May 26, 2011
By Harry Kelber
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in an impassioned speech before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 20, charted a new course for working people and their unions by declaring “we must do more than just protect our own right to a voice in this life of our nation. We must raise our voice to win a better future for all working families, here in America and around the globe.”
In a sharp attack on Republican budget deficit proposals, Trumka noted that they would cut $4.3 trillion in spending but give $4.2 trillion in tax cuts, mostly to the rich and corporations. “Think about the message these budgets send: ‘Sacrifice is for the weak. The powerful and well connected get tax cuts.'”
Denouncing the anti union attacks by both Republican and Democratic governors, Trumka said they should be understood as “part of a single challenge. It is not just a political challenge. It’s a moral challenge.”
To spotlight what may become AFL-CIO’s new policy and activity, Trumka said:
“We have listened hard, and what workers want is an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people in the workplace and in political life …Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.”
Trumka Outlines an Ambitious Political Agenda
“Here is what we are going to do,” Trumka said. ” First, we are going to use that voice to end the Scott Walker as a visible political strategy by winning recall elections in Wisconsin and citizen vetoes of destructive legislation in other states, and retaking state houses.
“Then we will spend the summer holding elected leaders in Congress, as well as in the states, accountable on one measure: Are they improving or degrading life for working families?”
And as a warning to Democrats, Trumka said: “It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside the outcome is the same either way: If leaders are not blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them.
This is where our focus will be now, in 2012 and beyond.”
Trumka’s eloquent speech at the National Press Club may presage a significant change in the relations between organized labor and the Democratic Party. Democratic candidates may no longer systematically receive lucrative financial contributions and volunteers from unions, unless they fight hard in favor of issues that affect working people.
The speech will undoubtedly win high praise among union members, because it echoes their sentiments. The AFL-CIO must now take the necessary steps to mobilize its affiliated unions to create an effective independent political role that best serves working peoples’ interests.
It’s a challenge that the AFL-CIO cannot afford to fail.