Trumka: Without the Right to Vote and the Right to Form a Union, There Is No Democracy

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks as prepared at the Democracy For All press conference with labor leaders, civil rights leaders and Texas state lawmakers outside the House of Labor. Watch the press conference here.

Good morning. 

Welcome to the House of Labor. Here on Black Lives Matter Plaza. In the shadow of the White House. 

One year ago, in the wake of the protests that happened on this street against racial injustice, America lost one of our greatest guardians of democracy: Congressman John Lewis.

Take a look at this picture. The determination. The passion. The humility. 

I feel John with us today. I feel his love. I feel his fight. 

I feel his hope for what we can do together. And I feel his anger at what is happening all around us. 

John’s devotion to democracy brought him within an inch of death. But Congressman Lewis lived, and he lived to fight for us. 

Now we must honor that legacy. With action. 

John Lewis understood the link between democracy at the ballot box and democracy in the workplace.

Without the right to vote, there is no democracy. Without the right to form a union, there is no democracy. 

Nothing less than our freedom is on the line. 

The labor movement is appalled at the attacks on voting happening across the country. 

And let's call it like it is: The target of this suppression is overwhelmingly Black and Brown Americans. That was not a coincidence during Jim Crow, and it is not a coincidence today.

That’s why the Texas state delegation is in Washington, D.C. and with us today.

They are heroically blocking voter suppression legislation, but they are also giving U.S. senators a clear and common sense assignment: protect voting rights now for Texans and all Americans! 

The labor movement is also appalled at the attacks on unions in America, from Jim Crow right to work laws to the Janus Supreme Court case to union-busting at Amazon. 

Those attacking voting and those attacking unions are one and the same, what Dr. King called “a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.”

These are the founding fathers of January 6. And massive inequality of income, opportunity and power. And the purging of voter rolls. 

And we are going to fight them together. On every single front. With everything we have.

Democracy is not promised. It has to be protected when it's threatened. It has to be perfected so it can be passed onto the next generation. 

John Lewis' life taught us that. 

It has become clearer than ever: to save American democracy, we need democracy in the U.S. Senate. 

And that means passing labor law reform and voter protection legislation with a simple 50-vote majority. 

We cannot allow the minority to block the will of the American people, expressed decisively in the 2020 elections. 

And we cannot afford to let any of our agenda—from democracy in the workplace to democracy at the ballot box to investments in our people—fall victim to a procedural tool conceived in segregation.

It has become clear that one of two things must be pushed aside: the filibuster or the hopes and aspirations of the American people.  

The choice is crystal clear. 

This is a time for the Senate to be courageous and lead...by clearing the way for the PRO Act, S.1, and the entire Workers First Agenda to move forward together. 

Some will say that’s impossible. But every time our democracy has been threatened, Americans found a way to save it. John Lewis devoted his life to strengthening it. 

When John Lewis marched on Washington…

When he marched across the Edmund Pettus in Selma...

When he marched through the halls of Congress...

John Lewis marched for us.

The faithful marches Congressman Lewis led...the moral convictions he embodied...we must carry those forward today.

It’s our turn to pass this test.

Democracy for All. That’s what we’re fighting for. 

And together, with the labor and civil rights movements locked arm in arm, we are going to win it. 

Thank you.