Speech | Global Worker Rights

Shuler: Worker Voice Is Important in Technology Development

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks to the L20 Summit in Rome:

Thank you General Secretary Habbard, and our leader Sharan Burrow and the ITUC, our Italian colleagues, and global partners. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the panelists' comments.

We are meeting at an incredible moment. But we didn’t reach this point overnight.

Before COVID-19, we saw decades of attacks on union rights, under-investment in infrastructure and communities, and as a result union density has declined and inequality has skyrocketed. In the U.S., the American middle class we worked so hard to build has been hollowed out.

Professor Mazzucato reminded us that while we responded to the Great Recession by bailing out the financial services industry, we left structural inequity and its underlying causes intact. And working people never truly recovered.

To pay for the bailouts, austerity measures shrank governments. It hurt communities and public service workers—who are disproportionately women and people of color. And meanwhile, corporate power skyrocketed.

But future generations will look at this moment and the decisions we make. As Professor Mazzucato said, it’s about choices. This is our chance to make the policy decisions to balance the scales.

Governments seem ready to act at least on a global, minimum tax to reign in the excesses of global corporations, because we know they use their power to evade fair taxes.

But more needs to be done. Working people have been pushed to their limits and they’re demanding better.

Right now, as I speak, across industries and all over the U.S. 100,000 union workers are either on strike or have authorized a strike.

That courageous action is how the labor movement challenged inhumane economic conditions in the past. And history is repeating itself today.

As Director Ryder said, labor markets are flat and there is an unequal distribution of relief—we have to work together to build a better, more inclusive economy—with investments in infrastructure, including care. An equitable clean energy transition. And by reclaiming our rights to stand together in unions without fear.

President Biden calls his agenda Build Back Better with Unions.

We need to focus on the next frontiers of research and innovation. Who will build it? Who will benefit? Working people should be at the center of those policies and at the table in the science and engineering enterprise.

For example, the former U.S. space program was funded entirely by tax dollars. It gave rise to new technologies and private sector companies. It supported families and local communities. It was built and run by union labor.

Now we are seeing, private companies dedicated to space exploration have received billions in government aid. But working people aren’t getting a widely shared return of the profit.

As we respond to our next moon-shots, challenges like the climate crisis, we need fair models of public investment. We want the gains from public investments to be shared and create good jobs.

Worker perspective and voice should shape technology before, during, and as its developed.

The financial crisis and COVID show how interconnected we are.

Especially as we build the clean energy future, we want to make sure every part of the global supply chain is built with high-road worker rights and environmental protections. We applaud President Biden for banning the U.S. from importing solar cells manufactured with forced labor in the supply chain.

The answer to a sustainable, global economic future is not unchecked automation and unregulated corporate greed. Governments need to do more than tax corporations. We need to level the playing field for working people.

Ultimately, this discussion is not about more state or less state, but a different type of state, one that brings worker voice to the table. That’s part of a healthy democracy—a say in our economic future through our unions.

That’s how we will build back better—with and for working people. Keyword better—than it is, or ever was.

Thank you.

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