Richard L. Trumka: AFL-CIO Convention 2017: Democracy and Unions

Richard L. Trumka
October 23, 2017St. Louis, Missouri

Thank you, Liz. Good morning brothers and sisters.

I hope you got some rest. We have a busy day ahead of us. And a canvass this afternoon!

I’d like to begin with a video.

As you can see, the attacks against us are relentless.

And they are taking a toll.

Listen to this: A Harvard University study showed that only 30% of millennials believe it’s essential to live in a democratic nation. 30%!

I believe the findings of this poll are directly related to the video we just watched.

Think about it: what has been the result of the attacks on working people?

-Lower Wages

-Less Opportunity

-More Inequality

-Social Unrest

-And a feeling that the economy is rigged

Millennials have never lived in an America where wages are growing, or worked in an economy where hard work and productivity blazed a trail into the middle class. They have never experienced an economy where more than 1 in 10 workers have the freedom to belong to a union and bargain together. The American idea that anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules simply does not exist for many young people.

In other words, the attacks on the backbone of our nation—working people—constitutes nothing less than a clear and present danger to our democracy.

So we are going to fight back. Smartly. Strategically. As one united movement.

That is the primary focus of today’s session.

We are going to fight back against right to work, here in Missouri and across the country.

We are going to fight back against attacks on our wages, benefits and freedom to negotiate for good jobs.

And we are going to fight back against the right-wing propaganda machine that continues to slander unions and our members.

We’re going to do it by organizing.

In the face of right to work and Janus, we are laser focused on building enduring relationships with our members. That means engaging directly with them—and not just during election time. We need to listen to our members. We need to find out what they care about. We need to learn what makes them tick. And we need to remember most people work to live rather than live to work.

We also need to remember that right to work does not take collective bargaining rights away from a single worker.

And it does not force a single union member to stop paying dues unless they choose to.

In other words, right to work cannot and should not stop us from doing our job—organizing new members, engaging with current ones and providing the best representation in the world. That is, brothers and sisters, how we toss the destructive and morally bankrupt right to work principle into the scrap heap where it belongs.

Today we will highlight some great examples of this work.

We’re also going to fight back by being on the front lines of today’s civil rights struggles.

Immigrant rights. Equal pay. LGBTQ equality. Voting rights. The right to form a union freely and fairly.

I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again today. When it comes to civil rights, we cannot afford to be in the middle of the pack. We must be the tip of the spear.

Later today, my friend AFSCME President Lee Saunders will talk about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King gave his life speaking out for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

And he reminded us that right to work is a false slogan, designed to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.

The anniversary of Dr. King’s death is a reminder that there will forever be a bond between job rights and civil rights —that our struggles are not separate but in fact linked both by history and today’s profound struggles.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: how will we respond?

Brothers and sisters, the answer is right in front of our face.

This movement is the single greatest force for good for America.

We give voice to the voiceless.

We fight for a fair and just economy.

We protect the public services that make our country good and decent.

And we make sure no one is left behind.

We’re ready for a fight.

Our opponents are bold.

They’re well-funded and ruthless – but their North Star is greed, ours is solidarity and fairness.

Well, we’ve taken their best shot and we’re still standing.

Unions are here to stay.

We’re ready to join together, fight together and win together.

America is counting on us.

So let’s get to work.

Thank you.

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“Our democracy is at stake”: Obama delivers his first post-presidency campaign speech

Obama rebukes Trumpism without mentioning Trump by name.
Updated by Ella Oct 20, 2017, 12:00pm EDT

At his first campaign speech since leaving office, former President Barack Obama urged America to rise above its deep divisions. Though Obama did not mention President Donald Trump as he spoke at a Richmond campaign rally for Virginia’s Democratic candidate for governor, Ralph Northam, the speech was clearly about him. He often alluded to Trump’s controversial brand of politics and delivered a stark warning, saying, “Our democracy is at stake.”

“Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we’ve got politics infecting our communities,” Obama said. “Instead of looking for ways to work together to get things done in a practical way, we’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.”

Obama has largely remained out of the spotlight since leaving office, focusing on building up his new foundation and occasionally weighing in on current events on his Twitter feed. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been focused on destroying Obama’s legacy, rolling back key regulations put in place by his administration, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, and damaging the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health care legislation.

The former president didn’t use his time in Richmond to comment on his dismantled legacy, focusing instead on the deepening racial and social divisions in America. Obama specifically commented on deadly, racially charged violence earlier this year in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“If we’re going to talk about our history then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds, not in a way that divides,” Obama said. “We shouldn’t use the most painful parts of our history just to score political points.”

He continued:

We saw what happened in Charlottesville but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out. That’s how we rise. We don’t rise up by repeating the past. We rise up by learning from the past and listening to each other.

We can acknowledge that Thomas Jefferson, one of Virginia’s most famous sons, owned and sold slaves — that’s not disputable. And we can also acknowledge that he also wrote those words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And we can recognize that even if our past is not perfect we can honor the constitutional ideals that have allowed us to come this far and to keep moving toward a more perfect union. That’s what America is. That’s who we are.
Obama happened to be speaking the same day that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, gave a speech in New York City. Bush also delivered a similar, veiled repudiation of Trump’s ideology, without mentioning the current president by name. Bush joins many other retired or otherwise out-of-the-game Republicans in offering a critique of the current president.

“We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism — forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America,” Bush said. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade — forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.”

And, like Obama, Bush warned about the deepening partisan divide in America.

“Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts,” Bush said. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

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Oppose Benefit Cuts in the Joint Budget Resolution

Action Alert

Both the House and Senate have passed their fiscal year 2018 budget resolutions, putting the federal community one step closer to paying for tax reform through cuts to earned federal retirement and health benefits. While the Senate budget does not contain cuts to federal pay and benefits, the House budget does, by at least $32 billion. Differences between the two budget resolutions must be worked out in conference between the two chambers, marking an important juncture for the federal community.  To ensure that the joint budget agreement does not contain proposals that cut your earned benefits, you must make your voice heard.

Write your legislators today and tell them to reject any joint budget resolution that contains cuts to the earned pay and benefits of the federal community to pay for tax reform. We strongly encourage you to modify this letter.

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