Acceptance Speech of International Secretary-Treasurer Jeremiah J. OConnor
October/November 2001 IBEW Journal
President Hill, fellow officers of the IBEW, distinguished guests and brother and sister delegates, 42 years ago I raised my hand and was initiated into Local 701, IBEW. On that day I swore that I would uphold the principles of the Brotherhood and be true to my union brothers and sisters. That was a very proud day for me, and I was determined to do my best as a craftsman and as a union member. Even the pride I took on that day cannot compare with the feelings that surround me now as I stand before you. You the delegates, elected to speak for our members775,000 strong, working from the shores of the Arctic Sea to the Panama Canal, from the rocky coast of Nova Scotia to the islands of the Pacific Oceanyou have elected me to one of the top two jobs in this Brotherhood, and for this great honor I can only say thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Throughout my career I have worked with members of other unions through central labor bodies and local building trades councils. I have sat across the table from some tough but fair managers. I have met many political leaders. But of all of the circles in which Ive traveled, I can truly say that no group, no organization has the depth and the level of talent that is to be found within the IBEW. And that makes this moment all the more shining for meto be chosen by men and women of your caliber, my own brothers and sisters, is truly overwhelming.
I am honored to be the working partner of Ed Hill. He is dedicated to our Brotherhood, he is reflective, he is decisive, and he demonstrates every day, as he goes about the business of this great union, that he really cares about the working lives of all of our members. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to continue to work with him.
Now, let me tell you what youre going to get in the next five years. What youre going to get from Ed and me is teamwork and hard work. The enemies of the IBEW may occasionally outmaneuver us, but they will never out fight us, and they will never out work us.
Every ounce of my energy and ability will go to working and fighting for all of you and our members back home. Take that to the bank.
The passing of the 20th century brought more than just the turning of the page on a calendar. It marked an end to the boom times that have been good to many, but not all, working people. A tight economy in the United States and Canada means that we have to work harder, think smarter and, if necessary, do all of that to keep our Brotherhood moving forward. Every branch has challenges. Nothing is guaranteed to anybody.
We will work even more closely with the good employers to cement our partnerships and grow together. And we will roll up our sleeves and go after those who have no regard for men and women who work for a living, whether they are present or potential employers of IBEW members. This is no time for the faint of heart.
And I think it is high time that we make it very clear to political leaders that we are not going to sell our principles for a few crumbs from the table. The Republican money machine is in full gear, and too many Democrats have grown fat and happy from the corporate contributions that have dominated politics in recent years.
In Canada and, especially, in the United States, our so-called leaders have presided over the dismantling of far too great a share of our industrial base. In the name of simple justice, basic national security and common human decency, we must put a stop to that now.
No one wants to see pro-worker governments in both of our nations more than I do. But I want to make sure that they are truly pro-worker, not just those that take our support and vote against us and the interests of the average working man and woman in North America.
As a proud native of Illinois, let me quote from our most illustrious son, Abraham Lincoln. He said, "Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration. If a man tells you he loves America yet hates labor, he is a liar."
As usual, Honest Abe got it right, and his words remind us of why we are here. It was not so long ago, from a historical perspective, that our forerunners in the IBEW had to struggle for their daily bread. It is a struggle that still goes on, even in this continent of plenty, and certainly in other lands. The rise of the global exploitation of workers only serves as a sobering reminder that what we have can be taken from us if we do not have the will to preserve it.
This convention is an opportunity for each one of us to rekindle our passion for our cause and our determination to succeed. Whatever I can do to advance our cause will be done. Whatever sacrifice I must make to move the IBEW forward, I will make it. I am Jerry OConnor, your brother, one of you, and I rededicate myself to the pledge I made so many years ago in Illinois: You will never get anything less than my very best effort so that all of us can move forward across that bridge to opportunity; that we have always done it and will do it again together. Thank you, brothers and sisters. Lets build an even better union in the 21st century.
Jeremiah J. O'Connor