Speech | Civil Rights

Trumka to Plasterers and Cement Masons: What Kind of Country Will We Be?

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Brother Pat [Finley], thank you for your words of introduction. I’m honored to be here.

The Plasterers and Cement Masons are a proud union. You are a powerful voice for your members and families, for your trade, for working people in America, and for this great country of ours.

The work you and your members do is hard. It isn’t for everybody. It’s challenging, both physically and mentally, which is why it’s so important you run some of the best training and apprenticeship programs anywhere. You are true leaders in every sense of the word.

I especially want to commend you for your commitment to our veterans. Your involvement with Helmets to Hardhats is second to none, and you’ve all heard this before, but it bears repeating, you have one of the proudest military connections in our labor movement. After the Civil War, your members returned fresh from America’s bloodiest battlefields to rebuild a new nation as members of the National Plasterers’ Union.

The challenge then is the challenge now. How do we win fair pay for America’s workers? How do we win, and protect, quality healthcare? How do we retire with security and dignity?

That’s what 2016 is all about.

One of the reasons I was so excited to come here today is you get it. You’re not the biggest union. You don’t have the most members or money. But when it comes to politics, you are a powerhouse. You continually punch above your weight class. So I can’t think of a better focus group for where we need to take our movement and our nation.

This much is clear: we must come together to elect a president who will raise wages, so working people can build better lives.

Two years ago, when I met with you at your convention, I talked about how America was hungry for solidarity. Well, we’ve seen solidarity and the collective voice rise in this country, but we’ve seen the call for division grow, too.

That is the choice we face in this presidential election.

On the one hand, Republican candidates have used some of the ugliest, most racist and destructive language I have heard in my lifetime. It is equal parts frightening and appalling.

And their attacks on working people are just as bad. Each wants to destroy the labor movement, silence our voice and give away even more to the rich and powerful.

On the other hand, the Democratic candidates have engaged in a substantive and vigorous debate about how best to raise wages.

While Republicans insult each other and the American people, the Democratic race has focused on reducing inequality and expanding opportunity and access to the American Dream.

Brothers and sisters, we did that. We put raising wages front and center. Our activism has shaped the presidential process in ways that will benefit working people for years to come.

Now, that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. It’s primary season and there are two pro-worker candidates running for the Democratic nomination. As you know, the AFL-CIO has not endorsed. Each member union is going through its own process, as part of a powerful tradition that I have enormous respect for. I know you have backed Hillary Clinton. That’s great. Other affiliates are supporting Bernie Sanders. This is how the process works.

But we must and will be united when the primary process ends. The stakes are too high. As we head into the general election, I want every single one of you to get your members registered. Register your families, your neighbors, your friends and relatives. You fight above your weight class. Our entire movement fights above our weight class. When the time comes, I want your members pounding the pavement, knocking doors, leafletting worksites, meeting with workers and families, and turning out the vote, because it is our time, and we won’t stop until we win!

Brothers and sisters, CEOs have profited from four decades of our rising productivity, leaving us with flat wages and financial insecurity. I’m sure you’ve seen the charts, but this is not an intellectual exercise. We’ve felt it. We’ve seen families struggle. We’ve seen this national story play out in the lives of our family and friends, union and non-union alike, white collar and blue collar.

During contract negotiations and election years, our members look to us to analyze the facts, to explain what the bad guys are doing, and to provide a path forward.

But our members also look to us to see what’s possible, for a positive vision of where we can be, where we will be, when we stand together.

You know, working people everywhere are realizing that the only organized voice for our interests is us. It’s the American labor movement.

This is important because we are not the only voice speaking to working families in America. Donald Trump is talking to us, too. He is deceptive, and very, very dangerous.

Donald Trump is tapping into the very real and very understandable anger of working people. In a national survey last month, 63 percent of Americans said they don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 car repair or a $1,000 medical bill. A majority of people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a precarious way to live. A car accident or an illness spells disaster.

So when Trump says we’re losing, his message resonates with some folks. And when he yells or lashes out, he finds a sympathetic audience who wishes more politicians would express the frustration they feel.

Listen, I know real down-home talk when I hear it, and I know a load of baloney and bluster, too, and I don’t think I have to tell you that Trump is full of baloney and bluster.

He is also a bigot. From his anti-American proposal to ban Muslims to his horrendous comments about women and immigrants, Trump is running on hate. It seems the only group he won’t criticize is the KKK.

Those statements and positions are bad enough. But what’s getting less attention is how Donald Trump really feels about working people. That is the untold story of this campaign, a story we must share with our members and all working people.

First, Trump loves right to work. He said it is “better for the people” and his position is “100 percent.” Meanwhile, he is fighting tooth and nail against workers at his hotel in Las Vegas.

Second, Trump was a major financial backer of Scott Walker and says he admired the way Walker took on public unions in Wisconsin.

Finally, and most disturbingly, Trump says our wages are already too high. Can you believe that? Trump is advocating the polar opposite of our raising wages agenda.

You see, Trump says he’s with the American working class, but when you look close, it’s just hot air.

America needs a truth-telling moment here. The answer to economic insecurity isn’t right to work and lower wages. It’s collective action and collective bargaining.

In the labor movement, we know it’s the UNITED States of America. United we stand. Or divided we beg.

This is a year for the American labor movement to stand up as the leaders we are. This is the year we define America for the ages.

What kind of a country will we be? Will we retreat from each challenge, and sneak back into hatred and fear? Or will we stand strong on our values?

I know the answer to that question. I know what we’re made of. We stand together in solidarity, and we’re going to show America how to stand up, too.

I’m proud of our unionism. How we stand together in the good times, and how we stand together when it’s hard.

Brothers and sisters, let’s stand together for raising wages, for a better America and a better tomorrow. Let’s march together. Let’s organize together. Let’s register together. Let’s vote together. And let’s win together.

Thank you, and God bless you.

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