congress Hotel.
In New York and New Jersey we’re doing our part to help nursing home workers win new contracts.
And, Rich, I want you to know that we intend to mobilize all across this country to help send the message, on November 5th, that we don’t need any more talk about health care reform, it’s time for action!
Many people don’t realize this, but almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that every family had access to health care.
In fact, doctors were required to lower their rates for poor patients, and when that didn’t work, the entire community joined together to make sure that people without money could always get the care they need.
No one talked about establishing health care co-ops that can’t work.
No one talked about a trigger that meant that more people would have to suffer and die before it was time for the community to act.
Instead they said that it was the duty of a moral society to guarantee health care for all.
It was true then – it is true today – and, brothers and sisters, we have to put everything else aside to make sure Washington gets the word that American Jews want health care reform … and we want it now!
Why does the JLC do it?
Why do we care about winning good contracts and the Employee Free Choice Act and health care reform?
Because we know, in our hearts, that being Jewish isn’t simply a matter of lighting candles or going to services or being bar mitzvahed.
It’s also about fighting for justice.
It’s about recognizing that just as Jews suffered in ancient Egypt, there are millions of working people who are suffering today.
They’ve been robbed of their right to health care.
Robbed of their right to a good pension.
Robbed of their right to earn a decent wage.
And robbed of the one opportunity they have to do something about it – the right to organize!
The way we see it, while some say that a good Jew might eat a kosher chicken –a better Jew makes damned sure the workers at the plant it came from have a union contract!
Who is the JLC?
We are Jews who believe it’s our responsibility to remind the Jewish community of its responsibility.
Luckily, that isn’t always very hard to do because there is that progressive tradition in the Jewish community.
Some of you remember that, last year, the Republicans did everything possible to scare Jews into believing that Barack Obama’s election would be the worst possible thing that could happen to them.
When you stop to think about it, Republicans – even here in New York - have a habit of saying that to Jews whenever the Democrat happens to be African-American.
Well, it certainly didn’t work last year. On Election Day Barack Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote
That’s impressive, but the fact is that Jews have only voted Republican once since the first voter tracking began in 1916.
That was in 1920 – and the only reason it happened was because a lot of Jews voted for Eugene Debs instead of the Democratic candidate!
The progressive tradition is alive and well in the Jewish community; our mission in the JLC is to make sure that Jews remember that standing up for the labor movement is part of it!
But as I said, the JLC isn’t only labor’s voice in the Jewish community – we are a Jewish voice in the labor movement.
That’s how we got our start.
In 1934 about the last thing most Americans cared about was what was happening to Jews in Nazi Germany.
But there was one group of people who did care: Jews in the labor movement.
They believed that if their union brothers and sisters knew what was happening in Germany they wouldn’t turn their backs.
And they were right.
And, in the years since, the relationship broadened and it grew deeper.
It’s one of the principal reasons why Israel has never had a better friend in this country than the AFL-CIO.
Why? Because the labor movement understands that there is only one country in the Middle East where workers can freely organize.
It’s because the labor movement understands that there is only one country in the Middle East where women have equal rights.
It’s because working people know that there is only one country in that region that has consistently stood by America through good times and bad.
That’s why the American labor movement has always stood with Israel in the past – and that’s why it’s standing with Israel now in one of the most important battles it has ever faced: the fight to stop the boycotts.
Today, Israel’s enemies have targeted unions throughout the world – and even in this country – as part of a new campaign to wreck the Israeli economy.
They don’t make any bones about their strategy: it’s to label Israel an apartheid state and then use that as the moral basis for demanding an economic blockade.
Some unions overseas have bought into it.
Well, thankfully, unions here haven’t.
We haven’t because we understand that the victims of boycotts won’t be the right wing and guys like Bibi Netanyahu – it won’t be the people who refuse to support a Palestinian state.
The people who are going to feel the pain from boycotts are working- class Israelis and working class Palestinians!
And that’s their true purpose.
It’s not to move the right-wing to the bargaining table; instead it’s to do economically what they haven’t been able to do militarily: destroy the state of Israel!
That’s why when British unions began flirting with boycotts the JLC went to work. Without hesitation, the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and every major International union in this country signed on to our statement to the British trade union movement and said “no” to boycotts and “yes” to a two-state solution!
That’s why the JLC put together a delegation of Irish- American trade union leaders last November (including one of our honorees tonight) to go to Ireland and to stand up for the State of Israel when Irish trade unionists were considering positions with which we disagreed.
It’s been said that Israel lives in a very tough neighborhood.
And it’s true.
Thanks to George Bush, Iran now exercises more power in the region than ever before.
And today, as we know, not only does Iran have technology sophisticated enough to produce and deliver nuclear weapons; they have a president who is ignorant and unstable enough to use them.
That’s why we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the Iranian threat.
That’s why we can’t allow ourselves to be fooled by those who refuse to acknowledge the differences between Iran and Iraq.
That’s why we all have a stake in the success of the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Can the American labor movement make a difference?
I think we can.
After eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney we finally have a president who’d rather work for peace than plan for war.
As a movement, I think we need to let him and others know that we’re on his side.
Who is the JLC?
We’re Jews and we’re trade unionists.
We’re men and women who believe in fighting for justice at home … and who are committed to standing up for peace abroad.
And, tonight, I want to pledge that just as you have always stood by the Jewish Labor Committee we will always stand with you!
Thank you so much for being here.