AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the 29th Biennial Missouri AFL-CIO Convention:
Good morning, brothers and sisters. It’s great to be back in St. Louis. What has it been...three weeks? I feel like I should buy a house here. Thank you, Brother Mike (Louis), for that very kind introduction. You are doing an outstanding job leading the Missouri labor movement through some very challenging times.
On October 14, 1936, at the dedication of the War Memorial here in St. Louis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on us to correct the inequalities plaguing our society. He said "true patriotism urges us to build an even more substantial America where the good things of life may be shared by more of us." And he called on working people from all occupations...from all walks of life...to come together for the mutual advantage of themselves and America as a whole.
Yet today, the inequalities FDR described more than 80 years ago still persist. Too many of us are still not sharing in the good things of life. And the solution remains steadfast solidarity...where we all rise together to strengthen the country we love.
At his second inauguration, four years into the New Deal, FDR noted that America faced a fundamental decision. Would we decide that some progress was good enough? Or would we continue further down the path toward a brighter, more just future for everyone? His answer was clear. He said "the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
We face our own decision today...our own test of progress. And just as FDR had to battle the forces of wealth and greed in his time, we now must confront a corporate onslaught of historic proportions. They want to rip apart the New Deal piece by piece. They want to bankrupt our unions. They want to leave us poor and weak and divided. And the Supreme Court just did their bidding, flushing 41 years of fairness down the toilet in Janus v. AFSCME.
These corporate leeches, wrapped in the American flag and hijacking words like “freedom” and “rights,” have brought the fight here to Missouri. They think they can steamroll us into submission. They think they can send us running for the hills. Well, brothers and sisters, I’ve got news for them: the only place we’re running is to the polls on August 7 to defeat Proposition A!
I was recently here in St. Louis for our Labor 2018 kickoff at Laborers Local 42. As I looked around that union hall, I was struck by the number of parents who brought their children. It was inspiring to see. Because quite frankly, that's what this election is all about. That's who we're walking for. That’s who we're door knocking for. That’s who we're fighting for. And that’s why we're going to vote no. So those kids have a future! So those kids can sign a union card! So those kids can build their American Dream!
You know, I'm a student of the Civil War. History books talk a lot about the leaders. General A did this. General B did that. They don’t talk a lot about the people who really won battles and won wars. They don’t talk about a private or a corporal who sacrificed their own lives for a brother or a sister next to them. You see, the uncommon heroes are workers. People like us. The rank and file. The soldier who's in the trenches. Because when ordinary people come together, we can do extraordinary things.
One of these heroes is Quiema Spencer, a pipefitter in Kansas City. As a gay, black woman...she hasn’t had it easy. She's always had to work that much harder to build a better life. But, she says it wasn't until she joined a union that she truly found her voice. Locking arms with her brothers and sisters in Pipe Fitters Local 533, she realized that we don’t have to take the crumbs we’re being handed anymore. Together, we can demand better. Now Quiema is knocking doors and making calls...so every working person in this state and across the country can find their voice, just like she did.
You see, the Missouri labor movement defines extraordinary. You needed 100,000 signatures to get right to work on the ballot. You got over 300,000. 213,000 of those were collected by volunteers. Now you are in the process on knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors. Don’t let up. The next three weeks will make the difference. Let’s stand together...union proud and union strong. This is our time. This is our moment.
Brothers and sisters, hear me loud and hear me clear: We defeated right to work in 1978. And we’re going to defeat it again in 2018!
When we win here on August 7, it’s going to be the shot heard round the world. It’ll make waves in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Washington D.C. And it will provide a powerful rebuke of the Supreme Court’s disgraceful ruling in Janus.
Janus is the latest misguided decision by the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court in our history. It was a case solicited, argued and decided by the wealthiest few. And I have no doubt that President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, Brett Kavanaugh, would make life even harder for our families and communities. Kavanaugh has routinely ruled against working people. He is a threat to our pocketbooks...our safety...our very way of life. When he was announced, Judge Kavanaugh talked a lot about his Catholic roots. But don’t be fooled. He worships at the altar of corporations. And that’s why we’re calling on the Senate to reject his nomination.
In the end, I believe Janus will be a footnote. The labor movement has never depended on any politician or judge to decide our fate. And we aren’t about to start now. We will define this moment in history with our organizing.
I stand before you today, 50 years into my union career, as optimistic as ever. Something is happening in America. It’s beautiful. It’s real. And it can’t be contained by 5 Supreme Court justices or an anti-worker Congress or even the president of the United States. Workers are organizing and striking as we haven’t seen in years. 15,000 workers joined or formed unions in a single week this April. That’s on top of the 262,000 new members who joined our ranks last year—75 percent of them under the age of 35. And this is despite the fact that too many of our labor laws have been written to undermine the freedom to organize. New research from MIT shows that the number of non-union workers who would vote to join a union today has increased dramatically over the past several decades. Tens of millions of workers are ready to experience the transformational power of collective bargaining.
A little more than eight months ago, we gathered at America’s Center, not far from this hotel, for the AFL-CIO Convention. We declared to ourselves and the world that the labor movement is here to stay. We left St. Louis with a clear vision and mission based on one unmistakable truth: we have the power.
In the months since, that vision has come to life. Countless young people are reaching for the rights and dignities of union membership. Teachers are striking and marching for the respect that they’ve earned. Workers across the Show Me State are showing us what’s possible when we come together as one.
Brothers and sisters, 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.
It is time…it is high time…for us to take America back! We’re the ones who build the cars and teach the classes. We make 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 be denied!
A victory on August 7 can help set the table for a pro-worker wave this fall. In communities across the country, we have unleashed the largest and most strategic member to member political program in our history, sparking change by doing what organizers do best: talking to each other.
Street-by-street and person-by-person, we’re having conversations about the issues that matter most. Higher wages, better benefits, time off, a secure retirement and a fair return on our labor. And by starting now and putting our agenda first, we’ll be able to cut through the BS of October and November.
Each of you are on the front lines of a revolution—a revolution of working people fighting for our fair share of the prosperity we built—a movement demanding what we deserve! That’s how we win elections. We’ve done it in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and California and Wisconsin and Virginia. Missouri is next!
But, it won’t just happen. We need you. Every single one of you.
Our unions can and will transform lives…and unionism will transform America. A new paper from Princeton University shows that union workers earn about 20 percent more than nonunion workers in similar jobs. That’s life-changing. And the union advantage is even more dramatic for women and people of color.
As we stand together…as more Americans see us exercise our collective power…more people will be inspired to join us.
Our job today, and every day heading into the midterm elections, is to turn our activism into real political power by continuing to build momentum for an independent and issue-based agenda for working people.
And after the election, we’re going to use our electoral power to win more organizing fights, bargain better contracts and build a better America. That’s what President Trump promised us, but it’s not what he’s delivered.
Instead of progress, we got a historic, budget-busting tax giveaway for multinational corporations, Wall Street and billionaires. And now House Republicans want to slash $1.5 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid—and even more from Social Security—to pay for it.
Instead of new economic rules, we got rollbacks on regulations designed to protect our pay and keep us healthy and safe at work.
Instead of better jobs, we got broken promises on infrastructure, extremist judicial nominees and 800 laid off Harley Davidson workers here in Missouri.
But let me tell you something. Our solidarity is bigger than any of these attacks. The corporate billionaires can’t touch our solidarity... and when they attack our institutions…when they attack our ability to fight for our members and our communities…we’ll fight back. We will fight back against every attack on working people, and we’ll fight hard…we’ll fight to win!
As we fight…as we educate our members…as we campaign this summer and fall, we’ll spell out our issue-based agenda again and again. We don’t work for any political party. You’ve shown that here in Missouri time and time again, using relationships on both sides of the aisle in Jefferson City to beat back attacks on dues deduction and prevailing wage. Remember, we work for workers. We want more Republicans who will break ranks and stand with working people. And while we’re at it, we want fewer Democrats who take our money and energy and then forget who got them elected in the first place.
We want champions of working families. Bold, fearless leaders who say “UNION” loud and proud, and not just on Labor Day.
To earn and keep our support, you have to be an advocate for our agenda. That means helping us pass labor law reform so aspiring union members can organize freely and fairly. It means health care as a fundamental right, the expansion of Social Security and guaranteed pensions. It means trillions of dollars so we can build the best infrastructure in the world with union labor and prevailing wages.
It means trade deals that actually work for working people and a tax code that invests in American jobs and American workers. And it means comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship that reunites our families and ends the terror in our workplaces and our communities.
We want everybody to have access to the American Dream. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Recently, I was thinking about my high school football coach. His name was Bear Stuvek. Bear was one tough son of a miner. He taught me about perseverance and dedication and good, old-fashioned hard work. Bear used to put us through a drill called “Bull in the Ring.” I am certain it would be banned today.
Twelve of my teammates would circle around me. Bear would count off...1, 2, 3, 4...1, 2, 3, 4. He’d call the ones. They’d come and hit me. Then the twos. Then the threes and so on. Bear would keep calling their numbers. And I’d keep getting hit harder and harder. Sometimes I’d be on the ground and wonder whether I should get up. Somehow I always did.
Before long, when Bear would put me in that ring, I’d start hitting back. I’d hit back with everything I had. I’d hit back until they finally got the message that while you may knock me down, you will never...and I mean never...knock me out.
The labor movement...we are that bull in the ring. We’ve been getting hit over and over again. Every day. From every direction. They’ve held down our pay. They’ve attacked our health care. They’ve tried to kill our pensions, destroy our jobs and leave us begging for scraps. They want national right to work. They want to make the Supreme Court a corporate board room.
Well guess what? Their time is up. Unions are on the move. In every city and every state. Young and old. Black and white. Immigrant and native-born. Gay and straight. Rural and urban. Republican and Democrat.
We’re spoiling for a fight. I say, bring it on! We've taken their best shot, and we're still standing. We’re the true American patriots. We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. We’re rising in solidarity…real solidarity…where your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line. And we won’t stop until we take our country back.
Thank you! God bless you! On to August 7!