AFL‑CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) spoke at the Missouri AFL‑CIO’s 29th Biennial Convention yesterday, rallying a packed audience of local union leaders and working Missourians in the fight against Prop. A. He recalled the charge that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered to Americans in the midst of the Great Depression: “True patriotism urges us to build an even more substantial America where the good things of life may be shared by more of us.”
Working people in Missouri are speaking out and mobilizing their neighbors against a corporate-backed attack on our fundamental economic rights. As union leaders gather in St. Louis, the state’s labor movement is continuing to embody the spirit of collective action currently sweeping the country.
Faced with a right-wing “right to work” law passed by the state legislature, working Missourians took the fight to workplaces and living rooms across the state. As Trumka explained:
You see, the Missouri labor movement defines extraordinary. You needed 100,000 signatures to get right to work on the ballot. You got over 300,000. 213,000 of those were collected by volunteers. Now you are in the process on knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors. Don’t let up. The next three weeks will make the difference.
Trumka connected the efforts in Missouri to the larger fight working people in America face:
We face our own decision today...our own test of progress. And just as FDR had to battle the forces of wealth and greed in his time, we now must confront a corporate onslaught of historic proportions. They want to rip apart the New Deal piece by piece. They want to bankrupt our unions. They want to leave us poor and weak and divided. And the Supreme Court just did their bidding, flushing 41 years of fairness down the toilet in Janus v. AFSCME.
These corporate leeches, wrapped in the American flag and hijacking words like “freedom” and “rights,” have brought the fight here to Missouri. They think they can steamroll us into submission. They think they can send us running for the hills. Well, brothers and sisters, I’ve got news for them: The only place we’re running is to the polls on Aug. 7 to defeat Proposition A!
Trumka also spoke about the impact working people can have on these battles:
You know, I'm a student of the Civil War. History books talk a lot about the leaders. General A did this. General B did that. They don’t talk a lot about the people who really won battles and won wars. They don’t talk about a private or a corporal who sacrificed their own lives for a brother or a sister next to them. You see, the uncommon heroes are workers. People like us. The rank and file. The soldier who's in the trenches. Because when ordinary people come together, we can do extraordinary things.
One of these heroes is Quiema Spencer, a pipe fitter in Kansas City. As a gay, black woman...she hasn’t had it easy. She's always had to work that much harder to build a better life. But she says it wasn't until she joined a union that she truly found her voice. Locking arms with her brothers and sisters in Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 533, she realized that we don’t have to take the crumbs we’re being handed anymore. Together, we can demand better. Now Quiema is knocking doors and making calls so every working person in this state and across the country can find their voice, just like she did.
Trumka closed out with optimism and a call to arms:
The labor movement, we are that bull in the ring. We’ve been getting hit over and over again. Every day. From every direction. They’ve held down our pay. They’ve attacked our health care. They’ve tried to kill our pensions, destroy our jobs and leave us begging for scraps. They want national right to work. They want to make the Supreme Court a corporate boardroom.
Well, guess what? Their time is up. Unions are on the move. In every city and every state. Young and old. Black and white. Immigrant and native-born. Gay and straight. Rural and urban. Republican and Democrat.
We’re spoiling for a fight. I say, bring it on! We've taken their best shot, and we're still standing. We’re the true American patriots. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. We’re rising in solidarity…real solidarity…where your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line. And we won’t stop until we take our country back.