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Labor’s Educational and Political Club Independent (LEPCI) held their annual dinner at Harrah’s in Kansas City on Friday night, this year honoring Jim Williams, President of Teamsters Local 955 and Teamsters Joint Council No. 56, as  Labor’s Representative of the Year. Chere Chaney, of CWA Local 6450, was honored as the Seth Slocum Union Advocate of the Year.

Speakers included Senators Victor Callahan, Kiki Curls, and Jolie Justus; Representative Tim Meadows; State Treasurer Clint Zweifel; Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders; and former Governor Roger Wilson.

Senator Jolie Justus (D) at the podium. From left to right, Senator Victor Callahan, Verna Williams, Jim Williams,

former Governor Roger Wilson, Senator Justus, Senator Kiki Curls.

Senator Victor Callahan (D), like several other of the evening’s speakers, addressed the coming challenges to organized labor.

Senator Victor Callahan (D): ….You know, an old politician, and I want to warn you all, an old politician told me once when speaking to an audience you should try to make them happy and tell them what they want to hear. Uh, and so, in keeping with that I would, I wish to extend warm greetings and, uh, the deep regard for the labor movement from the Missouri state legislature. [laughter]

But, term limits, term limits have given you the rarest of all things, a politician who will tell you what you need to hear not necessarily what you want to hear.

Uh, the stark reality is that this, the political map, Wisconsin is not, it’s much closer than you think in this state.  If unchanged we could be looking at the last decade of labor. If Missouri, within the next year or two, right to work, the loss of prevailing wage, among other things could become an immediate valley.

There are many reasons for this. In too many elections labor could be described this way: a few did much, some did a little, and many did nothing. Too often labor could be likened to a fish in a bowl I believe. And the glass of a fish bowl is distorted, to the point where you can’t see out, outside into the big room in which the fish, fish bowl sits. Inside you can’t see the big room in which it resides. You can’t see the people sawing the legs of the table on which the fish bowl sits. You can’t see the cat waiting to eat the fish inside the fish bowl. And of course, you can’t see that elephant in the room who’s about to stick his trunk in the bowl and drink all the water.

We’re at, we all tonight….many in this room dug a well that my generation and the young apprentices and the young members of labor drink from. They drink from a well they did not dig. I’m not sure they always understand that. But we are at a de, a defining and pivotal moment in labor. Our parents and grandparents built a movement that created a middle class in the middle of a great depression and through two world wars. The battle we face now will require more than a rally, a picket or a field trip to the state capitol. It will require the commitment and sacrifice that our parents and grandparents…who faced far worse than us. [applause] This battle will define who we are not who we were. It will require the resources and hard work. It will require that we leave the comfort and security of our fish bowl and act like humans. Thank you very much. [applause]

Former Governor Roger Wilson (D) acted as the master of ceremonies and offered closing remarks:

Former Governor Roger Wilson (D): ….This is one of the most serious, serious sounding meetings that I’ve been to in the last ten years. This one. Legislators have warned you, other leaders have warned you that there are some tough things that we’re gonna have to do ahead. That’s not just the labor union, it is United States of America. It’s bigger than the State of Missouri.  With this credit default you and I could see something that we would never believe could happen to our country in this world. Now, some of it sounds discouraging. If you were born in the United States of America you are better off than ninety-five percent of the people in the world [applause] when you take your first breath. Yeah.

Let’s don’t worry so much about our problems that we overlook our opportunities. The thing that labor has that it can join with other people and use it is organization. Because if you have organization then all you have to have is the right message. And let me tell you what, the people that are running this country right into the bank and the sandbar right now are gonna have to live with that message. And you know what? If they take it all the way down, if they burn it down, think about this, and thinking people will have to finally come to this conclusion, that you’re gonna have some heavy unrest in the streets. It’s probably not gonna be all right to have Wall Street and main street with the kind of divide that they’re creating right now….

….And we had better get deadly serious about what it is that we want to portray to the American people. And the labor union will have to be a very strong, if not the strongest part of that if we want to save what we have right now. I do not want to embarrass the people whose shoulders we are standing on. I was born on third base. Took me a while to understand it. But I know that. I was born at probably one of the best times in the United States of America. And I’ve gotten to enjoy it….

….We’re gonna have to be good. And we better get ready. But do not underestimate your strength. We have the ability to get this done to save this nation and to save a quality of life. But it is probably, like several speakers have said here tonight, it’s probably gonna be a little bit harder work than we’ve had in the past.

We are facing people right now that, I can’t understand them, I feel like I’m in the minority, I feel like there are so many people that are uninformed but so entitled that you can’t even get a word in edgewise because they will tell you what’s right. Well, let me tell you what, if this government shuts down you and I had better go to every person that’s been trying to kick Barack Obama in the shins, and Democrats in the shins and let them know that George Bush started this, put us on these shoals [applause] , put us on these shoals and Barrack Obama and his administration and the people he had with him in the first couple years actually averted a financial disaster. And if we insist on going ahead and having one I’m gonna put it right around their neck and make ’em wear it….

….I’d rather be where I am right now than any place else in the world. I’m among people who have helped millions of American families make it, prosper, get their kids educated, make this country stronger. You can’t hold that tide back. You can’t stop that. That’s our bedrock.

I love every one of you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about that. [laughter] Get home and have a good evening. [applause][cheers]