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Nation mourns, honors AFL-CIO’s Trumka

As Mother Jones said: ‘Mourn the dead. Fight like hell for the living.’


(Aug. 6, 2021) — U.S. presidents, labor leaders, elected officials, friends, colleagues, and many others touched by the extraordinary life and work of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka expressed their condolences upon Thursday’s news of his unexpected passing at the age of 72. A common theme, in the words of another legendary labor leader, Mother Jones: “Mourn the dead. Fight live hell for the living.”

Following are excerpts from some of those remembrances:

President Joe Biden — “For Rich, work was synonymous with a word that defined his life: dignity. In the more than thirty years of our friendship, he was a fierce and forceful champion for the dignity of the American worker. Whenever you heard him speak, you understood why. He was the American worker. … Perhaps the most important trait I valued in Rich is that he was never afraid to speak truth to power, even if the power was held by people he helped elect – myself included. He was always honest and fair. He was always tough and trustworthy. He was as great a friend and powerful and reliable ally as anyone could have in their corner.”

President Barack Obama — “From the coal mines of Pennsylvania to the halls of Congress, Rich Trumka was a fierce advocate for working Americans. He loved this country, and he never missed an opportunity to remind us what we can be. Thinking of his family, friends, and federation on this difficult day.

President Bill Clinton — “Rich Trumka was a tireless fighter for America’s workers, an innovative leader, and an important voice for social and economic justice. I’m grateful for the chance to work with him for nearly 30 years.”

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh — “From the commercial airways 30,000 feet in the air to the deepest mine shafts 10,000 feet below ground, there is no part of our world that was not touched by his grace and commitment to what he believed was right. My colleagues and I will be forever grateful for the ways he pushed us to think bigger and do better, for his wise counsel, and for the more just society he leaves us with today.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) — “To say Rich was a champion for workers is an understatement — he dedicated his life to fighting to secure and strengthen workers’ rights and root out systemic inequities and racism, and this country is better because of it. We must honor Rich’s legacy and his lifetime work by continuing the fight for workers, which must start by passing the PRO Act in his name.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — “Richard’s leadership transcended a single movement, as he fought with principle and persistence to defend the dignity of every person – whether speaking out against apartheid and discrimination abroad or fighting bigotry and racism here at home. His courage in speaking truth to power made a difference for millions and made him a cherished ally in our mission to advance the health, financial security and well-being of working families. Richard Trumka’s life was a testament to the power of organizing and mobilizing for progress, and his leadership leaves a legacy of inspired advocacy for workers.”

Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer — “Rich was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, and even as we mourn his passing today, we will stand on his shoulders to continue the fight for workers, and for the fair and just society he believed in so passionately. We will honor his legacy with action.

Damon Silvers, AFL-CIO Director of Policy and Special Counsel: “He goes to be with Jock Yablonski and Mother Jones, John L. Lewis and Eugene Debs — in whose company he can hold his head high.”

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) — “In the years I have followed Rich’s work, one thing remained true – he knew that the labor and civil rights movements were deeply interconnected. He didn’t just fight for jobs, but for equality for all working people regardless of race, gender, occupation or immigration status. He knew in his core that without solidarity among the working class, there is no defense against the political polarization that continues to plague the nation.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash., 9th) — “He was a true champion for working families and one of the greatest leaders the labor movement has ever seen.

Larry Brown and April Sims, executive officers of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO — “The passing of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is a monumental loss for America’s union movement. For decades, he has served as the voice of America’s working families, calling out workplace injustices, wage and racial inequality, and fighting for better working conditions — and lives — for all. … We are so grateful to have had the honor of hosting President Trumka for the Washington State Labor Council’s 2021 Convention two weeks ago, when he inspired union delegates from across our state by proclaiming:

“This is our moment. This is our calling. To provide a better life for our families… because that’s what labor unions have always done. I’ve lived it. I’m here because of it. We know who we are and we’re ready for our date with destiny.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Trumka joined the WSLC’s virtual convention July 21 and congratulated Washington state on its high COVID-19 vaccination rates, on leading the nation in approving overtime pay for farm workers, on creating a capital gains tax that requires the wealthy in this state to pay their share for essential public services, and on doing the opposite of what Republican-controlled state governments are doing across the country, by removing barriers to voting and making it easier to cast ballots. (Watch Trumka’s full address here starting at 44:56.)

Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council member — Heartbroken for the loss ofAFL-CIO labor leader Richard Trumka. He was bigger than life and encouraged me and so many others to run for office so we can protect and expand union power. Thank you for all you did to grow and strengthen the labor movement.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson — “God rest his soul. He left the world a better place than he found it. His labor was not in vain.”


► From the American Prospect — Coal Miner’s Son: Rich Trumka, 1949-2021 (by Harold Meyerson) — Rich Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO who died suddenly Thursday of a heart attack, was born and raised in Nemacolin, a small town near Pittsburgh. If anyone could claim to be a son of the white working class—that onetime anchor of the New Deal coalition that has drifted steadily rightward in recent decades—it surely was Trumka… His backstory made Trumka’s efforts to course-correct that white working-class rightward movement all the more authentic and blunt. In the summer of 2008, when that rightward movement was taking the form of opposition to Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency, Trumka, then the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, went to Pittsburgh to address the convention of the Steelworkers and confront that opposition head-on. The YouTube recording of Trumka’s speech went viral, which was a first, surely, for any presentation by a union official.

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