Shuler Discusses Importance of United Global Labor Movement

Arnhem, Netherlands

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler today delivered the following remarks at the FNV 2017 Congress:

Thank you, Brother Han, and all of the great leaders of the FNV for inviting me here today. We are inspired by your success in reorganizing and creating a more dynamic federation and movement to lift up workers. I also want to thank Rudy De Leeuw for his partnership and his friendship. Never before has it been so important to have a strong, effective global labor movement to address the challenges workers are facing around the world.

As I start, I want to recognize the incredible work and struggle of KCTU. We must remember and stand in solidarity with Han Sang-gyun, president of KCTU, who is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for exercising his fundamental labor rights and fighting against an anti-worker, corrupt regime—and the many other activists who still face similar repression. The fight for justice, accountability and union rights in South Korea and the KCTU’s relentless work with ITUC to hold major companies like Samsung accountable is something we can all learn from and build on.

We are living through a profoundly challenging moment. The rise of right-wing populism here in the Netherlands, in France, in the United States and around the world presents a clear threat to our mission and our values. Despite pro-worker rhetoric, we know that these politicians have put forward policies that will continue to favor corporations and leave workers with less power and less money.

In the United States, we have an administration that has made inconsistent foreign policy statements that directly challenge multilateralism. This is a dangerous position because workers need a rules based global system that creates decent work, jobs and social protections that allow them to live a life of dignity with their families.

Now is the time to develop even stronger transatlantic and global partnerships where we can lock arms in unmatched solidarity to beat back these attacks and build momentum for an inclusive economic, social and political agenda that is pro-worker, pro-family and pro-democracy. To state it more plainly, we need to be a movement for justice.

We can do it. But it will take everything we have everywhere we are. Global corporations have organized their production in ways that make it hard for workers to effectively bargain and build power. They are supporting politicians that promote anti-worker agendas. They want to keep us isolated, quiet and poor. They are using race, gender and ethnicity to pit workers against each other.

My message to the corporate elite and the right-wing populists is this: we will not be divided. Despite enormous challenges, collective action is on the rise. We see it in the United States where a coalition of working people, women, immigrants and allies have mobilized to hold President Trump accountable. Never before have we seen this kind of activism. The Women’s March. The March for Science. The Climate March. May Day. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets on a regular basis and demanding civil rights and LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights and worker rights.

Here in the Netherlands, voters stood together and rejected the politics of fear.

Similarly, in France, the vast majority of voters held the line against the far-right extremism of the National Front and Marine Le Pen.

And in countries big and small, ordinary people are speaking out for a fair deal and a more democratic future.

Every single person who yearns for a better life has a home in our labor movement. We are the place where wages are high, work is safe and retirement is secure. We build power together so no one gets left behind. Now it is up to us to market and grow and strengthen our movement so it can deliver for those who need it most. That means we need to build transformational partnerships with allied organizations to expand our movements.

Our goal is clear—we must rewrite the rules of the global economy to lift wages, and effectively give workers the power to bargain collectively with their employers. We need fair trade deals that raise standards and hold corporations accountable. We need a just global migration system where workers are encouraged to follow their dreams with equal rights and protections. And we need a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia. We simply cannot build broadly shared prosperity on a foundation of hate.

So where do we go from here? We need to develop joint strategies that will make the economy work for ALL workers from Bangladesh to Mexico to the U.S. to the Netherlands. We have started by working together to develop joint principles with the European Trade Union Confederation to inform our position on trade agreements like TTIP. We will actively and relentlessly oppose any global deal that leaves corporations stronger and workers weaker. That’s not trade. It’s trickle down. Working together, we can develop proactive proposals that lead to new, pro-worker models of trade.

On the organizing front, we grapple with two-faced global management strategies. Multinational corporations routinely engage in social dialogue and exercise neutrality in Europe while operating regressive management practices in the United States. We are extremely grateful for your solidarity in demanding that companies practice what they preach everywhere they operate. Cross-border pressure with our colleagues in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and others has added new tools and strategies to our organizing campaigns with companies like Nissan, Ikea and T-Mobile despite historic employer resistance. We stand ready to do the same for you.

Our work together on the Committee for Workers Capital (CWC) also gives us a powerful tool for leveraging our investments. By ensuring that our retirement assets are invested in ways that help and don’t harm our members, we can fill a unique role in the global economy. For instance, the Taskforce on Sustainability Ratings is working to incorporate workers’ rights into investment decisions. I am proud to serve on the committee’s leadership team with the FNV. Together, we have the power to better serve and respect our members and shape the economy of the future.

Finally, I could not travel nearly 5,000 miles without saying a word or two about Donald Trump. Our offices may be next to each other, but our philosophies are worlds apart. Here is what you have to understand about Trump. His business is theatre. He was able to win over many working people by tapping into their frustrations and fears. He railed against unfair trade deals. He strongly criticized corporate power. He talked over and over again about rebuilding American manufacturing and creating American jobs. Union members responded to these messages. But rhetoric gets working people nothing. We need tangible results, not more broken promises. So we are holding Trump accountable for every single pledge. We are demanding action on the issues that matter most. And we are making it clear that our agenda comes before our politics. That is how we will build credibility with our members and position ourselves to elect leaders who are truly our champions.

Over the next two days, you will be contributing to building a movement for change, tackling political strategy, organizing and the future of work. These issues are central in building a global economy that delivers decent jobs and social justice. And that’s what we are fighting for.

I look forward to an excellent Congress. Thank you.