Trumka to the Alaska AFL-CIO Convention: We Can Defeat the Apostles of Delay, Division and Disenfranchisement

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks to the Alaska AFL-CIO Convention:

Brother Vince Beltrami, thank you for that warm welcome. Your leadership is building a stronger labor movement in Alaska for working people, our families and retirees.

And I want to thank you for your commitment to identifying a coordinator from every local union in Alaska.

To all my brothers and sisters in Alaska, you’ve shown courage and compassion in the face of incredible crisis.

You are proving that our power is not limited to some states or some regions.

We take our power—the power of a united labor movement—where we want to.

And we exercise our power in Alaska.

On June 17, the labor movement planted our flag in the ground with the Workers First Caravan for Racial and Economic Justice. 

There were 608 events in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico—including in Alaska.

Under the leadership of the state fed, the caravans put on by the Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage Central Labor Councils were powerful and effective.

Quite frankly, it was inspirational to the entire labor movement across the United States.

Cars and trucks with signs reading “Union Members for Black Lives” and “State and Local Funding Now” made their way through downtown Juneau, passing by the Alaska State Capitol.

Union members demanded that Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan support the HEROES Act.

To prioritize worker safety and public services. 

To protect pensions and paychecks.

To invest in infrastructure and public schools.

To guarantee health care and vital public services. 

The next day, the mobilizations of Alaska's labor unions made the front page of The Juneau Empire!

You don’t need me to tell you there is a lot on the line in Alaska. 

Too many people are out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic through no fault of their own.

The working people of the Marine Highway are vulnerable because of the erratic and irresponsible actions of Governor Mike Dunleavy. 

Before the pandemic, the governor made major budget cuts. Now city, burrough and state workers face even more painful rollbacks. 

And frontline workers face unsafe conditions and an uncertain future.

During this season of unprecedented crisis, Alaska's unions—and America’s labor movement—are a beacon of solidarity. 

Our members are heroically and resiliently confronting a pandemic that is still raging, economic pain with no end in sight and the cancer of systemic racism. 

Once again, our nation, from Kenosha to Kodiak, is feeling sorrow and sadness and everything in between. 

Like so many of you, I saw the video of Jacob Blake being shot by a police officer. 

Shot seven times in the back.

Shot seven times with his children in the car.

Brothers and sisters, this is nothing new.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks.

We need to say their names. 

We remember names like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers.

Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin.

But this list keeps growing. So many Black lives and bodies harmed.

Yes, let’s say Black Lives Matter. But it’s time to do more. To be more. To understand why this keeps happening to Black people in America.

The tough truth is Black people have been murdered since slaves first arrived in Jamestown in 1619.

And here we are today.

Still facing an economic and political system that seems unable or unwilling to deliver justice for communities of color.

We must never grow weary. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

This is a time to challenge ourselves. To better ourselves. To build the labor movement America needs.

And that means looking inward and making reforms. At times, those conversations and our decisions will be downright uncomfortable, but that’s the point.

This year, we’ve seen a wave of collective action. It continued last night.

Athletes across the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS are boycotting games, protesting racial injustice and showing the strength of solidarity.

We’ve heard pundits try to dismiss them as celebrities. That is wrong.

Athletes may have massive platforms, but they are workers. 

Workers who are often members of a union.

If you watch the video of the Milwaukee Bucks players’ statement, you can see them physically standing together.  

You can see that some of them are outside their comfort zone—just as we all were the first time we stood up on the job. 

And yet they stood together!

And showed the unmatched power of collective action!

As one united labor movement, we must be at the tip of the spear, pushing for racial justice for our members, our friends and our communities.

As Americans, we must recognize the difference between right and wrong, and we must always stand up for what is right.

The COVID-19 moment—with all of its challenges and complications—is testing us. 

And how have we answered the call? 

With nothing but our solidarity, our commitment to economic and racial justice, and our belief—our intense, passionate belief—that our darkest hours will not define our lives or our nation. 

A better day is coming—but only because working people will make it so.

In America, we have the right to expect that our leaders—our democratically elected leaders—will share in those values.  

Even when we disagree on almost everything, we share that basic optimism, that fundamental belief in our country and our people and the future we could build together.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I watched parts of this week’s Republican National Convention—a virtual event whose purpose was to persuade us to vote for President Trump. 

While I was watching, I kept an eye out for the optimism and love for our country, which elected officials of all stripes have sought to project to us.

And I couldn’t find it. What did I find instead? I found a gathering shrouded in darkness.

Speaker after speaker was animated by division and malice.  

I felt like I was listening to a gathering not in America but in some decaying empire, where a fading emperor and his family fought over control of the palace while outside the gates plague, economic ruin and foreign enemies circled around us.

That is not us. That is not the country we love. That will not be the country we rebuild. 

Yes, we face a tough situation with the virus and the economy, with economic and racial injustice. 

We are mourning the deaths of nearly 180,000 people who shouldn’t have died. We are going to work without the PPE we need if we’re lucky enough to have a job. 

And all of us are feeling the anxiety of putting food on the table, filling that prescription and making that next rent or mortgage payment. 

America’s labor movement is meeting these challenges. Alaska’s working people, America’s essential working people, keep us safe and fed every day despite the danger.

Danger on the rigs, in the meatpacking plants, at our schools.  

Brothers and sisters, I still believe in an America where the solidarity of working people makes us who we are as a nation. Where even in our darkest moments, we live in the light of family, of solidarity, of democracy.

I often think of the man I was raised to admire above all others in politics in the coal mining town I grew up in. That man was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  And I thought of how he said: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  

And then I thought, who in American public life today tells us to set aside fear, tells us what we can do to help each other rather than fueling our fear of what we might do to harm each other.   

A person who knows working people, not someone who pretends he is a friend of working people. 

Someone who understands you can’t fix the economy until you get the virus under control with a plan. 

Someone who cares enough to fight for our lives, our health, our jobs, our families. 

That man is Vice President Joe Biden. And in 68 days, we need to make him president.

And so as we go into the Labor 2020 program, I need to ask you something straight up. Do you want to live in a country governed by hatred and fear?  

If you do, President Trump is your man. And so is Mitch McConnell and the rest of his anti-worker friends on Capitol Hill like Senator Dan Sullivan who time and time again vote against our interests.

But we in the labor movement know it’s time for a better day. For light rather than darkness. For solidarity rather than division. 

And that’s why the AFL-CIO endorsed Joe Biden for president and Kamala Harris for vice president.  

And that is why you and everyone you know needs to organize not next week, not next month, but now.

So we can defeat the apostles of delay, division and disenfranchisement across our country.  

So we can elect people to represent us who know what America means and what she stands for.

We are in the home stretch of this election. That may feel strange, but that’s because this year is different.

Election Day truly begins when the mail-in ballots are sent out.  

Donald Trump and his handpicked Postmaster General have set out to do just enough damage to the Postal Service to frighten us into not voting by mail. 

But their plan didn’t work. Why?  

Because we fought it with everything we had—in the streets, at the bargaining table, in Congress and in the courts—and today our half a million brothers and sisters who work for the Postal Service tell us without hesitation your ballot will be delivered and counted.

We should learn a lesson here.  

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are going to throw everything they can at us. 

But we can beat them if we stand together, organize together and get out the vote together.

It’s time to fight like hell to pass the HEROES Act and pass the PRO Act!

To protect Social Security! 

To fund the Postal Service and uphold democracy! 

The Alaska labor movement has a long and proud history of working with Democrats, Republicans and independents who are willing to work with us. 

This election is not about party. It’s about possibility!

And here is the simple truth: we cannot possibly get a fair shake with this Senate and this White House. 

They see us as expendable. So we need to expend our energy electing friends and champions and union members to every office in the land.

We have to make sure all the votes get in and that they all are fairly counted. This is what Labor 2020 is all about.

And if we do that job, we will have a new president and a new Senate Majority Leader.

A new senator from Alaska and new pro-worker elected across this great state.

Brothers and sisters, we have the chance to win a bright new day in America—a union day!

This is a moment for union leadership, and we won’t back up or back down. Not now. Not ever! 

We drive the trucks and fly the planes.

We package, print and power the state.

We do what it takes. We always answer the call and always meet the moment!

Union members wake our country up every single morning, and drive her during the day. 

We don’t mind hard work. We want to get back work! 

We demand dignity and fight for equality! 

We won’t be faced down or pushed around!

We are America's labor movement and we will not be denied!

Thank you. May God bless you and keep you safe!