Trumka Talks Labor Unity in San Diego

San Diego, California

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council Awards Dinner:

Brothers and sisters, it’s great to be with you. Thank you, Doug, my brother, for your warm words of welcome. I appreciate you. I appreciate each and every one of you, both what you’ve done and what you will do. You are demonstrating tremendous solidarity right now. We are together. We truly are one.

Before I get into my remarks, I want to take a moment to acknowledge this historic organization—chartered 115 years ago by Samuel Gompers in 1902. History is in front of us, as well as behind us. You’re making history with passion and hard work. You have brought us to where we are. Thank you.

It’s not easy to rebuild a labor council. Let me be very clear. It takes a lot of emotional honesty to step forward and speak up. You’ve done that. You’ve made this labor council your own. And once you’ve done that, rebuilding takes follow through. You’ve got to show up and make good on the commitments you’ve made. You’ve done that. You’re doing it now, and I commend you for it.

The future is bright. You’ve just held your most successful fundraiser ever. Over $400,000 raised. You’ve got two new affiliations, Local 30 of UNITE HERE and Local 230 of the UA. Congratulations! That’s great news.

You’ve achieved local legislative victories and a county-level electoral win! That’s fantastic. You’ve shown you know how to win. It’s a great start.

You know, I think this might be the last term in Congress for Darrell Issa! What do you think?

Issa’s days of undercutting letter carriers and postal workers—of gunning for workers’ retirement—of trying to take health care away from millions of Americans—they are numbered.

Brothers and sisters, you will write new rules here in Southern California. You will unite workers and lift up our families. And this labor council is going to lead the way.

Solidarity works! It’s the strongest force in the world.

We can’t be beat, when you stand with me, and I stand with you, when your picket line is my picket line, and my picket line is your picket line!

Our agenda unites us. Safe jobs. Good pay. Health care. A secure retirement. And a better life for our kids. That’s the American Dream, and it’s not too much to ask.

Brothers and sisters, some of our union members patrol the US-Mexico border just a few miles south of here, and some of our members cross the border from homes in Tijuana every day to come to work. That’s a fact.

Our union members are Democrats, Republicans and everything in between.

We are members of every race and religion. We speak every language. We’re every gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. We were born right here in California, and all around the world.

Think about that. In this day of polar opposition, when politics break up friendships, spur division and even go so far as to inspire murderous passion at home and abroad, it’s important for us to recognize—even celebrate—that our diversity is our strength. We are one!

I believe America today needs what the labor movement has to offer. Our country is hungry for a new set of economic rules. That’s why voters have been raising the minimum wage from the bluest to the reddest states. We want better pay. We want progress. We want shared prosperity.

The work you’re doing here in San Diego is critical, because you are showing us all that building bridges is more powerful than building walls. You’re showing us how working families can and will win.

Now more than ever, I believe our path to victory is through political independence. We need to be a labor movement of ideas and issues and values, not partisanship. If Republicans want to help us, great. If Democrats can’t deliver, we’ll find someone who can. Our only fidelity is to working people. We will support those who support us—no matter their political party.

This is the approach I’ve taken with Donald Trump. I judge his actions with a simple yardstick. Does it help working families? Or does it hurt?

On every single issue, I’ve given President Trump our ideas and suggestions. I’ve asked him to follow through on his campaign pledges by laying out a vision that reflects America’s priorities, one that raises wages, keeps workers safe, protects retirement security, strengthens unions and provides opportunity for all.

And yet almost everything he has done has hurt. I have a message for President Trump: not on our watch. We are mobilizing against his tax cuts and health care cuts and cuts to worker safety and cuts to environmental protections and economic development and everything else that hurts working people!

You know, before he took office, President Trump used his bully pulpit to tell companies to keep jobs in America. Look, every president should fight to keep good jobs here, because every single job saved means one more family can pay down the mortgage, save for college or retire with dignity. But simply telling companies what to do isn’t good enough, especially if the jobs saved provide low wages and little voice. I have asked President Trump to use his office and influence to call for an end to workplace intimidation, to reject “right to work” once and for all and to promote and protect the freedom of every single worker to form or join a union and bargain for a better life.

Give us a level playing field and a fair set of economic rules and we’ll build the best economy this country has ever seen. We have what it takes. Quite frankly, our local labor federations and central labor councils are the place where our movement reaches workers on the ground. You are where the power is.

For that reason, you are the best vehicle for worker activism. You are the AFL-CIO’s greatest source of strength. This is where union members from all walks of life phone bank together, do labor walks together and join each other on the picket line.

I’m proud of the progress you’ve made, and I want you to know that the entire AFL-CIO supports you. We have your back as you pursue your common agenda, led by a shared vision for the greater good.

Just remember: We’re the ones who plant the crops and push the mops. We dig the coal and build the roads. We roll the steel and make the tires. We load the trucks and drive them, too. We face each challenge. We’ll never run and hide. We wake America up every single morning, and we put her to bed at night. We stand strong. We stand together. We’re the American labor movement, and we will not be denied!

There has never been a more important time in America for workers to assert our collective power.

Yet as I speak about the gains we can win and the power we can build, I’m not asking any of us to disregard reality. It won’t be easy. We face long odds. But nothing is set in stone. The future is ours to shape.

And it all starts with solidarity.

Solidarity is most important when times are tough and disagreements are strong—when the sun isn’t shining.

Brothers and sisters, what you did here in San Diego, rebuilding this council, is the definition of solidarity. And I am very proud of you.

Now the really hard work begins. How all of us respond to the challenges and opportunities of today and in the days to come will define who and what we are as a labor movement and a nation.

Don’t ever lose sight of the big picture: The momentum is swinging our way. Collective action is on the rise. America is in the midst of an overdue national conversation about income inequality.

A powerful majority of Americans support unions, and our popularity is growing, especially among young people.

We know the way forward. Collective action is part of the national conversation now, and that’s a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Our opponents are bold. They’re well-funded and ruthless. They’re going keep up the fight. I say, bring it on! We've taken your best shot and we're still standing today. Strong. United. Together. Forever.

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