Trumka: A United Labor Movement Runs Deep in the Heart of Texas

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks as prepared at the 2021 Texas AFL-CIO Virtual Constitutional Convention:

Brother Rick Levy, I appreciate that gracious introduction. And I’m immensely grateful to you, Brother Leonard Aguilar and all our union family in Texas for inviting me to kick off your convention.

Next year, we will do this in person!

My fellow union members, make no mistake about it: The labor movement in Texas is growing more powerful.

In one of the toughest states to organize, the Texas AFL-CIO is building back together.

And empowering working people—whether they are members of our unions or one day hope to be.

The anti-worker attacks have not discouraged you! The uphill climb has not stopped you.

Since the pandemic hit, you’ve done the hard work. You’ve made your voices louder. And you’ve made your communities and state stronger.

So it should come as no surprise that America is turning toward the values of unionism. 

And it’s not happening by chance. It’s happening because of your efforts. 

Serving on the front lines. Mobilizing our members. Organizing and growing our movement. 

The power of a united labor movement runs deep in the heart of Texas. 

Look what happened last week.

Working people at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Waco voted overwhelmingly to join UFCW Local 540.

They voted for family-sustaining wages! For workplace projections! For a fair share of the prosperity they create each and every day!

And now, first contract negotiations are underway.

This is a testament to the purpose and power of a strong organizing campaign.

I’m told the company did not engage in interference or deploy intimidation tactics. Brothers and sisters, I say it’s about damn time. That should be the norm, not the exception.

And yet, we know workers who band together to try to improve their lives are often met with retaliation and threats and loss of employment. 

The shameful silencing of working people has denied dignity to millions of working people. 

It has profoundly hurt our economy and our country.

Since the National Labor Relations Act was signed by FDR in 1935, there has been a full-fledged attack on working people. 

And what is the outcome? Wages have been crushed for decades as corporations enrich themselves. 

A rigged tax system was created so billionaires pay nothing, and teachers and firefighters and construction workers pick up the bill. 

Runaway inequality has soared to unfathomable levels. The inequality of wealth and wages, opportunity, and most of all, power.

And let’s not forget, inequality is the greatest threat to democracy.

It should shock nobody that our democracy is hanging by a thread. 

Private equity billionaires are funding legal attacks on voting rights while state lawmakers are trying to pass voter suppression bills.

These threats to democracy are a crisis. And during a crisis, it can’t be business as usual. 

That’s why this state federation has rallied for voting rights and labor rights. 

That’s why a delegation of your state lawmakers courageously fled Texas to block a cowardly voter suppression bill.   

Two weeks ago, we were proud to welcome the Texas Democratic Delegation to the House of Labor on Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Together, we sent a clear message: this fight is about our vote and our voice!

Without the right to vote and without the right to organize, there is no democracy.

The survival of democracy anywhere depends on working people to defend it everywhere.

Every time past generations of working people were called on to save it, they met the moment. Now is our moment to save our rights in the country we built.

And that includes the right to organize!

It is time for 21st-century labor laws. It is time for big corporations to play by the rules on a level playing field.

It’s time for the Senate to pass the PRO Act so that the 60 million workers who want to join a union right now can do so freely and fairly. In Texas. Everywhere.

Over the past year and a half, Texas has been lifted by the resilience and courage of working people. The nurse who tends to the sick. The grocery clerk who stocks the shelves. The electrician who restores power.

Brothers and sisters, you are the people who are holding Texas together. You are building back together.

And we know better than anyone that a union protects our safety on the job and uplifts the dignity of our work.

Every working person deserves the protections and power that come with a union card. At its core, that’s what the PRO Act is all about.

This bipartisan legislation has passed the House not once, but twice.

And while this is not an election year, I don’t want Texas to forget who voted against it twice: Congressman Henry Cuellar.

Cuellar is the Koch brothers’ henchman. Look at the FEC reports. The Koch brothers lined his pockets with over $30,000 just to help him win his primary.

In exchange, he sided with them and voted against us. We need to make this his last term.  

Look, this is more proof the corporate right-wing will challenge us at every turn.

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

Nobody and nothing can defeat or deny a united labor movement!

In May of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson shared his vision of a Great Society. It was a vision of health and education and American community. But more than anything else, it was a vision built on the idea that—together—we have the agency to make our future.

President Johnson said: “There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree. We have the power to shape the civilization that we want. But we need your will, your labor, your heart.”

Brothers and sisters, working people are hungry for a greater society. And the Texas AFL-CIO has the will, the labor and the heart to guide us there!

This is our time and our country. 

We’ll organize and mobilize and educate for it. We’ll build back together! We’ll win a greater society for working people.

Today. Tomorrow. For as long as it takes, we’ll fight for unionism to transform Texas!

Thank you! God bless you, and stay safe!