AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at the Ohio AFL-CIO Convention:
Thank you, Brian (Malloy)!
Brother Tim (Burga)…Sister Petee (Talley)…thank you for your leadership and all that you do for working people here in Ohio.
Brothers and sisters, I am so grateful for the time and passion that each of you give to this movement every single day. I consider it an honor to fight alongside you. And, as long as my Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes next week, I think it’ll stay that way.
But for now, it’s good to be back in Columbus. It’s good to be surrounded by family.
Because we face plenty of challenges in the months and years ahead. Our opponents are more shameless than ever. And we have more at stake than ever.
At times like these, I think it’s helpful to consider where we’ve been.
131 years ago, working people from across the country descended on this city. Drawn from all trades and walks of life, they stood together, here in Columbus. They declared, “A struggle is going on between the oppressors and the oppressed…a struggle between the capitalist and the laborer.”
They huddled together and resolved to fight…to fight and win that struggle. They called on the workers of our country to permanently unite…to secure the rights to which they were justly entitled.
They put it to paper…they signed their names…and they formed the American Federation of Labor.
Brothers and sisters, that’s our legacy. Their struggle is our struggle. Their fight is our fight. It lives on in our federation…in our unions…and in each of you.
Are you ready to carry that forward? Are you ready to realize their dream?
It’s time to fight like hell…to end the injustice still plaguing us…to end the indignity we face…to end the inequality paralyzing our country…to end the egregious idea that exploitation is the cost of doing business.
This is our time to reclaim America for the people who build it and make it work!
Brothers and sisters, are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?
We won’t be silenced. We won’t be pushed around. We won’t be walked over, talked over or told to sit down and shut up. We will not settle for less.
Because this is our country…and it’s time…it’s high time we took it back!
Something is happening in America, brothers and sisters. Can you feel it? It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my 50 years in the labor movement.
262,000 working people joined unions last year…and three quarters of them were under 35. Our approval rating is at a 15-year high and rising. Half of all non-union workers would vote TODAY to join a union if given the chance.
We’re marching. We’re striking. We’re running for office. And, we’re winning.
I don’t care how cynical you are. Something is going on.
Just look at Missouri. The state legislature tried to ram through a so-called “right to work” law. They tried to override the will of their constituents and strip working people of our economic rights.
We didn’t stand for it. We fought back by doing what we do best. We organized!
We needed 100,000 signatures to put right to work on the ballot. We got 300,000!
We visited 1,000 worksites. We knocked on 800,000 doors. We made a million calls. We mobilized our brothers and sisters. We talked to our neighbors, union and non-union alike.
And on August 7, we sent that egregious law into the ash heap of history. It wasn’t even close!
Democrats voted no. Half of Republicans voted no. Two out of every three Missourians who cast a ballot voted no.
The Chamber of Commerce said that, for every punch they threw, working people threw ten more back. Even the Wall Street Journal warned CEOs that unions are on the attack.
Hell yeah, we are!
When corporations come after our families…when they try to undermine our jobs and bust up our unions…we show them what power really looks like.
You know a thing or two about that here in Ohio. When you defeated SB 5, you sent the same clear message.
By proving your organizing power, you’ve warded off right to work. Even as the other side has ruthlessly attacked our unions in nearby states, they’re too scared to push right to work in the Buckeye State!
Because they know working Ohioans won’t sit idly by.
The path to power runs through our movement. Across the country, working people have proven what we can do at the ballot box.
We sent a bigoted judge into retirement in Alabama and a pro-union veteran to Congress in Pennsylvania. We sent an ally to the Governor’s Mansion in New Jersey and a wave of women to the state capitol in Virginia.
On the night we defeated right to work in Missouri, you almost flipped John Kasich’s old House seat for the first time in three decades. This is a district that Donald Trump won by double digits. Kasich called it a message from the voters. You think?!
Unions are on the march, brothers and sisters. And now, we’re marching straight to November.
This year, we have unleashed the largest and most strategic member-to-member political program in our history. And Ohio, like always, is at the heart of it all.
Across this state, we’re sparking change by doing what organizers do best…we’re talking to each other.
We’re mobilizing our members…street-by-street…person-by-person…one conversation at a time. We’re talking about the things that matter most…our wages, our health care, our schools and infrastructure. We’re supporting candidates who will fight for us on those issues…who will listen to the voices of working people and not the whispers of a few CEOs.
Brothers and sisters, we will move heaven and earth to help a genuine ally. We’ve proven that. But we won’t waste a dime or a door knock on fair weather friends. We aren’t going to show up for corporate politicians—no matter what party they’re in. We don’t need Republicans dead set on busting up our unions. And we don’t need Democrats who offer kind words in our union halls before running down the street to raise money at the Chamber of Commerce.
We are setting the bar higher. Much higher. We are fighting for those who fight for us.
Leaders who will help extend the rights and dignities of a union card to everyone…instead of trying to snatch it away.
Leaders who understand that our right to collectively bargain is non-negotiable…no matter where you work.
We’re going to fill the halls of power with union members and committed advocates for working people…public servants who believe that a truly strong economy advances the lives of working people…not just CEOs.
To put it more simply, we need more people like Sherrod Brown.
Sherrod’s not just a friend. He’s not just an ally. He’s a champion of our movement. He’s stood with us every day of his career, in good times and bad. He’s made it his life’s work to advance the lives of working people. And we are going to send him back to Washington come hell or high water.
We need fighters like Sherrod Brown in the Senate!
We need allies like Rich Cordray and Betty Sutton in the Governor’s Mansion!
We need friends like Kathleen Clyde and Zack Space!
We need to elect UNION MEMBERS like Rob Richardson!
We have the power, brothers and sisters. Now, we have to keep using it!
We’re spoiling for a fight. I say, bring it on! We’ve taken their best shot, and we’re still standing.
We’re gonna hit the streets, knock the doors, dial the phones and organize, organize, organize!
We’re gonna reclaim America for the people who build it and make it work!
We’re gonna reclaim the future for all of our kids—not just the children of privilege.
We’re gonna flex our power like never before!
We’re gonna show every robber baron and corporate hack that we aren’t going anywhere!
This is our time. This is our moment. This is our election.
We’re the American labor movement, and we will not…we will not…be denied!
Brothers and sisters, I won’t sugar coat it. The road ahead won’t be easy.
But it wasn’t easy when Samuel Gompers gavelled that first session of the AFL into order.
It wasn’t easy when Mother Jones led a march of working people to the president’s door step.
It wasn’t easy when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta fought injustice in the grape fields.
It wasn’t easy when we fought strikebreakers and company guards…when we faced threats and even death.
Throughout the entire history of our movement, we’ve never had anything handed to us.
Frederick Douglass once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Brothers and sisters, we have fought for every victory. We bled to secure our right to stand together and bargain collectively. We marched and sacrificed to end child labor. We faced down the powers of Washington and Wall Street to win a minimum wage.
In the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, we steadily built a fairer economy and a more just society…because we had one advantage on our side: Solidarity.
American greatness…American decency…the American Dream itself was built through solidarity…as workers joined arms and marched forward as one in common cause.
Each time they insulted us…or fired us…or shot at us…we grew stronger.
Bonded by a common struggle, working people kept fighting and discovered a fundamental truth that carries us to this day: You can’t stop all of us.
We are an unassailable force when—and only when—we stand together.
I remember back when my son Richard was young—maybe three or four years old. He and his buddy Chad were driving around in the backyard in one of those battery operated jeeps.
He must have heard me talking on the phone, because he drove up and asked: “Dad, what’s a union?”
So I told him to get out of the jeep and try to push it up the hill in our backyard. He strained and struggled, but he couldn’t get it up the hill. Then I told his friend Chad to give him a hand. Working together, they got the job done. I looked right at my son and said: “That’s a union…people doing things together that they can’t do alone.”
Brothers and sisters, working people are climbing that hill. Every day. Against all odds.
Together, we are fighting Wall Street to win a new trade regime that raises wages and standards for working people by enforcing fair rules no matter who is in office. That’s how we stopped the TPP and put NAFTA back on the negotiating table. Keep up the pressure! It’s working!
Together, we are fighting to save the Supreme Court from falling further into the hands of corporate apologists. And that starts with defeating Brett Kavanaugh.
Together, we are fighting to create an economy that works for all of us. Raising wages. Quality, affordable health care. Safe jobs. Protection from discrimination. Retirement security. The freedom to form a union. That’s what’s at stake this November.
Solidarity got us here. And solidarity is going to take us forward.
Because here’s the thing: We won’t win as postal workers or steelworkers or teachers or miners. We won’t win as men or women, as black or white, as gay or straight.
We will only win as a single movement of working people, from every region and every sector, fighting for the interests of all of our brothers and sisters…fighting for the rights and freedoms of all who live and work here.
That’s our power! It doesn’t come from Washington or politicians or the courts.
Our power lies in the 55 unions united through the AFL-CIO…in the nearly 13 million members who make up this union family.
Our power lies in the workers who are standing together, marching together and fighting together.
So stand up if you’re ready to march. Stand up if you’re ready to fight. Stand up if you’re ready to vote. Stand up if you’re ready to win.
We make America great. We keep it safe. We teach, heal and make. We package, print and bake. We build the roads, fight the fires and lift the loads. We stand tall. We don’t run and hide. We wake our country up every single day. We tuck her into bed at night.
And on November 6, we’re going to send a message to every politician and pundit who counted us out: We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. And we’re just getting started. Thank you. God bless you all.