Trumka at IATSE Convention: Labor Movement is Pushing Forward

Hollywood, Florida

Thank you, Brother Matt [Loeb], for your kind words of introduction and for inviting me to this important and timely gathering.

I want to tell you how much I appreciate the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts.

I mention the full name of your union, because you are all of those things, including practitioners of allied crafts.

For nearly 125 years, your union members have fought for and won quality, family-supporting jobs. From theaters to vaudeville to movie and TV sets to stadium events, you’ve kept your focus on fair wages and good working conditions. You’ve expanded and evolved with the changing world of entertainment. You’re strong from coast to coast and in literally scores of cities and towns in between, from the Hudson Bay in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. You truly are an international union, and during a period when private sector union membership has remained flat, you continue to grow. That’s a testament to your creative organizing, your political involvement and your member empowerment. These are the essential components of unionism.

Brothers and sisters, we are the beating heart of the American labor movement, but our movement is much bigger than the individuals in this room or all the union members in America today.

Everyone who works for a living shares our basic economic interests. Our unions are rising in popularity because we are showing working people the power of solidarity. It’s not enough for us to say it. People need to experience it. We need to show it, and show it again and again and again. And that’s what we’re doing. Just look at how voters have been raising wages from the bluest to the reddest states—through ballot measures, legislation and union organizing victories. Real people have been getting better pay. That’s progress. But it is only a start. We want more. We want broadly shared prosperity.

The right-wing corporate CEOs and the wealthiest 1%—the vast networks who have made it their mission to destroy us—are bold. These folks never need to work a day in their lives. Their money works for them. They push policies with one goal, and that’s to make them richer and us poorer. To make them stronger and us weaker. That’s what we are up against. But let me be clear: I will take our solidarity over their money any day of the week.

Just look at the current fight on health care. The Republican repeal bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever seen. It would take away health insurance from 22 million people, kill almost one and a half million jobs and destroy Medicaid—leaving seniors, children, the working poor and those suffering from addiction without a safety net—all to give another tax cut to corporations and the super-wealthy.

So the labor movement is going all out to stop this legislation. We’re writing. We’re calling. We’re running ads. We’re making our voices heard. And guess what? As I stand here today, the Republican health care scam does not have the votes to pass.

We did that!

The health care fight is a reminder that our economy is not like the weather. It isn’t something that simply happens to us. We can change it with our activism on the job and by electing people to write new economic rules to benefit working families.

Inequality is not inevitable. We have the power to change the rules of our economy and in the process, change the course of history. We have the power to grow unity in America.

We need that unity now more than ever. The corporate right-wing and their hired politicians are doing everything they can do to destroy us. The anti-union attacks are coming hard and fast.

Look at Washington. It’s even worse. So, we’re under attack. What else is new?

We decide what our labor movement will be. Nobody tells us. We’re ready to take on the anti-union crowd. In fact, I want to tell you something. I want our opposition on the field of play feeling great. I want them on their best day. We don’t want them to have any excuses. We’ll meet them, fair and square. And then we’re going to beat the tar out their sorry butts!

When it comes to the right-wing attacks on our unions, we’ve got to encourage our members and each other to let go of our fear. Fear doesn’t do us any favors. The same is true when local governments try to go non-union to cut down on our jobs.

Hear me out. We will not fear these threats, but we will fight them. We will aim to defeat every attack on our jobs, on the institutions of our labor movement, on the core values we hold dear like freedom, equality and justice.

We will use every fight to organize internally—to demonstrate our value to the hard-working men and women we represent. We’re educating our membership about the threats we face. Our sole mission is and will always be to build real power for working people each and every day so we can lift each other up. That’s our purpose.

It won’t be easy, but our agenda unites us. Safe jobs. Good pay. Health care. A secure retirement. And a better life for our kids. That’s the American Dream, and it’s not too much to ask.

Brothers and sisters, listen close. We will not settle for merely surviving as a labor movement. That’s not enough. We will thrive!

Our labor movement is playing the long-game. There is no end to our fight. Twenty-eight states have passed right-to-work laws. Politicians are talking about introducing national right-to-work legislation. It’s a chilling proposal. They have one goal—to weaken the institutions of working people so they can pay us less, make us work in ever more dangerous conditions, keep us apart and hold us down. But let me make a point about right to work that we should never forget. 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 want 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’s how we’ll make right to work irrelevant.

In 2016, despite powerful opposition and a daunting political environment, working people raised pay by 3%—the highest in years. We’re still pushing up. We’re finding ways to grow power. We’re finding ways to unite for what we want and need.

This political and economic environment is a powerful laboratory, forcing us to adapt. It’s making us stronger. I can feel it. We are in the heat of the fire, and like tempered steel we will come out stronger!

Just remember: We’re the ones who plant the crops and push the mops. We build the stage and paint the scenes. We form the wheels and make the tires. We load the trucks and drive them, too. We face each challenge. We never run and hide. We wake America up every single morning, and we put her to bed at night. We stand strong. We stand together. We stand united!

This is our country. We built her. We make her run. We defend her. And it is high time we took her back for workers.

At this convention, you’ve heard about the economic outlook for your industries and your futures. You’re heard from powerful union leaders and veteran campaigners.

I know over the years how your members have taken part in AFL-CIO campaigns. I want to thank you for the work you’ve done, and ask you to do more. Our folks know how to win.

There has never been a more important time in America for workers to assert our collective power. Every day, we’re more independent. We aren’t carrying water for either political party, not Democrats or Republicans. Our issues are leading our politics, not the other way around. The way forward won’t be easy, but the future is ours to shape.

And it all starts with solidarity.

Solidarity is most important when times are tough and disagreements are sharp—when the sun isn’t shining, when good people want to duck their heads and hide.

How all of us respond to the challenges and opportunities of today and in the days to come will define who and what we are as a labor movement and a nation.

Don’t ever lose sight of the big picture: The momentum is swinging our way. America is in the midst of a long overdue national conversation about income inequality.

A powerful majority of Americans support unions, especially among young people.

We know the way forward. Collective action is part of the national conversation now, and that’s a good thing. I say it’s about time.

We’re not complacent. We’re not timid. We’re not crouching in a corner trembling.

We’re ready for a fight. Our opponents are bold. They’re well-funded and ruthless. I say, bring it on! We're still standing. Standing proud. Standing united. Standing strong. Together forever.

Many times we have fallen. We have been battered and bruised. We have been beaten and bloodied—maimed and killed. But always—always we’ve helped each other up. We’ve locked arms. We’ve pushed forward with steel in our eyes. And we’ve broken their lines. This is our day. This is our time to push forward.

Thank you. God bless you, God bless your families and all the work you do!