Speech | Civil Rights

Trumka at Race Commission Hearing: Racism is a Cancer

St. Louis, Mo.

Good morning, brothers and sisters. Thank you for coming out today.

A little more than a year ago, I was here in St. Louis for the Missouri AFL-CIO Convention. It was shortly after Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.

When I was here, I talked about the fact that our brother killed our sister’s son. Officer Wilson was a part of the local police union. And Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

I know that line upset some people. But we are a union family. And families must be honest with each other. We cannot afford to look the other way.

Make no mistake, talking about race is tough. It’s controversial.

For many Americans, the entire subject makes them uncomfortable.

But Dr. King said, the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but times of challenge and controversy.

So in this moment of challenge and controversy, we must come together and ask the tough questions. The time is right to have an honest conversation, listen to each other, and identify solutions.

That’s why we formed this commission.

From Oakland to Cleveland to Boston, we have held hearings like this, because combating racism is a labor issue.

It has to be. It is all around us.

Corporations and politicians use race to divide us, to pit worker against worker, to hold us down, and to keep more money and power for themselves.

So eradicating racism, and other forms of bigotry, is not only the moral thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.

Addressing racism will help us win better wages, and benefits for all working people. And it will make us a stronger political force, so we can tackle Friedrichs and right to work.

Racism is a cancer, and it will destroy us if left untreated. Too many of our brothers and sisters are being forced to live in fear.

Since Michael Brown’s death, we have seen other young black men, like Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, die at the hands of police.

Mass incarceration policies have devastated communities of color, weakened our movement, and made the job of law enforcement and corrections officers more dangerous.

Bigots like Donald Trump have ushered in a new era of hate speech that is becoming disturbingly mainstream. And discrimination continues to rear its ugly head, in our union halls and worksites.

As a labor movement, we cannot be in the middle of the pack, when it comes to these issues. We must lead from the front. That means confronting racism, every single time we see it, or hear it.

It is always easier to walk away—but we need to make clear, that racism is never acceptable. It also means fixing the institutional prejudice that is hurting people of color here in St. Louis and across the country.

Yes, #blacklivesmatter. Our values and our principles remind us that every single person has dignity and humanity.

So let’s come together today, and take on this difficult challenge, with open minds and open hearts.

Let’s do it in a respectful way that encourages a real dialogue. Let’s stand united as brothers and sisters, to make our movement, and our nation stronger. Thank you.

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