Speech | Civil Rights

Redmond: Labor Educators Deepen Our Knowledge

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared to the United Association of Labor Educators midyear conference:

Thank you, Cheryl (Coney) and thank you all for being here.

UALE officers, including your president Mary Bellman, are building a strong association. The AFL-CIO is proud to be a member and have our leadership development coordinator Kate Shaughnessy on the executive board.

You all have a huge impact on the future of the American labor movement.

Labor educators are the bridge between the House of Labor as an institution and working people. You help working people—union leaders, union staff—organizers, activists, rank-and-file—make sense of the changing economic, social and political landscape. You deepen our knowledge. You give us the skills to understand and communicate the “why,” which leads us to take action.

And this work has never been more important.

We are bombarded by information. In the news. On social media. Facts and propaganda. Truths and half-truths and even some straight up lies. Labor educators lend us the skills so we can cut through the noise.

This isn’t easy work. But it’s rewarding work. I know this first hand.

I enjoy talking to workers. I could do it all day. But here’s the thing, we need to listen too. We need to hear the stories—without judgment—and share our own.

That’s how we connect with workers—all workers—all colors, ages, genders, creeds—immigrant workers and native workers.

And once we make that connection, we can show the difference a union can make in their lives—and how the labor movement is the best and most powerful force for economic and social and racial justice.

Because a union job is so much more than a job.

It’s a career. It gives a sense of pride—a high quality of life—good health care and the ability to retire with dignity.

And the sense of belonging in a broader movement of working people who are all working toward the greater good.

Who doesn’t want that? It’s our job to help workers join or form a union. No matter how big or small, each organizing win improves the lives of workers—better wages and benefits, access to health care—and makes their jobs safer and more secure.

But our job isn’t done when a first contract is ratified. The greater challenge is unionizing workers.

What do I mean by that? It’s member engagement. It’s internal organizing. It’s educating and training stewards and union leaders and community partners to communicate the core values of the labor movement. To engage members. To show the value the union brings to their lives.

Mother Jones once said that we should sit down and read and educate ourselves for the coming conflicts. I agree. We have a rich history. I’m fascinated by it. I enjoy it. And knowing our labor history—our civil rights history—and connecting it to our movement today can help us be better prepared for the coming conflicts. And allow us to fight harder and smarter.

Right now, working people are fed up. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain. Workers want to get paid a fair wage. Workers are rejecting jobs where they risk their health and safety for a poverty wage.

Workers across America are striking and standing up for their rights. And young people especially are seeing unions as a vehicle to voice displeasure with employers.

There’s an energy out there. We need to capture it.

We need to show all working people that the labor movement is for everyone.

We need to do a better job connecting with women and young people and communities of color.

Labor educators have helped us have these tough conversations on race and racial justice and equality—through the AFL-CIO’s Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

You have helped us engage our members and our communities—and have held training with our leadership to be more inclusive.

And all of you as educators will continue to play a huge role in this important work.

You see, you focus the lens so we can see the world more clearly—together.

Our collective knowledge—our collective experience—is our power.

Now look, we don’t have all of the answers—to pretend we do would be foolish. So we need the best ideas—the best strategies—the most effective tools to grow the labor movement—and tilt the power dynamics in this country toward working people.

The possibilities of organized labor are endless. The labor movement is open to everyone. What other group or institution can say that? We accept everybody. And we need everybody. Because diversity is our greatest strength. And an educated and engaged membership is our most powerful weapon. But all workers must play a role in pushing our labor movement forward.

Because the attacks on our democracy are real—and the labor movement needs to be at the forefront—to combat voter suppression and the anti-worker laws designed to silence us.

The labor movement has always fought hard.

Labor educators help us fight smart.

You are a critical force to change unions and communities—to keep us unified—and better prepared for the coming conflicts.

So let’s be bold. Let’s go for it. Let’s be the labor movement we have always aspired to be.

Thank you so much and for the work you do. I’m happy to take some questions.

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