Speech | Civil Rights

Trumka at MLK Lunch: Racial Equality is a Labor Issue

Washington, D.C.

Sisters and brothers, I have the special honor of presenting the At the River I Stand Award to two very deserving individuals, but before I get into that, I want to make a few points about our labor movement and the cause of justice in America.

The struggle for racial equality and just immigration has always been—at its core— a labor issue. Slavery was work policy. Immigration impacts our workplaces. Housing discrimination, mass incarceration, public education, health care and nearly every front in the fight for justice touches the lives of working people.

Standing up for justice—as when Dr. King traveled to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers—isn’t just morally good, it’s sound economic policy. The same is true of equal rights for all people, regardless of how we worship, where we come from or who we are.

On this MLK weekend, as we rededicate ourselves to social and economic justice, let’s remember that the hard work of organizing and coalition building often comes with little fanfare, and yet it’s critical. It’s the most important part.

It was this selfless and determined focus that defined the AFL-CIO Race Commission. The commission held meetings in six cities and our Civil Rights and Campaigns departments had conversations with more than 15,000 union members about how racism, sexism and all of the isms have been used to divide and weaken working people. The lessons of the commission are now even more timely and important in the wake of Donald Trump’s election—a victory fueled by division. This much is clear. We must come together—stick together—and fight back.

The AFL-CIO Race Commission has done terrifically important work, and sparked overdue urgency around the need to make progress in our movement and our communities. This entire process has reminded me of one important truth: There is more that unites us than divides us.

I’ve been lifted up and carried along by our work on racial justice. The AFL-CIO is better for it. Our movement is better for it. And we are just getting started.

Today, I’m honored to recognize two champions in the fight for justice who have done incredible work moving us forward. I’m talking about the outstanding co-chairs of the AFL-CIO Race Commission. Over the past year, we have seen their genuine dedication. None of us has all the answers, but these leaders know how to ask the right questions, and they’ve both helped make our labor movement a more just and diverse place.

Marc Perrone is a man of conviction and courage. He is committed to building a UFCW and a labor movement that is built to last. He has taken bold, brave steps as UFCW president, the kind of action we all must embrace to make our movement and our nation stronger. Marc has appointed strong women of color to the highest levels of his union. He took out a full page ad in the New York Timesto decry police brutality and call for racial reconciliation. He has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform and a forceful critic of the workplace raids that disproportionately impact UFCW members and all immigrants. Most recently, Marc was the driving force behind a high level White House meeting focused on the labor movement’s role in racial and economic justice. Sisters and brothers, please join me in welcoming UFCW President Marc Perrone.

I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Marc. The same can be said for Fred Redmond. When we talk about the great African American labor leaders—A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Addie Wyatt, Willie and Arlene Holt Baker, Bill Lucy—I believe Fred Redmond is a part of this distinguished class. He is humble and firm, accessible and shrewd. As Executive Vice President of the Steelworkers, Fred has earned the respect of his members and the entire labor movement. He is dedicated to improving the lives of all working people, whether it’s through civil rights or collective bargaining. Sisters and brothers, please join me in welcoming USW Executive Vice President Fred Redmond.

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