Both the national and Texas State AFL-CIO presidents were on hand at the MTD Executive Board meeting in San Antonio, Texas, providing insightful presentations on the state of labor. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke on March 10, while Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick welcomed those in attendance to his home state the day before.
“These are pretty challenging times, for our labor movement and for our nation,” Trumka said to begin his speech.
“Pay is low, inequality is too high, good jobs are too far and few in between. But over the last four or five years, something has started to change. Working people right now are starting to speak out. Working people are starting to shape the debate. You see, we want better:
We want better for our country, we want better for ourselves, and we want better for our family that’s going to follow us.”
A longtime ally of the SIU, Trumka spoke about the political motivations of the AFL-CIO: “We don’t work for any politician, or any political party. We’re not going to be an ATM for the Democrats, and we’re not going to be a rubber stamp for the Republicans. We’re going to lead with our issues, we’re going to lead with our values, and we’ll put our members and our families first. That political independence is really our best way forward, and it’ll strengthen our credibility, and it’ll strengthen our effectiveness. That’s how we build an America that starts to work for working people again.”
Such “political independence” was a key in stopping the job-killing Trans Pacific Partnership, he said. It also proved useful in helping defeat the initial nomination for Secretary of Labor. In both cases, he emphasized, working people won because they came together in solidarity.
Specifically focusing on the new administration, Trumka said, “Good jobs and raising wages is how we’re going to measure the Trump administration. President Trump promised throughout his campaign to make life better for American workers. But talk’s cheap. When the president does something that’s good for working people, and good for the economy, we’ll say so. And we’ll work for it. Conversely, when he does things that are bad for working people, and bad for the economy, that lower our wages and make our workplaces less safe, that threaten our pensions and threaten our healthcare … we’re going to step up and fight him every step of the way.”
Trumka added, “And President Trump gets to choose the path. In us, he’ll either have a constructive partner … or an unrelenting, resourceful and damn tough opponent. He gets to choose.”
He then turned his attention to the topic of union solidarity, saying, “Brothers and sisters, the unions of the Maritime Trades show us what solidarity looks like. And I want you to know that your priorities are my priorities. We’re there for you. We always have been, and we always will be. Whether it’s protecting the Jones Act, or getting the Export-Import Bank back up and running where it needs to be…. And to our Canadian brothers and sisters, we’re going to stand with you each and every step of the way.”
After talking about how unions are for fair trade deals, unlike the defeated Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trumka spoke about what unions can accomplish for workers: “We know firsthand how trade can produce good jobs and strong wages. Shipbuilders, Longshoremen, Seafarers, you name it – those are careers to be proud of. I’m a third-generation coal miner. When my grandfathers first went into the mines, mining jobs weren’t good jobs. But because we stood together, because workers united and got a voice on the job, we made those good-paying jobs.”
Trumka also described the qualities of a good union leader, saying, “We have to be willing to put something on the line for one another. Not just standing in solidarity when the sun’s shining, and it’s easy, and it might not cost me anything, but standing with my brothers and sisters when it may cost me something…. Because I know that when you get weak, I get weak. When you get stronger, I get stronger.”
He then discussed activism in detail, describing past and present actions taken by union leaders and members alike, as well as the importance of standing together when outside influences try to divide unions.
“America wants more of that activism,” Trumka said. “You can see that they’re hungry for it. By a margin of two to one, registered voters want to increase Social Security benefits, not decrease them. By a margin of three to one, folks want to tax companies on overseas profits, and increase funding for public schools. People overwhelmingly support higher wages and more investment in infrastructure. And a growing number believe in unions: Over 60 percent of the American public says unions are important, needed and should be stronger.
“And the best news of all? That number is even higher among young people coming into the workforce right now,” he continued. “That’s our future, that’s good news.”
The day before, John Patrick detailed the state of the labor movement in Texas. “Most of what the Texas State AFL-CIO does at the state legislature goes well beyond the concerns of any one union. More often than not, it involves all working people in the state,” he explained.
“We seek nothing more, and will accept nothing less, than a fair shot for all working Texans – whether they hold a union card or not,” Patrick said. “The Texas AFL-CIO is strongly supporting bills to raise the state minimum wage, secure equal pay for women, to improve workplace safety, and otherwise help all Texas workers. You want to know where we stand on most any piece of legislation, the first question we ask is whether the bill will help all working families in the state.”
He further outlined the Texas AFL-CIO’s positions on multiple legislative issues, before stressing that the current political climate in the Lone Star State is difficult for the labor movement: “The job for those that believe in progress for working people has never been tougher than it is right now in the state of Texas.”
Patrick also mentioned a state senate bill, targeting union members, that is garnering attention all the way up to the governor’s office. “Once again this session, we are a target,” he said. “Senate Bill 13, authored by Senator Joan Huffman of Houston, takes direct aim at public sector workers, who now make up the majority of our membership at the Texas AFL-CIO. Senate Bill 13 would take away the freedom of public employees who voluntarily sign union membership cards to deduct union dues from their own paychecks through payroll reduction. Let me put that in plainer terms: Teachers, nurses, correctional officers and a host of other public servants should be free to do as they please with their own paychecks.”
He then spoke about other bills introduced in the state legislature that threaten to reduce worker protections and worker freedoms that stem the union way of life. While some have a greater chance of passing than others, he vowed to fight those bills, and all other bills with similar intents that follow.