Better Pay and Benefits

Trumka to SMART: Push Political Spectrum Back Toward Working People

Vancouver, British Columbia

Thank you, Brother Joe [Sellers Jr.] for your kind words of introduction and for inviting me to this important and timely gathering. It’s great to be in Vancouver with your powerful union.

No union in North America has fought as long or as hard for working people as you. That’s a powerful legacy–one you shoulder well. During the 1800s, as railroads expanded across the United States, your members evolved to meet the needs of new work in new places, and your solidarity knit the American people together. Your union is still evolving, and you have the power to unite workers across the continent. When I think of the U.S. railroad strike of 1877, the way it spread like wildfire on a hot and windy day, I believe few events did more to extend the idea of unionism further or faster  to more working people.

We need that willingness to evolve. We need that spirit of activism. We need those strong connections between workers in Chicago and Atlanta, St. Louis and Milwaukee, up to Ontario and down to the Carolinas.

For well over a century, your union members in all your lines of work have fought for and won quality, family-supporting jobs. You’ve made work safer. You’ve made communities stronger, and I appreciate you for it.

Brothers and sisters, I want to personally thank you for the attention your union has devoted to mental health and dependency issues, so your members and families can get meaningful help. America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. It’s deadly serious, and you’re doing something about it.

You’ve also been a powerful supporter of an organization that means a lot to me: the Union Sportsmen Alliance. The USA just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. It has improved access to state parks and other public lands, raised money for good causes and united our members around something many of us enjoy, time together in the great outdoors.

Your efforts to serve the needs of women in the building trades is timely and critical, and your outreach to military veterans as folks transition to civilian life is invaluable. All of our union members are important, and our men and women who serve our country must be able to return to quality, family-supporting union jobs, no matter where they go. This is an absolute priority. God bless you for the important work you do. Keep it up.

Let me tell you something else. I appreciate the way you’ve been leveraging your health and pension funds as activist shareholders. It is possible for us to win jobs, protect the freedom of workers on the job to negotiate for a better life and continue to deliver great returns on our investments.

I call it the union economy, and it’s a powerful thing.

Every worker in the United States, every worker in Canada, should have the freedom to work hard for a good life, for a share in the profits we create, so we can live in dignity, get health care when we need it, raise a family if we want to and retire in security.

We live in the richest nations on earth at the richest time in our history. When something needs doing, we do it. We build it. We drive it. We deliver it. We do what it takes. We don’t run and hide. We stand. We shout. We fight. We win. We’re the North American labor movement, and we will not be denied!

In this chaotic political time, we should all keep one thing in mind: Labor unions remain the greatest force for turning bad jobs into good jobs and making good jobs better. Nothing beats solidarity for improving workplace safety and for winning good health care and a secure retirement.

In the broader society, our independent political organizing is the single most powerful tool to force elected leaders to rewrite the rules of the economy so working people can get ahead.

Solidarity doesn’t happen by accident in politics, any more than it does at the worksite or the picket line or the bargaining table. When it’s time to build power, we build it from the ground up. As our strength grows, so does our ability to fight for what we need.

A little power isn’t good enough.

I’m not satisfied with crumbs.

I want heads to turn when we walk in the room, and I want workers everywhere to have a seat at the table.

Brothers and sisters, I’m not satisfied, as a movement, to merely survive. I want to thrive.

And I don’t give a damn if you’re a Democrat or Republican, a Conservative or Liberal or a New Democrat. If you stand with us, we’ll stand with you. It’s time for us to push the entire political spectrum back toward working people. It’s not about right or left, liberal or conservative, it’s about economic rules written for working people, not corporate CEOs.

The right-wing corporate CEOs see us as a threat to their bottom line. That’s why they have made it their mission to destroy us. These folks never need to work a day in their lives. Their money works for them. They push policies with one goal, and that’s to make them richer and us poorer. To make them stronger and us weaker. But everyone else, every single worker in North America who must work to live, shares our basic economic interests and our core values.

So that’s what we’re up against—the rich and powerful. To beat them, we have to organize everyone else. Let me be clear: I will take our solidarity over their money any day of the week.

Solidarity has been the defining characteristic of our approach to the Trump Administration.

From the beginning, I made it clear that if President Trump does something that helps working people, we’ll fight to make it a success. And if he does something that hurts us, we will organize and mobilize to defeat it.

I like to say we’re calling balls and strikes. We are focusing on issues, not parties—policies, not personalities. I believe political independence is critical. We won’t be a tool for any political party or any politician. This is essential for our credibility with union members, with elected officials and the public at large. Our working family agenda must define us.

That’s why, two years ago, we stood up to a Democratic administration and launched a massive and successful campaign to defeat the corporate-written, job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Working people killed that bad trade deal.

It’s also why we’re fighting nonstop against the Republican attack on health care.

Here’s the deal. For months, Republican leaders in Washington have been pushing plans that would take health insurance away from as many as 32 million people and hit everyone else with higher premiums, worse coverage and more out-of-pocket costs—all to give another tax cut to corporations and the super-wealthy. The plans would kill one and a half million jobs, destroy Medicaid, strip insurance from kids and pregnant moms, and boot seniors out of nursing homes. And you know what else? They would also keep the unfair tax on the health care we won fair and square at the bargaining table.

This obsession with taking health care from people who need it to give tax cuts to those who don’t is all wrong.

So we made our voices heard. We called. We wrote. We rallied. We ran ads. And guess what? When we speak with authority for all working families, regular people listen. Regular people take action. And politicians have to listen.

Make no mistake, that’s what happened in the wee hours of Friday morning. Regular working people killed the Senate health care scam! We did that!

It is now time for Congressional leaders to help us fix the Affordable Care Act—and they can start by repealing the unfair, no-good “Cadillac Tax!”

And it’s also time to focus on the other big issues that matter most to working families.  

There is nobody, nobody in the United States today who wants President Trump to make good on his best campaign promises more than the members of our labor unions.

We want great jobs. We want fair trade. We want massive investments in infrastructure. I’m talking trillions, trillions with a T at the front, and an S at the end.

President Trump said he’d create millions of jobs. But we haven’t seen a single jobs bill, and his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan is nowhere to be found. And even if he did bring his legislation forward, it would be wiped out by his own budget. Get this: the infrastructure cuts in his budget are actually bigger than the dollar value of his draft infrastructure plan! It’s not a net investment. Trump wants to cut $55 billion from highways, water facilities and public transit. Don’t kill our jobs! Working people are ready to build! Mr. President, put us to work!

What about NAFTA? Well, I’ve read the principles for renegotiation, and it’s not enough.

Here’s my promise. We will never walk away from the table if a chance remains for us to get what working people need in a trade deal. We worked on the TPP for five years. We didn’t quit until the train left the station. We don’t just criticize. We offer ideas. We write position papers and offer language that negotiators can put directly into the agreement. We do our research. We dot the I’s and cross the T’s. We did it with TPP, and we’re doing it now with NAFTA.

But at the end of the day, we will kill any trade deal that hurts working people. New or old. Democrat or Republican. Brothers and sisters, the era of corporate trade must end and it must end today!

On all of these issues, there has never been a more important time for us to assert our collective power. Unionism is the answer.

Today’s political and economic environment is a powerful laboratory. It’s forcing us to adapt, evolve and focus. We are up to the task. I can feel it. We are in the heat of the fire! It’s working. Like tempered steel, we’re growing stronger.

So what are we going to do? Educate. Organize. Mobilize. And fight!

This are our countries. We built them. We make them run. We defend them. And it is high time we took them back for workers.

We know the way forward. Collective action is part of the conversation now from coast to coast, and that’s a good thing. I say it’s about time.

We’re not complacent. We’re not timid. We’re not crouching in a corner trembling.

We’re ready for a fight.

Many times we have fallen. We have been battered and bruised. We have been beaten and bloodied—maimed and killed. But always—always we’ve helped each other up. We’ve locked arms. We’ve pushed forward with steel in our eyes. And we’ve broken their lines. This is our day. This is our time.

Thank you. God bless you, God bless your families and all the work you do!

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