“Bashing workers” was how AFL-CIO executive vice president Arlene Holt-Baker, characterized presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's speech at the 99th convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati on Wednesday. "He took the opportunity to, quite frankly, bash workers who are in education, our teachers," she said, according to reporter Jim Provanche of the Toledo Blade. The labor leader continued "I do not believe we should be moving toward discounting public education. Public education should be funded adequately. Teachers should be compensated adequately so we’d see more people coming into the system to teach." McCain's speech at the civil rights conference promoted school vouchers and privatization.
Taking a swipe at Obama and the AFT McCain said, "In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as "tired rhetoric" about vouchers and school choice. All that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?"
A few moments later he ratcheted up the attack, "No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity," to attend a charter school.
Holt-Baker responded McCain “ignores the need for smaller classrooms and better-paid teachers, which she said would improve education” said Mark Naymik of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He continued, “Holt-Baker said McCain deserved credit for attending but said the speech was "an opportunity to bash" public school teachers.”
Holt-Baker spoke at the NAACP's labor luncheon against a backdrop that read “The NAACP and Organized Labor: Two Movements, One Goal,” and devoted much of her speech to responding to McCain's attack on public education. Unity between labor and the African American community has been a long standing tradition of US politics, as indicated by NAACP chair Julian Bond at an AFL-CIO 50th anniversary celebration two years ago; “ I know the mutual benefits that grew from the historic alliance between organized labor and the movement for civil rights – benefits we all must work to strengthen and extend today.”
McCain received a tepid but polite welcome at the event with over half the audience of 2000 remaining in their chairs with arms folded when he was introduced. The Republican in an attempt to tout his knowledge of civil rights history referenced Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T Washington to a White House dinner to the chagrin and “outrage ... in many quarters.” McCain may not have realized Washington is seen by many in the audience as an accomodator to prejudice in those “many quarters”
Meanwhile, as McCain was invoking the spirit of Booker Washington in Cincinnati, Democrat Barack Obama was opening 20 new field offices in Republican districts in Virginia, seat of the former Confederacy in a clear signal that state is in play in November. In addition polls now show a rough parity in support between McCain and Obama in North and South Carolina, bad news for the Republican labor basher.
Originally published in the People's Weekly World.