Labor Movement: We will Not Be Quiet

Remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, Boilermakers 32nd Consolidated Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada
July 26, 2011

Thank you, Newt [Jones]. And thank you all for inviting me here today to address the Boilermakers.

Before I say another word, I'd like to take a moment to recognize the hard work and energy of your president—Newt, you're a true friend and a man after my own heart. Thank you for everything you do.

And I want to thank all the leaders in this room. First and foremost, every last one of you stepped up and participated whole-heartedly in the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act. You invested time, energy and money into that effort, and although we haven't yet won the comprehensive reforms that America's working people need, this fight helped to bring us a National Labor Relations Board that's actually doing its job—and this fight has strengthened and energized our entire labor movement.

You and your members already have the benefit of belonging to unions, and yet you demonstrated your willingness to mobilize and fight so that all workers have the freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.  I salute you – and on behalf of working people everywhere, I thank you.           

And while you were mobilizing—getting all those signatures of support for workers' rights—who knew we would get the national attention to collective bargaining that we've wanted for years, thanks to an outrageous governor in Wisconsin named Scott Walker? That guy may have gotten the legislation he wanted—but not the reaction. Because by a two to one margin the American public is on our side on this issue -- not his!

But if we look around the country today—from the Midwest to the West Coast and to Washington, D.C.—we've got too many Scott Walkers on the loose.

And too many of our political leaders in both parties are stuck, focused on deficits instead of creating jobs, telling us we need to make tough choices and accept shared sacrifice. But working families—young workers, seniors, people of color, poor people and people with disabilities—have been doing all the sacrificing, while billionaires get tax cuts, and corporations get tax incentives to export good jobs overseas! 

It's insane and it has to be stopped!

We need to keep asking our leaders: "Who got us into this mess?"

It wasn't working people, I can tell you that much.  The people who got us into this mess are getting off scot-free!

And too many politicians are letting them do it.

Brothers and sisters, as we look ahead, we see that the stakes for the future of working families are very, very high.

And we know that when it comes right down to it, we can't look to anyone but ourselves to get working families out of this economic mess.

Really, it's up to you. It's up to us to build our labor movement up so we can once again lift up all working people, so working families can have a level playing field and a full voice in the workplace, and in our democracy.

And to do all of this, we have to make our labor movement stronger. You know, the most important political action we can take isn't electing any politician or voting for any party. The most important political action we can make is strengthening ourselves to speak out for all working people.

So let me say this:  We will be friends of any politician who is a friend to working people. But we will not be an automatic advocate for any political party, not for any candidate, not for any elected official.

They've got to earn it.

Our single job, our sole mission, our sole priority, is to represent the interests of men and women who work, who bring home wages—and to represent them honestly and fearlessly, every single day, with no caveats, no apologies.

A lot of people think that means we need to be harder on Democrats, and it does.  President Obama and the Democrats have done a great deal—not enough—but a lot. Still, we need a lot more. And we will not be quiet about it.

We intend to hold everyone in public office accountable, regardless of their political party.

And yet, brothers and sisters, let's be crystal clear about who has consistently launched and relentlessly pursued attacks on working people.

Tea Party Republicans again, and again, and again have been a united front against us, against all working people in America, to do all the harm they can.

Listen, it's been almost three years since our entire financial system went into meltdown.

Even before that, outsourcing and stagnant wages were already a plague on our communities, but then they became an epidemic.

Wages for working people are still flat and falling; 25 million people are looking desperately for full-time work.  

Let's be clear about who's been waving the flag of patriotism while undercutting the very values America represents.

Brothers and sisters, this is America! We can do better than this!  These are our kids and our parents and neighbors -- hard-working people who want nothing more than a job.

And so we have to fight for the future we know is possible—a future of long-term, broadly shared prosperity.

We have to fight to tell the truth—that America's largest global corporations are swimming in cash.  CEOs have never had it better.

America isn't poor. We're still the richest nation on earth, with the strongest GDP in the world. It's just that very, very few of us are seeing any of that wealth.

We have to tell the truth about our economic crisis—that it's not the result of a force of nature or an act of God. Our economy was ruined by the actions and decisions of some of the biggest players in our financial system—and it can happen again if we make the same choices again.   

And we have to connect the dots to show how unemployment feeds foreclosures, how foreclosures weaken banks, and how it all leads to more layoffs, feeding the entire, ugly, destructive cycle.                     

So what am I asking you to do?

I'm asking you to fight cheap patriotism, with deep patriotism!

I'm asking you to be prepared to do the hard work, to engage and talk to and listen to all our members, year-round, about their needs and interests.

We have to be prepared to listen to, and continue to stand together with, workers who have never had the benefits of union membership.

We've got to reach out to our communities, and be real, committed, engaged members of our communities, building coalitions, and not just when our backs are against the wall. Our communities are struggling too, and our concerns are the same. We don't have to look further than Westwego, Louisiana, to see that.

We have to ask ourselves if we're ready to get serious about what young workers are up against today and embrace them fully in our unions.

We have to commit to meeting the needs of today's workforce and understand what work looks like for them.

We have to ask ourselves what organizing means now and in the future, and how we will help workers organize to rebuild our labor movement until we're large enough, and strong enough to once again set national standards with our contracts.

We have to redefine unions for today's generations, and define unions for the next generation.

This is a massive responsibility, and one that we absolutely must take on! 

Brothers and sisters, we have a long way to go before we can fix our broken trade laws and ensure that every working man and woman in America has the freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.

How will we rebuild America's manufacturing might?

Will we even be able to keep Avondale open for five more years?

Will we foster and keep enough good jobs to support working families, our communities, our cities and our states?

These are hard questions, to be perfectly honest with you.  But let me tell you something.  I can't think of a time that I'd rather be a leader in the American labor movement, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather be in our movement with, than with all of you.

Sisters and brothers, the future of working people and the essence of our American democracy is on the line.

There is no way forward, except through the fire.

And we're going to go there together. We're going to walk through it side-by-side.

It'll be hard. We'll be tested.

But I know we're going to get to the other side, and this fight will make us stronger.

Brothers and sisters, this is our time. This is our moment.

Are you ready to fight for good jobs from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean? From the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico?

This is work we can only do together. All of us. Public-sector and private-sector, progressives and conservatives.

We don't have to agree all the time. Our differences can make us stronger. We don't all have to think alike to respect one another, and to work hard and well together.

But when it comes to our rights and freedoms, when it comes to ruthless politicians who want to hurt working people, we've got to be united.

We need to feel it, right here, in our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, the challenges before us are extraordinary—but we have to face them if we want the future that I know is possible, a future of long-term, broadly shared prosperity.

A future when CEOs aren't the only ones who can make ends meet.

A future when every single working person in America has the fundamental right to be part of this labor movement.

A future when every single worker has the fundamental right to be treated with dignity, to put in a hard, honest day's work and be rewarded fairly for it, to have the health care and retirement security we need and the opportunity to see our children a little better off than we are.

We'll work for it.  We'll stand for it.  We'll fight for it.  Together. 

To bring out the best in the America.  

To bring out the best in ourselves, and each other. 

And we will never, ever, back down.

Thank you, and God bless you and the work you do.

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