Speech | Better Pay and Benefits · Infrastructure · Labor Law

Trumka to Maritime Trades: Our Agenda Unites Us

St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you, brothers and sisters, and thank you, President Sacco for your kind words of introduction. Congratulations on your re-election. Thank you for asking me to address your convention in this historic city. It’s great to be with you again.

Mike, seeing you here brings to mind some union stories that have quite frankly become part of the history of the labor movement in Missouri and in America. I won’t go too deeply into them, partly because we don’t have the time and partly because some of these stories wouldn’t be fit to print, but I’m thinking of floating picket lines, riled up union members and all the organizing we did up and down these inland waterways.

Brothers and sisters, Mike and I joined together with a spirit of true brotherhood. I learned a lot from Mike, and with him. We did a lot of good work together.

The unions of the Maritime Trades Department, and your employers are no strangers to good work.

I’m thinking of the MTD community service activities, your commitment to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and all the grassroots work out there, at every one of the 21 port councils in Canada and the United States from Seattle to Michigan to Southern California, collecting toys for kids at the holidays, cleaning the waterways, supporting our service men and women, raising money for the Leukemia & Society and providing scholarships to maritime students.

Right here in St. Louis, I’ve been told all about the Port Council’s hard work and commitment to the We Are Missouri Campaign against right to work. In particular, I’ve heard great things about St. Louis Labor Council President Jack Martorelli out of the Operating Engineers. Way to go, Jack! Thanks for your hard work. God bless you.

Sisters and brothers, we work. It’s what we do. It’s one of core values. Yet we work for a reason, and that’s to provide a decent life to our families, our communities and each other. We do what we do because we care deeply about each other. That’s where our commitment comes from.

That commitment unites us. It’s powerful. It transforms us from a group of individuals into a union. Nothing is more powerful than working people united for a common goal.

With our unity, we’re going to transform our nation. We’re going to take America back! It’s high time! It’s not too much to ask. We make the ships. We build the roads. We teach the classes and we lift the loads. We do the jobs. We never run and hide. We are North America’s labor movement, and we will not be denied!

Over the past eight years, America’s labor movement has changed. We came out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and it hasn’t been easy. Bad corporate trade deals have added insult to injury, killing jobs and lowering wages for working people.

Yet our unions are not the same. We’ve undergone some necessary reforms. Some of it we’ve chosen to do. Some of it circumstances have forced upon us. But I can tell you, we’re more powerful than we used to be. And we won’t stop.

As we settle in for the 2017 AFL-CIO Convention here in St. Louis, I find myself looking around at a labor movement that’s more focused, more unified, more intent on winning and more popular than we have been in a very long time. The latest Gallup poll shows 61 percent of Americans approve of unions—a 14-year high. Collective action is on the rise. More and more workers are standing together and confronting corporate power head on.

Brothers and sisters, we won’t stop.

We won’t stop when politicians still use a hurricane as an excuse to attack the Jones Act!

This cheap shot against American flagged vessels came at the exact time you and your union brothers and sisters were organizing aid for Puerto Rico, we were doing it ourselves, because the federal government refused to get the job done.

Brothers and sisters, we will stand up for the Jones Act anytime, anyplace, anywhere!

We won’t stop when politicians cut the pay of the poorest and hardest working people among us, as they did right here in St. Louis. The right-wing Missouri legislature actually passed legislation lowering the minimum wage pay back down to $7.70. That’s indefensible.

We won’t stop. We’re focused on raising pay. We’re focused on growing unions, because the best way to win a raise and keep it is with a collective bargaining agreement. We’re focused on winning better jobs. Massive investments in infrastructure. We want new deeper ports.

We won’t stop until we’re fully independent politically, so we play politicians against each other instead of keep getting played.

We’ll win what we need with a political program that digs deeper and fights harder than we ever have before.

We’ll win by putting forward powerful ideas like a Workers Bill of Rights that guarantees the freedom of everyone to join or form a union.

Some might call it radical. I say it’s fundamental, because it’s time to fix the bottleneck keeping workers from negotiating with our employers.

America is ready for it. We want more union cards in more union hands.

The rich and powerful are on the march. They are well funded, well organized and out for blood.

Well I say, bring it on! They’re on the march, but so are we.

And I’ll take working men and women of America over the right-wing and Wall Street any day of the week.

We’re not scared. When it comes to the attacks on our unions, we’ve let go of our fear. Fear never does us any favors.

We will not fear the attacks against us in Canada or the United States. But we will fight them. We will aim to defeat every attack on the institutions of our labor movement and the values we hold dear—freedom, equality, justice, fairness and the rights to assemble and speak freely.

And we will use every fight to organize internally, just as the We Are Missouri Campaign is doing right here right now, by engaging with our members and building relationships that can stand the test of any attack. That’s how we build real power for working people each and every day. That’s how we lift each other up. That’s how we make right to work irrelevant.

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.

With an agenda like that, we can join together, rise together, fight together and win together!

We’ll lock arms. We’ll stand strong. As far as it takes. As long as it takes. With solidarity. Real solidarity. Where your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line. We won’t sit back or back down until we take America back!

Brothers and sisters, listen close. If you remember one thing from my remarks today, remember this: We will not settle for merely surviving as a labor movement. That’s not enough. We will thrive!

Every single day, the workers of your unions prove how powerful and effective we are. On both coasts, you’re building world-class ships, the best there is. All through these inland waterways, you move the goods that make our economy work. You’re moving trade across the oceans and around the world.

We’re ready for the future. We’re ready to grow.

Our unions will bring out the best in our country. And in ourselves.

We’ll build the future we know we can have and we must have. And we will never, ever, give up. We will always, always, go forward. And together, we will win, for our children, for our families, for our future, for each other. That’s how we’ll go forward. That’s how we’ll win. Together! Together!

Thank you! And God bless you!

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