Thank you, Brother Ron (Bieber). And thank you all for being here.
As I begin, I want to reinforce what Katie (Corrigan) said about our Code of Conduct. We simply will not tolerate any form of harassment, discrimination, or bullying. If you experience or see something, report it to one of the designees. We are committed to making the AFL-CIO a work environment that is fun, safe and free.
Today in this room we have the best trade unionists in the Great Lakes region. You are the labor movement’s eyes and ears. Every role and every job is represented here today. It is not an exaggeration to say the future of our movement and our country is in your hands.
We are committed to building the biggest and most effective member to member program in our history, and not just during elections. Union members are our best advocates and our most trusted messengers. To be our best, we need to be sound in the trenches. That means getting back to basics. Member engagement and communication. Organizing. Bargaining. Servicing. Leadership training. Political independence. Community outreach.
Our goal for this meeting is to unite around a common purpose and strategy to win back power for workers. Over the next several hours, we’ll look at ways to neutralize Janus and right to work by organizing internally. We’ll dive into our Path to Power program which is electing union members to office from coast to coast. We’ll discuss the ways we are using data and technology to break new ground in politics AND organizing. And we’ll lay out our Labor 2018 program, with a focus on talking to our members about issues.
There is no denying that 2017 was a difficult year for working people.
Corporations did everything in their power to hold down wages. Inequality grew. And politicians at the federal and state level launched a new wave of attacks on our dignity and rights.
Our job has been particularly challenging here in the Great Lakes. Anti-worker politicians control all eight of the legislative chambers in this region and three out of four governor’s mansions. And I don’t need to remind you that Donald Trump used pro-worker rhetoric to sweep Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on the way to the White House.
Yet even in the face of these challenges, we stood strong. The labor movement demonstrated our power with historic strikes, organizing victories and powerful new contracts that saved jobs, raised pay and expanded retirement security. We passionately made our case for a new set of economic rules designed to achieve broadly shared prosperity. America has taken notice. Our approval rating is more than 60 percent, the highest in almost two decades.
Our test of 2018…and beyond…will be to build on these successes. Each election, each organizing drive, each legislative battle…will showcase our growing clout. But I believe you’ll see the impact of our momentum on an even broader level.
At the AFL-CIO convention in St. Louis this past October, we adopted a comprehensive strategic plan to grow and strengthen the labor movement.
A Workers’ Bill of Rights. A recommitment to organizing. Issue-based politics. More union members in office. Equity and diversity. Shaping the future of work.
Now we must turn that strategy into victory.
When more union members fill the halls of power…when wages go up and inequality shrinks…when we have more pro-labor Republicans and fewer corporate-beholden Democrats…when a growing number of young people see the value of democracy and that we can and will change the rules of this economy…when we stop defining victory as not losing...and most of all...when more workers realize their own value and the power of solidarity…that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.
That moment is close. I feel it in every union hall I visit and every picket line I stand on. I feel it in every politician who looks at us differently since we stopped the TPP. I feel it when I talk to brave immigrants ready to come out of the shadows and working women who are saying enough is enough. And I feel it here today.
The challenge ahead of us is massive. We know our opponents are tough. They’re well-heeled and ruthless. But their deep pockets can’t overcome our deep passion for a fairer and more just nation. We didn’t start this fight. But brothers and sisters, we are going to finish it.
When I look around this room, I have hope. Hope for a brighter future. Hope for a new day. Hope for an America where every worker can get ahead.
We are the only ones who can deliver the massive economic and social change working people are hungry for.
That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what this meeting is all about.
So let’s get to work.