Speech | Right to Work · Infrastructure · Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to Railroad Signalmen: American Dream Built Through Solidarity

Boston, Massachusetts
President Trumka addresses BRS Convention.
Phillip Caruso

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen 52nd Regular Convention:

Good morning, BRS!

Brother Dan (Pickett), thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do for working people. You have been an unwavering leader of your union and an indispensable figure in the labor movement.

Brothers and sisters, I’m thrilled to be here with you today.

Guess what? It’s Election Day in Missouri.

Today voters in the Show Me State will decide the future of right to work.

I have to tell you: I am feeling confident. Working people needed 100,000 signatures to get that issue on the ballot. We submitted over 300,000.

Our members and allies are going door to door. We’re making phone calls. We’re talking about good union jobs. We’re talking about world-class training programs. We’re talking about the power of collective action.

And later tonight, with the help of this Brotherhood, Missouri is going to become the first state in history to overturn right to work by popular vote.

Four years ago, I had the honor of standing with you at your convention in Las Vegas. And at the time, I talked about the fight facing working people. A struggle to bring about transformational change...to end the politics of cruelty...the politics of poverty...the politics of exclusion.

Today, that twisted politics is being pushed more relentlessly than ever before. The corporate-apologists and union-busters are throwing everything they have at us.

But we’re not flinching. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to stand for a politics that says a CEO is entitled to more dignity than a signalman. We’re not going to accept a politics that serves the few at the expense of the many.

Brothers and sisters, we are choosing a different path.

Working people are writing a comeback story unlike any I’ve seen in my 50 years in the labor movement. And the fact that we are rising up in the face of unprecedented attacks from corporations and those in power makes this moment all the more powerful.

262,000 new members joined unions in 2017, three quarters of them under the age of 35...even as the Supreme Court continues to chip away at our freedoms.

The popularity of unions is above 60 percent and rising...even as Congress pushes proposals to gut our job safety and retirement security.

New research from MIT shows a remarkable 50 percent increase in the number of workers who would vote to join a union today...even as the Trump Administration seeks to slash Amtrak’s funding by half.

Imagine what we could accomplish with leaders who actually fought for working people instead of trying to crush our unions and silence our collective voice.

Well, I have a message for every politician, Republican or Democrat, who wants to delay or derail our progress: Get on board or get the hell out of our way!

It’s time to fight like hell, brothers and sisters...for a better future...for a better life…for the values that your Brotherhood has embodied for 117 years.

Let’s reclaim America for the people who build it and make it work!

Let’s reclaim the future for all of our kids—not just the children of privilege.

Let’s organize and mobilize like never before!

Let’s show every robber baron and corporate hack that we aren’t going anywhere!

We’re spoiling for a fight. I say, bring it on! We've taken their best shot, and we're still standing. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united.

This is our country...and it’s time...high time...we took it back!

Brothers and sisters, I have a confession to make. And, I trust you won’t tell our comrades putting in a hard day’s work over at Logan Airport. But, when you travel as much as I do...boy, nothing beats a train.

From the station to the platform to the incredible people you meet along the way, it's like nothing else. And I know some of the most important work is going on behind the scenes as you install, inspect and maintain the systems that ensure we can return home safely to our families.

Yet even with all of its advantages...even with competitors in Europe and Asia making it a top priority, too many of our leaders still treat rail as an afterthought.

Per capita, Japan and the EU both spend three times more on their rail infrastructure than we do. It’s a global embarrassment.

President Trump campaigned on massive investments in our infrastructure. So where’s the bill? Where’s the plan? Where’s the money?

I don’t know about you, but I want faster trains. I want modern tunnels. I want expanded capacity. I want MORE rail jobs.

Instead of a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, how about we invest $1.5 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure?  

Finally committing to a 21st century rail system is one important step to building an America that works for working people. And there’s no one better to make our case than the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

Your union is integrally tied to the story of America. Your legacy is a testament to what makes the labor movement powerful. And above all, you are evidence of the inalienable value of work.

You—like your brothers and sisters who came before you—are in the business of uniting a nation. A network of steel spanning a continent, reaching communities from coast to coast, shrinking the thousands of miles separating families in New York and Los Angeles and Miami and Seattle and everywhere in between.

It’s a feat of human achievement, and you attend to it 24 hours a day. It’s your skill and your commitment and your tireless work that guides our people safely along the rails—through harsh weather, busy holidays and all the challenges you face every day.

You’ve earned fair treatment. You’ve earned a secure livelihood. You’ve earned respect from our leaders.

But, the corporate class has other plans.

They want to privatize transportation and sell it off to the highest bidder.

They want to turn your pension into pennies.

They want to destroy your job security.

They want to stall and kill rail safety rules.

Until a few months ago, the FRA was being led by a guy who ran a PR firm on the side.

You know better than anyone that keeping Americans safe and sound isn’t a part-time job.

But you know what? Neither is standing up for our rights on the job.

I need all of your passion...all of your fire...every ounce of sweat...as we fight for our future.

Brothers and sisters, are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?

We’re gonna fight for better infrastructure and safer railroads!

We’re gonna fight for our pensions!

We’re gonna fight for a fully-funded Amtrak!

We’re gonna fight for good jobs and strong unions and better lives!

We’ve earned it, brothers and sisters! And, we’re here to collect what’s ours!

But I won’t sugar coat it. The path ahead is going to be tough.

Because here’s the truth: throughout the entire history of our movement, we’ve never had anything handed to us.

Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

A fitting summary of the labor movement if there’s ever been one.

Brothers and sisters, we have fought for every victory. We bled to secure our right to stand together and bargain collectively. We marched and sacrificed to end child labor. We faced down the powers of Washington and Wall Street to win a minimum wage.

Every speck of progress was clawed from the hands of those who said we were asking too much...who tried to destroy us with one hand and dismissed us as radicals and extremists with the other.

In the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, we steadily built a fairer economy and a more just society...because we had one advantage on our side: Solidarity.

American greatness...American decency...the American Dream itself was built through solidarity.

The boss could fire one or two or even a factory full of us. They could shoot at a crowd and even kill some of us.

But bonded by a common struggle, working people kept fighting and discovered a fundamental truth that carries us to this day: You can’t stop all of us.

We are a force unto our own when—and only when—we stand together.

I remember back when my son Rich was young—maybe three or four years old. He and his buddy Chad were driving around in the backyard in one of those battery operated jeeps.

He must have heard me talking on the phone, because he drove up and asked: “Dad, what’s a union?”

So I told him to try to push his jeep up the hill in our backyard. He strained and struggled, but he couldn’t get it up the hill. Then I told his friend Chad to give him a hand. Working together, they got the job done. I looked right at my son and said: “That’s a union.”

That’s how we won the battles of yesterday. Brothers and sisters, that’s exactly how we’re going to win the fights of today and tomorrow.

As the rules and tools of our economy continue to change...as the very nature of work itself evolves...we can win a future that advances us all.

We can demand a world where the gains from technology translate into better pay and working conditions for everyone, where being more productive means we can work less and live more, where artificial intelligence allows us to have better, safer and more interesting jobs.

We can create a new era of universal prosperity, one where working people share in the unprecedented wealth that we have created.

But here’s the thing: We won’t win as signalmen or teachers or letter carriers or nurses or firefighters. We won’t win as men or women, as black or white, as gay or straight.

We will only win as a single movement of working people, from every region and every sector, fighting for the interests of all of our brothers and sisters...fighting for the rights and freedoms of all who live and work here.

That’s our power! It doesn’t come from Washington or politicians or the courts.

Our power lies in the 55 powerful unions united through the AFL-CIO...in the nearly 13 million members who know that the House of Labor is their house.

Our power lies in the workers who are standing together, marching together and fighting together in communities across the country, arms locked in unflinching solidarity.

We’re witnessing that power today in Missouri. Our victory will be proof positive that we’re not ceding an inch after the Supreme Court took a shot at us with Janus. And, it’s a preview of what’s to come in November and beyond.

Eugene Debs, who famously led the Pullman Railroad Strike, said that “the political solidarity of the working class means the death of despotism, the birth of freedom, the sunrise of civilization.”

Brothers and sisters, the sun is rising in America!

Together we can end the oppression that still hangs over us and secure the brighter future that lies ahead.

Together, we can win fairer pay, better benefits, and healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Together, we can fight off all those who would deny us the fruits of our labor.

Hear me loud and hear me clear. We’re not going to be held down or pushed around. We refuse to be walked over, talked over or told to sit down and shut up. We will not settle for less.

Because we keep America safe. We build the roads, bake the bread and lift the loads. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day. We tuck her into bed at night. We’re the American labor movement, and we will not...we will not...be denied!

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