In a major address at the National Press Club on Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka charted an aggressive independent approach for the labor movement to build the power of working people in the workplace and in the political sphere. Said Trumka:
Working people want a labor movement strong enough to help return balance to our economy, fairness to our tax system, security to our families and moral and economic standing to our nation. Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside—the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be—now, in 2012 and beyond.
Read the entire speech here.
An independent voice is crucial, Trumka said, because the ongoing attacks on working people’s rights, new efforts at curtailing voting rights and calls for austerity on the backs of seniors, children and the sick are not just mean-spirited politics. They are the battle lines of a moral challenge for the soul of America, he said.
… these events signal a new and dangerous phase of a concerted effort to change the very nature of America—to turn this into an “I’ve got mine” nation and replace the land of liberty and justice for all with the land of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.
Politicians like Govs. John Kasich (R-Ohio) and Scott Walker (R-Wis.) campaigned promising to take action on the nation’s jobs crisis, only to reveal when they took office that their “jobs” agenda was to make them disappear, Trumka said. But their real passion was for eliminating the rights of working people and destroying their unions—who are standing in the way of their agenda.
In response, working people took to the streets. On April 4th, under the banner, “We Are One,” we came together all across America, and then we did so again on May 1st—when we stood together with our immigrant brothers and sisters saying again that we truly are one.
Trumka cited Alex Hanna, a graduate assistant at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association/AFT, as exemplifying how the United States is not a nation of isolated individuals, but a land of communities. Hanna, whose family is from Egypt, was in Cairo rallying for the freedom of Egyptian workers when he heard about Scott Walker’s attempts to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. He returned home to join the mass demonstrations at the Wisconsin state Capitol. Hanna, who was in the Press Club audience, says the Cairo and Madison experiences, though different, show that when people overcome their fears and stand for what they believe in, they can succeed.
Powerful political forces are seeking to silence working people, Trumka said, and their ultimate goal is to “unravel the fabric of our common life in pursuit of greed and power.” In this environment, working people and our unions must do more than just protect our own right to a voice in the life of our nation, he said. “We must raise our voice to win a better future for all working families here in America and around the globe.”
We know that only a dynamic, effective movement of working people working together can reclaim the value of work. Our unions must reach out to every working person in America—to those whose jobs have been outsourced and down-sized, to carwash workers in Los Angeles, to domestic workers who have few legal rights, to freelancers and young people who have “gigs” rather than jobs. And together with the AFL-CIO’s construction and manufacturing workers, pilots and painters, plumbers and public employees, bakers and others, we will be heard.
This article by James Parks is crossposted from AFL-CIO Now.