Union Leaders Laud, Eulogize Mandela

WASHINGTON —Union leaders lauded Nelson Mandela as one of the world’s greatest fighters for human rights and democracy after the longtime South African liberation leader – and his nation’s first president after the fall of apartheid – died Dec. 5 at age 95.

“President Nelson Mandela gave more than 60 years of his life fighting for the rights of South Africans and all of humanity.  He was a gentle yet determined man who fought for his convictions,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

“In 1964, Nelson Mandela arrived on Robben Island, where he would spend 18 years confined to a small cell, forced to do hard labor in a quarry.  Despite these hardships, Mandela never wavered in his commitment to social and economic justice for the people of South Africa and the world.

“He told the court that sentenced him, ‘I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live, and to see realized.  But my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’  His quiet dignity earned respect for him and his cause across the globe.  He once said, ‘After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.’”

Recalling Mandela’s 1990 visit to the U.S., and the AFL-CIO, Trumka added the U.S. labor movement “must take Mandela’s words and continue to strive for equality and fairness for all working people” worldwide.

AFSCME joins the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela,” union President Lee Saunders said.  “AFSCME is eternally grateful to President Mandela for the sacrifices he made in the fight for freedom.  The world’s most famous political prisoner refused to let 27 years of imprisonment deter him from ending apartheid and bringing democracy to South Africa. Throughout his life he carried a message of hope, peace, equality and non-violence.”

Mandela also attended the AFSCME convention during his 1990 trip, honoring former union Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy, a founding member of the Free South Africa Movement in the U.S.  “AFSCME will remember Mandela as a peaceful and powerful voice for freedom,” Saunders concluded.

AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson said: “The lesson of Nelson Mandela’s life is we do not have to accept the world as it is — we can remake it as it should be.  We stand in awe of his long walk to freedom and the liberation struggle he led even from the Robben Island cell…The grand change in the history of his nation and the world that came when he vanquished apartheid has benefited millions of his fellow South Africans and others around the globe.

“His insistence on reconciliation rather than recrimination stands as an enduring gift of grace and courage to us all.  Mandela’s life and historic achievements continue to instruct us in today’s struggles for equity, civil rights and opportunity for all. His moral compass still provides direction to those efforts and will guide us for as long as we honor his memory and celebrate his legacy.”