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National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: Labor’s Future Is Vibrant

Published Tuesday, April 12, 2011 7:00 am
by Mike Hall/National AFL-CIO News Now Blog

Contrary to recurring predictions of the demise the American Labor Movement, National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a Wayne State University audience in Detroit that the “Labor Movement has a rich and vibrant future.”

“Unions have a strong future in America - because we need them to improve our lives,” said Trumka – who noted the attacks on Workers’ Rights like those by Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich and others have not only helped sparked a National Debate on  Collective Bargaining - but “their overreaching with draconian anti-Worker Legislation may have given us the game-changer we need.  It may have provided the sparks for the next surge of Labor.”

“The Wisconsin Movement shows us that the public fervently believes Working People have fundamental rights and no one should be forced to give up those rights.  The non-stop rallies have given us an opening, a teachable moment for the Nation.  And it provided a wake-up call for Union Members and community partners.  It is an opening, a chance for us to fight against corporate resistance and to propel the Labor Movement to rise to the challenge,” Trumka said.

But to be an effective check on unfettered corporate influence now and in the future, Unions must grow “Workers’ Power” and that means Union Leaders “cannot stand for business as usual,” Trumka added.

To deal with the globalization of the economy and growth of multi-national companies, said Trumka: “We have to answer the mobility of goods and capital with a truly global movement.”

He pointed to the example of the United Auto Workers (UAW) working with Global Auto Unions and the Communications Workers of America (CWAreaching out to the their counterparts Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile USA.

“When the German multinational bought into the U.S. wireless market and T-Mobile became one of the largest mobile telecom companies in the United States, the [CWA] reached out to the largest telecom union in Germany, ver.di, to partner and eventually form a joint Union, so that workers in the United States and Germany could speak with one voice - to demand that one company honor the same basic rights around the world as they do in Germany,” he said.

Trumka, meanwhile, said Unions must continue reaching out to “our community partners and allies, especially in the African-American, Asian and Latino communities, but also in the Environmental, LGBT and other communities - we must be ONE - and that was the beauty and the strength of the incredible energy around the fifteen-hundred activities in the days surrounding April 4th where we proclaimed: ‘We Are One, Respect Our Rights,’” Trumka said.

Building relationships with young workers - many in non-traditional jobs - is vital, he told the crowd: “We have to reach out to Young Workers, not only by blogging and using Social Media like Facebook and Twitter, but by encouraging Young Trade Unionist Groups to form in every community and focusing hard on the needs of Young Workers.  New workers are stepping into one of the cruelest economies in generations - the ‘gig economy,’ some call it, offering Young Workers not jobs but a succession of short-term temporary no-benefit ‘gigs.’”

In addition, the Labor Movement must also embrace workers who have been excluded from past organizing and pointed to efforts in New York City and elsewhere to win a voice for domestic workers with Domestic Workers United.

The AFL-CIO Community Affiliate Working America is another sign of yet another promising direction.

“Already more than three million strong, Working America shows that Working People are ready to be part of something bigger to fight for good jobs and a just economy,” Trumka said.  “We can build on that foundation and use it as a laboratory to find additional forms of representation.  Working America has also built support for Union Organizing Drives.”

While political attacks, Corporate Union-Busting and weak Labor Laws have certainly made it difficult for workers to come together, Trumka said the Labor Movement is “as resilient as Democracy itself.”

“The Labor Movement ‘is’ Working People - Working People who have joined together for strength in numbers, for their common good.  And history teaches us that whatever the odds, the Labor Movement will always spring up, often when its chances for survival seem bleak,” he said.

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