Speech | Civil Rights

Trumka to Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Delegates: When We Rise, America Rises

Philadelphia, Pa.

Good morning, brothers and sisters. It’s great to be home in Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Brother Rick [Bloomingdale] for your generous words of introduction. I appreciate your friendship and your service to working people. I also want to thank Frank Snyder, a trade unionist to his core and a great champion for social and economic justice. Working together, Rick and Frank are moving the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO forward, finding powerful new ways to build reliable partnerships on everything from political campaigns to contract fights.

And I don’t know if any local labor movement in America is as strong and influential as the Philadelphia Council. President Pat Eiding, you’re creative. You’re compelling. You’re effective. Your record of success speaks for itself. Whether it’s helping elect a mayor who puts workers first, leading the fight against employers that steal our wages, or forging the alliances that lead to organizing wins, thousands of families in Philadelphia are living the union advantage because of your leadership.

Here in Philly and across Pennsylvania, we’re bringing new members into our ranks. When I moderated an organizing discussion at your last convention in 2014, I stressed that even without major labor law reform, it is possible to wage successful campaigns. You ran with that. You have fully embraced strategic organizing and it is starting to pay off.

Just listen to this. Last year, in some of the toughest conditions for organizing imaginable, Pennsylvania increased its union membership by approximately 50,000 workers. Give yourselves a hand.

It’s not just organizing. We’re winning contract fights, too. I want to specifically applaud the solidarity each of you showed for locked out workers at Allegheny Technologies. The fight was long. It was hard. But because we stood together, our members are back on the job with a new four-year contract.

The same solidarity that worked at ATI is also making waves on the international stage. And believe me, we will need every ounce of that solidarity to stop the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership. This state bears the scars of unfair trade. From Beaver Falls to Bethlehem. From Monaca to McKeesport. We’ve seen the shuttered factories and dying towns. We’ve felt the lost jobs, stagnant wages and devastated communities. When we fight against corporate trade deals, we are fighting for the future of Pennsylvania.

I want to thank each and every one of you for your great work on this issue. Working people have helped move the needle on trade in this country. The TPP has become so toxic that virtually every remaining presidential candidate opposes it and House Speaker Paul Ryan admits he does not have the votes to pass it. Let’s keep the pressure on. Let’s keep demanding fair trade that lifts families up. And if the TPP ever comes up for a vote, let’s kill it once and for all.

On the TPP and so much more, we are using solidarity to stand strong in the face of outrageous attacks from the corporate right-wing. Earlier this year, those attacks hit a new low when special interests took a case called Friedrichs to the Supreme Court. Well brothers and sisters, last week the Court came back with its decision, and it was a win for working people! While we celebrate that victory today, we stand ready for the fights of tomorrow.

Right here in Pennsylvania, extremist legislators are pushing a dangerous agenda that attacks public education, strips retirement security, privatizes our jobs and destroys collective bargaining. They are also trying to eliminate unemployment benefits and undercut workers comp. This is not the Pennsylvania I know and love. So we are going to stand strong with Governor Wolf and beat back these attacks on working families.

You see, we are not asking for the world. We want to be paid well and treated with respect. We want to have a say on things like our schedules and working conditions. We want a fair share of the profits we help create and every opportunity to live a better life. Not a life defined by our boss, but one we decide on. That’s what we’re standing together for. That’s what we’re fighting for. And that’s what we’re going to win.

We have a big year ahead of us in the battle for a better life. In a few short months, when the Democratic National Convention comes here, the eyes of America will be focused squarely on Philadelphia.

This city is the cradle of American liberty, the birthplace of our nation.

It’s our job to make sure the convention embodies our working family vision, and our working family values. Labor can’t be in the middle of the pack. We have to be the tip of the spear when it comes to fixing what’s broken in America. We are the change-makers.

Two hundred and forty years after American democracy took hold here in Philadelphia, another movement is rising. We call it Raising Wages. It’s a movement where workers write the economic rules. A movement where unions grow and inequality shrinks.

A movement where you can grab onto the American Dream no matter what you look like, where you come from or who you love.

That is the movement we are building.

No more business as usual. Our issues and our power and our values will carry the day. We want unity. We want solidarity. We want justice and jobs today, and a better tomorrow.

We know the road to shared prosperity and a prosperous middle class.

It’s the union highway, and it’s big enough for everyone who works for a living!

Mark my words: 2016 will be remembered as the year we assert our power.

Working people have been pushed aside, knocked down and rolled over for 40 years, and we have had enough.

Look how easy it’s been for Donald Trump to tap into the very real and very justified anger of everyday people. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 car repair or a $1,000 medical bill. A majority of workers in this country are living paycheck to paycheck.

So when Trump says we’re losing, he finds a sympathetic audience who wishes more politicians would express the frustration they feel every day.

But we can’t be fooled. Trump isn’t interested in solving the problems he yells and swears about. He delivers punch lines, but there’s nothing funny about them.

Here are some facts. Trump loves right to work. He routinely mistreats workers at his own companies. He cheered Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on teachers and nurses. And he says our wages are too high. Let me repeat that: he says our wages are too high.

These facts get too little attention, and that’s why we’ve got to constantly expose Donald Trump for what he is: dangerous, delusional and a demagogue.

Holding Trump accountable is imperative, but we also must stay focused on our own agenda. Working people are the main event, and it doesn’t matter whether we are Democrats, Republicans or anything in between. We are shaping the debate and setting the terms of this election.

Our labor movement puts issues first. Our agenda drives our politics, not the other way around. In Washington, there is an assumption that unions and Republicans can’t work together. I reject that wholeheartedly. For decades, the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower played a serious and constructive role on issues of work and family. Even today in Pennsylvania, moderate Republicans are standing with us to block the anti-worker efforts of their more conservative colleagues.

That’s why it is so disappointing that not a single Republican running for president supports our issues. What happened to the Grand Old Party?

Let’s be honest, Democrats haven’t always been a picnic, either, sometimes breaking promises and embracing half measures instead of bold, progressive solutions. But this primary has been different. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are running one of the most uplifting and substantive campaigns of my lifetime. With our encouragement, I know both will be here this week. The candidates are putting forth real ideas for growing an economy that works for workers. Unions have been front and center as a key to raising wages and expanding opportunity. Issues of social and economic justice have been debated passionately. And the contest has largely been conducted with a degree of civility and dignity too often missing in politics today.

We’ve got to keep that momentum up, keep it moving. We have a chance to permanently change the conversation.

The future of America is not with the Wall Street or Washington elite. It’s not bad trade deals and corporate giveaways like the TPP.

The future is in our towns, cities and communities. It’s on the ground in Philadelphia. It’s in Pennsylvania and all the places where we live and work.

When we rise, America rises. The middle class expands. And a virtuous cycle of investment and growth and jobs takes hold.

This is how we win a better life. And it all comes back to solidarity, real solidarity, Pennsylvania solidarity, where your picket line is my picket line. Where I stand with you, and you stand with me. When we stand together and march together, we win together!

Over the past several years, we’ve seen a change come across this country. Working people are standing up, and our unions have been on the cutting edge every step of the way. It’s time for us to take another big step forward.

We are trying new tactics, and this year in Pennsylvania we will do more—much more—to guarantee success for working families. We are growing our partnerships and strengthening our alliances to build a stronger ground game. And you can see the results right here: a pro-worker mayor of Philadelphia, a pro-worker governor and three pro-worker state Supreme Court justices.

We’ve made significant progress, but we need more. For one thing, the right-wing Koch Brothers are copying our playbook. They aren’t just running TV ads anymore. They’re recruiting volunteers to knock doors and phone bank as if they were an actual grassroots organization. It’s up to us to beat them to the punch!

I know Rick and Frank have been traveling the commonwealth for months, preparing to unleash a comprehensive 2016 electoral program. We know how to run these campaigns. We know how to win. One of the most powerful tools in the union box is the conversations we have with our members, and our members have with each other and the public.

We’re going to talk to our members. At home. On the phone. And in the worksite. I want to encourage you as officers, stewards and activists to make these conversations a priority. Talk to your members before work, after work and on breaks. Use stewards conferences and other gatherings to drive the message home. And let’s make sure we lead with issues instead of politics.

We are committed to building on our successes, learning from our failures and expanding our footprint. That means more experimentation, more cooperation, more integrated efforts. I love what I’ve seen from Working America in Pennsylvania. I appreciate your efforts to send volunteers into our national program. Keep it up. We need to be talking to union members and our neighbors. The fact is our neighbors—the folks next door—have the same issues as we do, and we need to have these conversations with them! This is the road to winning majorities for working families.

You send the volunteers. We’ll set up the structure, so we can do it legally and do it right. I want to set your minds at ease. There won’t be a problem. We did it in Philly and other places around the country, and we can do it across Pennsylvania!

Let’s work together to elect a state legislature that stands up for raising wages. Let’s replace Pat Toomey with someone who will actually do their job, like giving President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court fair consideration. And let’s make sure this state delivers the White House to a president who will fight for us every single day. We know what to do, and we know why we do it.

It comes down to dignity and what’s fair. So get off your seat and on your feet. We’ll be going out the door and to the street. Because we’re the ones who wake America up every single day, and we put her to bed at night. We lift the loads and make the steel. We run the plant and teach the school. We drive the bus and build the roads. We do what it takes. We answer the call, and by God we’ll make America work again for the people who work.
God bless you, and God bless the work you do!

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