Trumka to Young Workers: "This is your day."

Chicago, Ill.

Thank you, Erica [Clemmons]. It’s great to be here with all of you.

I appreciate your introduction, Erica. I know about your work on the earned sick leave campaign here in Chicago and how that experience deepened your understanding of unionism, how you’ve said we must raise our voices for those silenced by circumstance and abusive bosses. That’s great. I want to thank you for getting involved. You are making a difference.

Brothers and sisters: Your activism is compelling. Your politics are exactly right. Your energy is one of the most powerful things in this world. And for those reasons and more, I am honored to speak with you, honored and excited.

This Young Worker Summit is critical today. America is begging for change on a grand scale, the kind of change that has always been led by young people.
Back in the 1930s, when unionism lifted up a nation and built the biggest middle class the world has ever known, young people led the fight.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement ended legal segregation in America and brought our nation closer to true equality than we’d ever been before, young people were at the vanguard of the struggle.

In the LGBTQ rights movement and the movement for gender equality, and in the struggle for immigrant rights and for relief for the DREAMers, and in the fights for public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, in the political victories that elected America’s first African American as president, and in the protests for justice in Ferguson and all across this country, young people have led and are leading the organizing and the marching and the mobilizing.

That’s important.

Today, the circumstances of our nation call us to do all of those things together, to build a powerful middle class of working people, without leaving anyone behind, or disenfranchised.

You have the power to make the change. That power, that ability to turn big dreams into action, America needs that today. America needs you. Our communities need you. We need young leaders fueled by a passion for justice.

So I’m glad you’re all here at the third Next Up Young Worker Summit. I was looking over the list of attendees, and it’s amazing how many organizations are represented. You’re from all across the progressive spectrum—from unions and community organizations, student groups, policy organizations and more. Your agendas are ambitious and broad. But all of us are part of one movement for social and economic justice, one movement for dignity, one movement for a better future and an economy that works for regular people.

In years past, people thought there were deep distinctions between white-collar and blue-collar working people, between those who work in office buildings and who clean office buildings. And yet while some earn more relative to others, falling wages and the wreckage of the American middle class have exposed the weakness of those divisions. In fact, last year, pay for workers with graduate degrees actually fell faster than it fell for those with college degrees, and both fell faster than pay for workers with high school diplomas.
Today the only distinction that matters is between people who work for a living, and the few whose money works for them. The gulf between us is wide, and getting wider. Last year, a record 290 people became new billionaires, bringing the total number of billionaires worldwide to almost 2,000, with a total wealth of $7 trillion, up from $6 trillion last year. This is what it means: The world economy is producing more and more wealth, which is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

This year in America, our gross domestic product grew to its highest value ever. We’re living in the richest country in the world, at its richest time in history.
There’s no good reason for so many working people to suffer, or for our young people to be saddled with college debt, or our communities to lack decent jobs. No good reason at all. But there are plenty of bad ones.

You see, our economy may be broken, but it can be fixed.

Our economy is not like the weather. It doesn’t just happen to us. We can improve it. One important tool we have to change it is called Common Sense Economics. It’s an education program to teach regular working people how and why the economy works the way it does, and how we can fix it to make it work better. Our goal every year is to empower more and more people with the knowledge they need to make educated decisions about their choices on Election Day.

Not long ago, I spoke to the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to Progressive Congress. I told them it’s time for America’s leaders to step up, to be champions for working people, to stand for a progressive agenda, and to raise wages. Here’s how I described our legislative priorities.

I told them it’s time for America to lay out a plan to enact laws and policies at every level to improve the standard of living of working people and working families. I’m talking about higher wages, expanded overtime pay, fair work schedules, paid sick leave—these and other changes to produce real progress.

I asked them to change laws so that Wall Street no longer writes the economic rules. CEOs have been calling the shots for too long, offshoring jobs, corporate trade deals, risky investment schemes, attacks on unions and working people.

You know, it’s kind of amazing, in America today, you can join just about any organization you want, any political party or any club or association, but if you try to form a union you face harassment, intimidation and worse. No more. That has to change. We’ve got to fight for new laws to make sure we don’t surrender the Bill of Rights when we start a job.

We want new economic rules to restore balance, to make sure the wealthiest pay their fair share and to provide tough checks-and-balances throughout the economy. We want full employment. We want world-class infrastructure and a quality public education for every child. We want America to work for Main Street. We want jobs, business and government to work for working people again, with the costs shared equally by all of us.

Raising wages means better lives and opportunity for all. It means addressing racial injustice and economic exclusion. Justice at work will advance justice in our communities, which will lay the groundwork to continue to raise wages.

Collectively, these elements will build the final, critical element: political accountability. A strong raising wages agenda will be the voice of working people, our common voice, and, when unified, it will establish a standard of accountability that no political leader can evade.

But the power of working people has never come from politicians. We’re not looking for saviors, but for partners. We’ve got to lead the way ourselves.
We’re doing it already. I know this isn’t news to some of you. But I’ve got to say I’m so proud of this fact: In one 24-hour period last month, Walmart workers won raises for 500,000 workers. In that same day, CWA and IBEW workers at Fairpoint in New England won a long battle for pay and benefits, and CWA workers at Cablevision in Brooklyn won a first contract!

This year, 5 million workers in America are sitting down at the bargaining table to demand raising wages, safe jobs, good benefits and a better future.

The world has two thousand billionaires? That’s nothing. Just the other day, almost 10,000 Steelworkers walked picket lines in a strike for safety.

The billionaires may have the pocketbooks, but the numbers are on our side, and when we stand together, we’ve got the power, brothers and sisters. We’ve got the power!
But that’s why our fight is the fight! The billionaires stand in our way. The right-wing stands in our way. Wall Street stands in our way, because they like the way things are.
But I won’t complain about their dirty tactics. I’ll fight against them. The legislative attacks are coming thick and fast at the city, state and federal levels, and won’t they let up soon, but they’re stuck in the past. You’re the future. We need leaders like you. Who better? You’re the vanguard. You’ve shown us that you can find new ways forward. That’s what we need.

Sisters and brothers, all of this is why I say now is a great time to be an activist in America. You are engaged in the struggle of our time! It’s hard. Yes. There are hurdles. Absolutely. The way forward is uncertain. You’re damn right. But you’re not afraid. You’re not going to be stopped.

You see, raising wages works. That’s how to build a sustainable economy. It works economically. It works politically. It’s the right thing to do, and it’ll work for every single one of us, and all of you, for your entire generation and for our whole society.

America needs justice. We’re ready to win it.

You’re going to do it! You’re going to lift America up, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.

This is your day. This is your time. Your rights, your voice, your power. America needs you. We’ll stand together. We’ll win together. We can do better. We will do better. We’ll march for it, sisters and brothers. We’ll fight for it. Start shouting. Let me hear you. Raise your voice and shout. Stand tall. Let it out! We’ll keep building, and winning, together!

Keep fighting! Keep marching!

Thank you!