Speech | Global Worker Rights

Redmond: Organizing Is Key to Reversing Decades of Austerity

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following opening remarks virtually as prepared to a Trade Union Confederation's panel on unions organizing around the world:

Hello, everyone. I’m Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. We are a federation of 57 unions representing 12.5 million workers in all sectors of the economy.

Frances [O’Grady], allow me to say how grateful I am for your dedication and leadership in the UK—and globally.

Thank you to all of the TUC staff for organizing and hosting this week of discussions.

And it is an honor to be with such a distinguished group of workers’ advocates—Cristina Faciaben, Tamara Munoz and Gautam Modi.

Our trade union movements have to navigate different political and economic landscapes, and we face unique challenges…but we share the same fundamental premise that links working people around the world—that together, we are stronger than we are alone. 

That workers around the world need decent work, and freedom of association is the key to securing decent work.

That workers joining together is the best way to reverse the decades of austerity and corporate greed and power, which has led to gross inequalities…put our future on this planet in peril…and undermined our democracies.

And we share the same fundamental belief that unions are the best vehicle to deliver the change workers want for their families and for our communities.

Right now, workers are fed up. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain. And not just in the United States. We’re seeing frustrated workers airing their discontent all over the world. 

Workers are rejecting jobs where they risk their health and safety for a poverty wage. And workers are striking and standing up for their rights and demanding an economic model that works for all workers.

The strikes that we have seen in the manufacturing, food processing and mining sectors are remarkable.

At Kellogg’s and Nabisco. At John Deere. These companies raked in huge profits during the pandemic…and then denied workers their fair share.

But America’s workers are more united than ever…more militant too…and willing to endure hardship and uncertainty for their future…and for future generations.

In the U.S. South…in Alabama…some 1,000 miners have been on strike for over 10 months at Warrior Met Coal.  

The coal miners gave up wages, health care benefits, pensions and more to allow Warrior Met’s coal mines to emerge from bankruptcy five years ago.

Since then the company has done extremely well. 

But instead of investing in its workers, the profits are paid out to shareholders and hedge fund managers.

The workers are struggling and the community is struggling. And corporate America is holding on to the wealth workers help create.

But there is a renewed energy among America’s workers…especially among young people. And it is critical we harness that energy for new organizing.

We’re seeing new opportunities for organizing across the country and in all sectors. University research assistants, art museum workers, video game developers and political staff members.

Workers aren’t just quitting substandard jobs. They are staying to organize.

They are motivated to break down the structures that allow racism and gender discrimination and sexual harassment…for having been told that they were “essential” one minute and expendable the next.

We’re seeing that at Amazon. The warehouse workers in Alabama are set to vote to join a union for the second time. 

This comes after the National Labor Relations Board found that Amazon unfairly pressured workers to vote against a union last year.

And recent reports show Amazon is employing the same union-suppression and intimidation tactics this time around.

But we are seeing a level of solidarity between unions that is unprecedented in recent history.  

The unions organizing the 7,000 warehouse workers in Alabama – UFCW and RWDSU – had a significant number of staff organizers on the ground. But they needed more to stand a fighting chance. 

The call for help went out and 15 unions from across the labor movement stepped up. And the number of organizing staff on the ground increased by 70%.

This kind of solidarity between unions is essential if we are to take on America’s largest employer. Instead of getting into turf wars, we can support one another and get resources to where they’re needed most and scale up major organizing campaigns.

And we have to take advantage of technology so we can use our limited resources strategically and efficiently. More and more of our unions are using a tool we developed called Action Builder, which allows us to analyze organizing data in a way that was only possible in the political sphere.

Most workers in America want a union in their workplace. In fact, 60 million of America’s workers would join a union today if they could.

But in the U.S., our labor laws are broken. They exclude huge segments of workers from joining a union. And they favor the employer when those workers who can organize attempt to organize.

Major employers know they can spend millions on union-busting consultants…use illegal tactics to delay the vote or delay recognizing the newly formed union…knowing they will only get a slap on the wrist.

But more unions are talking about recognition strikes than at any point in the last 30 years. Our unions are seeing recognition strikes as a way for workers to form a union and bypass our broken labor laws. 

Reforming our labor laws is essential if we want workers to have family-sustaining wages, good benefits, stronger protections to stay safe on the job, greater racial and gender equity, and greater power and prosperity.

There is a bill currently in the U.S. Senate called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or the PRO Act, for short—that will go a long way in strengthening workers’ ability to organize.

But it is more than labor law reform legislation. It’s an economic stimulus. It’s civil rights legislation. It’s democracy reform.

But right now, if it is brought to the floor for a vote, Senate Republicans will obstruct it through a filibuster – an old and outdated procedural rule.

And Senate Republicans are threatening to do the same with legislation that will restore voting rights and make it easier for a whole bunch of people to cast their ballot and have a voice in our democracy.

Suppressing the right to vote and limiting the right to organize have the same end…to sideline our voices, to limit our power.

It is no accident these attacks are happening now. 

America’s workers campaigned and mobilized and got out the vote in 2020 so that we have a democratic majority in Congress and the most pro-union administration in our country’s history.

Former union staff are in key positions throughout the Biden administration.

We have a union member as the head of the Department of Labor, who leads a task force President Biden launched last year on organizing and worker empowerment. And they just released a report which contains a wide range of concrete proposals that the administration has already done…or will do in the future…to make it easier for workers to organize unions and bargain collectively.

The American labor movement is working hard to communicate the importance of election outcomes.

And we will remind our members who delivered. The infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law will create hundreds of thousands of jobs...good, life-changing union jobs.

It connects prevailing wages and high labor standards to the jobs created. 

And it creates a virtuous cycle…we grow our labor movement…we elect more pro-union leaders who are invested in workers and the long-term health of our economy.…we have the power to beat back right-wing attacks on our democracy…we reduce inequities and discrimination…and we elevate our communities.

And we know that we need a strong and effective global labor movement to create a new model for all workers.

When we dedicate ourselves to growing power for workers through organizing on both sides of the Atlantic, we can create an economy where no one is left behind. 

Thank you.

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