Speech | Civil Rights

Trumka to CBTU in St. Louis: The labor movement is here to stay

St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you, Brother Fred [Redmond], and thank you, Brother Lew [Moye], for your kind words, and congratulations to my fellow honorees Petee Talley and Martin Mathews. I’m humbled and honored to be in your company. We’re appreciate the leadership of CBTU President Terry Melvin, and how he stands up for fairness and equality. We are truly blessed with bright stars in our labor movement.

I also want to say a few words about Lew Moye, who was tireless in his work to set up the AFL-CIO Commission on Racial and Economic Justice following the events in Ferguson three years ago.

But calling Lew tireless is quite an understatement. I’d like to recognize his historical work organizing workers and bridging racial divides here in St. Louis, all the time he has given to our labor movement and all his years of service.

You know, Lew Moye was one of the leaders of the 1978 fight here in Missouri against right-to-work, and thanks to his education and outreach the victory margin in the African American community was higher than even among union members as a whole.

Please join me in a show of appreciation for Brother Lew!

It was September 2014. I was scheduled to speak at the Missouri AFL-CIO convention here in St. Louis. The community was reeling from the death of Michael Brown and the protests that followed. I had a decision to make. I could give a standard speech about traditional union issues. Or I could address the wounds that have been haunting our nation and our movement for generations. To me, the choice was clear—civil rights and worker rights were one and the same. “Our brother killed our sister’s son,” I said to the convention. “This tragedy and all the complexities of race and racism are a big part of our family.” I called on labor to deal with those complexities openly and honestly.

Three years have passed since the Ferguson tragedy, yet tensions in St. Louis remain high. There was another acquittal in a police shooting. The Missouri legislature has passed legislation lowering wages and undermining the freedom of workers to negotiate for a better life. The NAACP has issued a statewide travel advisory.

We made the decision to bring our convention to St. Louis because it’s a proud union town with a tremendous history of activism. We are the community and the community is us. In fact, we’ve been on the ground in St. Louis confronting issues of social and economic justice for decades. The labor movement is here to stay.

We live in a time of sharp divides here in America, and it’s hard. I won’t say it’s not. But when it comes to standing together, saying hard truths and fighting for what’s right, we won’t back down, not one damn inch!

Thank you, sisters and brothers. God bless you and the work you do.

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