Trumka to 2017 AFL-CIO Convention: Attack on Unions a Threat to Democracy

St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you, Liz. Good morning brothers and sisters.

I hope you got some rest. We have a busy day ahead of us. And a canvass this afternoon!

I’d like to begin with a video.

As you can see, the attacks against us are relentless.

And they are taking a toll.

Listen to this: A Harvard University study showed that only 30% of millennials believe it’s essential to live in a democratic nation. 30%!

I believe the findings of this poll are directly related to the video we just watched.

Think about it: what has been the result of the attacks on working people?

-Lower Wages

-Less Opportunity

-More Inequality

-Social Unrest

-And a feeling that the economy is rigged

Millennials have never lived in an America where wages are growing, or worked in an economy where hard work and productivity blazed a trail into the middle class. They have never experienced an economy where more than 1 in 10 workers have the freedom to belong to a union and bargain together. The American idea that anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules simply does not exist for many young people.

In other words, the attacks on the backbone of our nation—working people—constitutes nothing less than a clear and present danger to our democracy.

So we are going to fight back. Smartly. Strategically. As one united movement.

That is the primary focus of today’s session.

We are going to fight back against right to work, here in Missouri and across the country.

We are going to fight back against attacks on our wages, benefits and freedom to negotiate for good jobs.

And we are going to fight back against the right-wing propaganda machine that continues to slander unions and our members.

We’re going to do it by organizing.

In the face of right to work and Janus, we are laser focused on building enduring relationships with our members. That means engaging directly with them—and not just during election time. We need to listen to our members. We need to find out what they care about. We need to learn what makes them tick. And we need to remember most people work to live rather than live to work.

We also need to remember that right to work does not take collective bargaining rights away from a single worker.

And it does not force a single union member to stop paying dues unless they choose to.

In other words, right to work cannot and should not stop us from doing our job—organizing new members, engaging with current ones and providing the best representation in the world. That is, brothers and sisters, how we toss the destructive and morally bankrupt right to work principle into the scrap heap where it belongs.

Today we will highlight some great examples of this work.

We’re also going to fight back by being on the front lines of today’s civil rights struggles.

Immigrant rights. Equal pay. LGBTQ equality. Voting rights. The right to form a union freely and fairly.

I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again today. When it comes to civil rights, we cannot afford to be in the middle of the pack. We must be the tip of the spear.

Later today, my friend AFSCME President Lee Saunders will talk about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King gave his life speaking out for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

And he reminded us that right to work is a false slogan, designed to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

The anniversary of Dr. King’s death is a reminder that there will forever be a bond between job rights and civil rights —that our struggles are not separate but in fact linked both by history and today’s profound struggles.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how will we respond?

Brothers and sisters, the answer is right in front of our face.

This movement is the single greatest force for good for America.

We give voice to the voiceless.

We fight for a fair and just economy.

We protect the public services that make our country good and decent.

And we make sure no one is left behind.

We’re ready for a fight.

Our opponents are bold.

They’re well-funded and ruthless – but their North Star is greed, ours is solidarity and fairness.

Well, we've taken their best shot and we're still standing.

Unions are here to stay.

We’re ready to join together, fight together and win together.

America is counting on us.

So let’s get to work.

Thank you.