Speech | Civil Rights

Redmond: This Is Our Moment to Grow the Movement

Memphis, Tenn.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond delivered the following remarks as prepared to the Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute's awards luncheon:

Good afternoon, everyone! Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here today and it’s wonderful to be around so many friends and familiar faces.  

Thank you to Brother Kermit [Moore] and the Memphis chapter for inviting me here today in this great union city and to everybody whose efforts made this event possible.

And I want to recognize Sister and good friend, Clayola Brown, in her new role as Senior Adviser for Strategic Partnerships and Racial Justice at the AFL-CIO. Clay is working with me and President Shuler to build up our relationships with the civil rights community and deepening the engagement of all of our work through racial justice.

Clay is going to be busy. The AFL-CIO is making an intentional effort to recommit ourselves to join together with our friends and allies in the civil rights and social justice movements. Not only because we’re stronger together, but because our missions of justice, fairness and opportunity for all people, especially those in underserved communities, are uniquely connected.

And the APRI will be a key partner in this work. As many of you know, I’ve been on the Board of Directors of this great Institute for more than 15 years now. And I have never seen the labor movement we love as committed to racial and social justice as we are at this moment in our history.

Dr. King once said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And he knew how that arc could be bent more sharply – through the power of the labor movement.

Dr. King knew that you could not have racial justice without economic justice. That’s why he worked with A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and other labor leaders to bring together the civil rights and labor movements.

Dr. King knew a good union job protected workers from discrimination, and that union workers had higher wages, health care, safer jobs.

He knew a good union job was often the first step in generating wealth and creating economic power. It made the difference for folks who had little opportunity … it allowed them to buy a home and save for retirement and give their kids a start with a solid footing.

One by one those jobs supported and lifted up communities all across the country.

A good union job was often the first step in reversing an unequal system that has caused generations of damage.

Dr. King knew that it would take both movements – the labor and civil rights movements – working as one, to create true opportunity, true equality, true democracy.

And we have an opportunity to make real progress toward Dr. King’s vision and really bend that moral arc.

We have the momentum. Unions have never been as popular in recent history as they are now. The masses are with this movement. 

Working people are organizing to have a voice in the workplace. Record numbers of union election petitions were filed at the NLRB last year.

And workers already in unions are sticking together. They’re rejecting unfair contracts, and going on strike to secure better pay and benefits and a voice on the job. They’re taking a stand against the greedy corporations that made record profits during the pandemic.

The American public knows the labor movement is the solution to low wages and unsafe workplaces, to discrimination and growing inequality. We are the only institution in America that has the infrastructure and reach to check the power of wealth and corporations, and vanquish oppression in all its sinister forms.

There is plenty of oppression to vanquish. Many of our fundamental freedoms are at risk. The freedom to join a union. The freedom to access health care. The freedom to vote.

We live in a divided America. People are being fed steady streams of misinformation and disinformation. And they’re forming a dangerous ideology that poses a very real threat to the stability of our democracy.

The best way to counter these threats is through organizing workers. Organizing builds density. It magnifies our voice and influence. And our job is to get more union cards in the hands of workers. To grow our movement. It has to be central to everything we do.

That’s one of the reasons why the AFL-CIO formed the Center for Transformational Organizing. This is designed to be a central place where we can collaborate and innovate, and share resources on cross-movement organizing efforts.

The CTO is where we can bring unions together across industries to organize workers at entire companies, and in emerging sectors like clean energy, which is another huge opportunity and it’s happening right now. 

Because the Biden Administration isn’t debating whether to invest in American jobs and an equitable economy. It’s doing it.

This kind of investment is something we’ve haven’t seen in our lifetimes – not since the New Deal – an industrial plan for key sectors of the economy that includes good quality jobs with a mandate for racial and gender equity.

The Infrastructure Bill is already launching projects across the country and creating jobs in new communities. This bill, along with the I-R-A, will put about half a trillion dollars of federal funding into clean energy over the next ten years — and create 1.5 million new jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, construction and transportation.

These investments will set the stage for an entire industry over the next several decades and we’re working with the Biden administration to make sure that these investments result in good union jobs and equitable training pathways for the next generation of workers to gain the knowledge and skills they need to have a successful career in their own community. 

And for many, a registered apprenticeship program is that pathway to a good career, especially in the building trades. Their apprenticeship programs are the gold standard, and NABTU and the building trades unions are being intentional in recruiting women, people of color, and veterans to participate in their pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs.

These are fantastic opportunities, but a lot of high school and middle school kids don’t know about them. The AFL-CIO is partnering with the Chris Gardner Foundation’s Permission to Dream project to work to promote registered apprenticeship programs at high schools with CTE programs. We launched the program at schools in Detroit and Austin and will be rolling it out in other places soon.

This is our chance to grow opportunities for people of color and communities that have been left out.

This is our opportunity to show all working people that the labor movement is for them because the labor movement is for everyone. Making that clear is the only way to guarantee a strong labor movement in the future.

This is our opportunity to grow our movement and give more workers an opportunity at a life-changing union job. 

A. Philip Randolph said a “solid contract is, in a very real sense, another Emancipation Proclamation.”

That’s because equity and opportunity are baked in unions. Unions help close the gender and racial wage gap. Union jobs lift people out of poverty. 

A collective bargaining agreement is the single-most powerful tool to make sure all workers are included, workplaces are diverse and accessible, that there is equity in hiring practices, pay and advancement opportunities, and that workers gain the skills needed for the jobs of today, and the jobs of tomorrow. 

As we do the necessary work to increase opportunity for Black workers, we must be clear that it is the power of a union that makes those opportunities into family-supporting jobs for Black families.

Because we know the power of holding a union card and working under a collective bargaining agreement. 

We know that when we improve our workplaces, we make our communities stronger. All of our communities.

Brothers and Sisters, this is our time! To grow our movement. To build our communities and ensure the next generation of workers will be able to say “Union yes!”

Let’s keep pushing for the change you want to see in our unions and in our country.

Let’s stay connected. Let’s stay committed. And let’s build a society that is fair and just for all. 

Solidarity brothers and sisters of APRI!

Thank you!

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