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Trumka Asks Democratic Candidates: Will You Be a Fighter for Working Families?

5 months ago
Chris Ferrari
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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today delivered the following remarks to Democratic House candidates: 

Thank you, Congressman (Mark) Pocan, for that very kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here today. I look forward to a great conversation.

Each of you are running for Congress at a time of serious challenge but also significant opportunity for working people.

Let me start with the challenges. For four decades, the economic rules have been written to make corporations stronger at our expense. We are working longer and harder for less money. Our trade policies have shipped good American jobs overseas. Our tax policies have rewarded wealth instead of work. Our health care and retirement security are under constant attack. And there have never been more obstacles to forming a union.

Two weeks ago yesterday, the Supreme Court, emboldened by a stolen seat, added insult to injury by ripping up 41 years of commonsense precedent to give even more money and power to corporations. It was one of the most disgraceful decisions in our nation’s history and I have no doubt that President Trump’s nominee would tilt the Court even further in the wrong direction. Working people are united: Brett Kavanaugh must be defeated.

But even as the Court delivers us blow after blow…even as President Trump rolls back regulations designed to protect us on the job…even as House Republicans write a budget that would slash $1.5 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid—and even more from Social Security—to pay for their reckless, unnecessary tax cut…even as we face this onslaught, working people are writing a comeback story.

I stand before you as optimistic as ever. And this is coming from a guy who just got his 50-year union pin. Something is happening in America. Collective action is on the rise. The teacher strikes. The #MeToo movement. Black Lives Matter. Students speaking out for safer schools. From coast to coast, ordinary people are recognizing that the best way to win justice is by standing with the person next to us.

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Workers are organizing and striking as we haven’t seen in years. 15,000 workers joined or formed unions in a single week this April. That’s on top of the 262,000 new members who joined our ranks last year—75 percent of them under the age of 35. And this is despite the fact that too many of our labor laws have been written to undermine the freedom to organize. New research from MIT shows that the number of non-union workers who would vote to join a union today has increased dramatically. Tens of millions of workers are ready to experience the transformational power of collective bargaining. And in many cases, all that stands in the way is a rigged system.

That’s where you come in. I’ll be honest with you. Our members don’t care about red to blue. Or blue to red. Or any other color or partisan label. We have many great champions in the Democratic Party. Some of them are here with us today.

But there is no denying that too many Democrats continue to disappoint us, voting with Wall Street on key issues like trade and financial reform. Quite frankly, there is nothing worse than seeing a candidate we endorse come to Washington and forget who got them elected in the first place. That’s how you end up with a third of union members voting for Donald Trump.

If I’ve learned one thing over my half century in the labor movement, it’s that working people will persevere. We’ll keep climbing that mountain, either with you or without you. But it’d be a heckuva of a lot easier for us…and for you…if we made that journey together.

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I don’t have to tell you that you can’t count on the D next to your name to gain our support. Our members are focused on the issues that affect us everyday. That’s where you win our vote.

And we are ready to move heaven and earth to help a genuine ally. Just look at Conor Lamb. He embraced our agenda. He committed to fight alongside us. He talked about unions loud and proud! So, we showed up and made the difference in that extremely close race. Today, Congressman Lamb is delivering on his promises. He is standing with us. And we are standing with him.

I know you are laser focused on your district and your election. That’s how it should be. But I want you to take a look at the person next to you. Together, the men and women in this room have the power to secure a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. It’s been a while—nearly a decade. So ask yourself this question: why do you want it? Why do you want to be in the majority? Why do you want to be a member of Congress?

Working people are marching and striking and organizing under the most trying of circumstances. We are moving the needle with the wind squarely in our face. Just imagine what we could accomplish if our political leaders protected and strengthened our rights.

In the 2016 presidential election, and the two midterms that preceded it, union members often couldn’t see a difference between the two parties when it came to fighting for workers and standing up to Wall Street.

Gilbert, a Hispanic union bus driver from Miami, put it this way: “I was pretty much raised as a Democrat, and then I switched. Democrats [used to be] very traditional, very American. That was me [and] my family. Now…Democrats are getting away from that…they’re not talking about strong labor unions or about America. I guess that’s why Trump won. He spoke to traditional Americans losing their jobs…coal miners…factory workers.”

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I wanted you to hear that.

Because each of you has a decision to make. Will you be a fighter for working families? Or will you be another corporate-beholden Democrat?

To earn and keep our support, you have to be an advocate for our agenda. More than anything, that means helping us pass the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act so aspiring union members can organize freely and fairly. It means health care as a fundamental right, the expansion of Social Security and guaranteed pensions. It means trillions of dollars so we can build the best infrastructure in the world with union labor and prevailing wages.

It means trade deals that actually work for working people and a tax code that invests in American jobs and American workers. And it means comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship that reunites our families and ends the terror in our workplaces and our communities.

If we work together, we can build on the foundation teachers and firefighters and construction workers and flight attendants are laying each and every day. We can stop some of the worst abuses of the corporate right-wing. We can start the process of rewriting our economic rules once and for all. And we can make our country a place where every person and every family has an opportunity to realize the American Dream.

Thank you very much.

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