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Trumka, Pulaski Call on Labor to Do More for Middle Class

AFL-CIO Pres Richard Trumka declares a majority of Americans stand for the same values and interests as union members.
AFL-CIO Pres Richard Trumka declares a majority of Americans stand for the same values and interests as union members.
California Labor Fed Exec Sec-Treas Art Pulaski recounts how labor has restructured to defeat challenges in the Golden State.
California Labor Fed Exec Sec-Treas Art Pulaski recounts how labor has restructured to defeat challenges in the Golden State.

MTD Convention Coverage

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka opened the 2013 MTD Quadrennial Convention with big ideas and a call for action. The nation is facing a crisis, he said, and the labor movement must do all it can to rebuild the middle class with good jobs that provide a shot at the American Dream.

“America is calling out for help right now,” Trumka declared to delegates and guests at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles on Sept. 5. “We have to answer our country’s call. Our nation’s been torn down and torn apart.”

Describing a country plagued with income inequality and a vanishing middle class, Trumka – and California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, who spoke the following day – said more had to be done to secure fair wages, health care, comfortable retirement, education and a better life for millions of Americans.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to lift our country up, no matter what the price, no matter how high the cost, because we’ve come too far,” Trumka emphasized. “It’s time for us to go forward. We won’t back up, and we won’t back down, and we won’t be turned aside, and we will not be denied. This is the American labor movement and it is our country and time we took it back.”

The key to taking the country back, Trumka stated, lies in the movement’s numbers and passion. He called on everyone to ask if they are doing enough and encouraged further mobilization and grassroots political activity. Whether they’ve been part of the labor movement or not, he said everyone should be welcomed into the fold and encouraged to join the fight for middle class fairness.

“We’re going to join together with everyone and anyone who will stand with us, who will raise up our voices together until our voices become one loud powerful voice that cannot be denied and demand an economy that provides for every last American, not just those at the very top,” the head of the AFL-CIO urged. “And with one voice we’ll demand that all work have dignity, that every worker has health care, and every child a good education, and enough to eat.  We want every worker to have a job and fair pay and a secure retirement.”

Discussing the importance of mobilization, Pulaski pointed in his speech to the grassroots work undertaken in California to beat back anti-worker measures. One of those proposals – California’s Proposition 32 – was defeated last year. It basically would have kept the labor movement out of the political process.

“What we have done is we have researched and understood and scored every of 16 million voters in the state of California,” Pulaski noted. “We know of those 16 million who are inclined to support the union movement on our issues. So we began this campaign to help them get to the issues that they share with us; they just need somebody to talk with them and get them out to vote.”

When combined with the successes seen from last year’s California political races, Pulaski said the strategy could be a winning one nationwide. It’s simply about mobilizing those on the side of workers and taking the fight to the anti-worker opponents.

“The message for them is, it’s not going to be easy to mess with the labor movement in the future,” Pulaski stated. “We’re about building power, we’re about having your back, and we’re about building the labor movement. We’re about organizing and we’re about making sure that we kick back on those enemies of labor who are trying to destroy us.”

Trumka, meanwhile, touched on similar themes in his speech, arguing the labor movement must refuse to allow anti-worker groups to paint organized labor as an enemy to the middle class. Those in the labor movement are the ones who actually fight for the middle class and the vast majority of Americans. The movement must make sure the county knows that.

“We’re no fringe group with special interests. We’re the mainstream,” Trumka roared. “The vast majority of the American people believe exactly what we believe in, and it is time for the American labor movement to start acting like the majority in this country, not the minority.”

While it won’t be easy, Trumka said such hard work will most certainly pay off: “It starts now and won’t end until every kid has a fair education and goes to bed with a full stomach, until every American is treated with dignity and fairness and doesn’t get cheated in any kind of system, whether it’s the judicial system or anywhere else. That’s the America that we believe in and that’s the America we shall have.”

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