AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks on International Women's Day:
On behalf of America’s labor unions: Happy International Women’s Day! We have 6.5 million women—and growing—so that makes the AFL-CIO the largest organization of working women in the entire country.
I’m Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, Treasurer of the Solidarity Center Board of Trustees and proud member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
Through so many challenges, the tremendous loss of life and jobs through this pandemic, threats to our communities and democracy, women are carrying the heaviest burdens.
We are withstanding so much. But we are not alone and we are not remaining silent. We’re protesting and organizing and mobilizing, online and in the streets.
We’re raising our voices and we, women of every age and color and faith we are claiming our power through our unions. That’s not a new story. But it is one of the most important stories in the world and we need to keep telling it. Because it’s about our strength and it is about our collective power.
In the U.S., long before women had the right to vote, women organized unions. Many were young, immigrants, poor and discriminated against.
They worked in garment factory sweatshops, in textile mills. They were exploited by industry. And they felt powerless on their own.
But they innovated, they realized they could fight back against abuse, they could win safer workplaces and better wages if they stood together.
Over twenty-thousand joined the “bread and roses” strike in 1912. As we now know, it’s called that for the two struggles—for their rights as workers and their right to dignity, as women.
In the U.S., “Women’s Day” began on the one year anniversary of this act of courage. But what we’re talking about is so much bigger than one moment or one place.
Generation after generation, over centuries, women have organized, fought for better lives and freedom.
To end slavery and colonialism, occupation and the patriarchy. In Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
International Women’s Day is a recognition of ALL of us. And today we recognize that our work is essential and that our progress continues.
In the U.S., we elected Vice President Kamala Harris— the first Black woman, the first Indian woman—to serve in the second highest office.
And guess, what? Having her in that position means that she is including women at the table: union women! Because she knows, when women join unions, lead unions, the labor movement expands, and the power of all workers grows.
And when we lead democracy movements, like in Myanmar and Hong Kong and Belarus, when we organize for good jobs and collective bargaining in supply chains, as in Mexico and Bangladesh, when we reclaim our humanity from the platform companies and gig jobs that treat us like robots and demand essential pay for essential work on the frontlines of the pandemic, when women stand up, to confront gender based violence and harassment, we change rules and laws, we shape economies, we change the world.
My point is, women belong. In government. In unions. At every table of leadership and power.
I am humbled and grateful to serve the labor movement in the United States, to stand on a foundation built by the brave women who came before. Some fought and lost, some went to jail and even died—that tradition is shared by all the women speaking today, from Ghana, Palestine, Ukraine, Colombia and the U.S.
Listen to the stories of these inspiring women. And keep telling the story of our power.
Let’s join today to honor each other, our dignity and our voice.
Happy International Women’s Day! Thank you.