AFL-CIO Pres. Trumka Speech on Labor and Race

Photo: Lesley McSpadden, right, the mother of 18-year-old Michael Brown, watches as Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., holds up a family picture of himself, his son, top left in photo, and a young child during a news conference, Aug. 11, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP/Jeff Roberson)

The following remarks by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to the 2014 Missouri AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis on Sept. 15 were released to the media as prepared for delivery and reprinted here.

september 15 2014

It’s great to be here in St. Louis-and I’m grateful to be here at such a critical time for Missouri, for our nation and for our movement.

This hall is filled with leaders who have done so much to protect working people-all working people-in Missouri. You have built strength through unity-across industries and crafts, across the length and breadth of this state and-this is the hard one in America in 2014-across party lines.

As a labor movement, we once again face concerted attacks by those who have enormous wealth. The far right is trying to divide us in many ways. But here in in America the power and dignity of working people will always win-as long as we stay united.

Now, I’m going to stray from my usual convention speech. I’m going to talk about something that may be difficult and uncomfortable but I believe what I’m going to say needs to be said.

You see, the question of unity brings up a hard subject, a subject all of us know about but few want to acknowledge-race.

I’m talking about race in America, and what that means for our communities our movement, and our nation.

Because the reality is that while a young man named Michael Brown died just a short distance from us in Ferguson from gunshot wounds from a police officer other young men of color have died and will die in similar circumstances in communities all across this country.

It happened here but it could have happened and does happen anywhere in America. Because the reality is we still have racism in America.

Labor’s stake in fighting racism

Now, some people might ask me why our labor movement should be involved in all that has happened since the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And I want to answer that question directly: How can we not be involved?

Union members’ lives have been profoundly damaged in ways that cannot be fixed. Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother who works in a grocery store, is our sister, an AFL-CIO union member and Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, is a union member too, and he is our brother. Our brother killed our sister’s son, and we do not have to wait for the judgment of prosecutors or courts to tell us how terrible this is.

So I say again how can we not be involved? This tragedy and all the complexities of race and racism are a big part of our very big family as they always have been. A union is like a home. And in any home, good and bad things happen. We have to deal with all of them honestly.

But that’s a philosophy. We can’t leave it at that. We have to look at real life today. We cannot wash our hands of the issues raised by Michael Brown’s death. That does not mean we prejudge the specifics of Michael Brown’s death or deny Officer Darren Wilson or any other officer his or her rights on the job or in the courts.

But it does demand that we clearly and openly discuss the reality of racism in American life. We must take responsibility for the past. Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement.

But it does demand … that we clearly … and openly discuss the reality of racism in American life … We must take responsibility for the past … Racism is part of our inheritance … as Americans … Every city… every state… and every region of this country … has its own deep history with racism … And so does the labor movement.

Here in St. Louis, in 1917 … powerful corporations replaced white strikers … with

African American workers … recruited from the Mississippi Delta … with offers of wages far higher … than anyone could make sharecropping … In response … the St. Louis labor movement … helped lead a blood bath against the African American community … in East St. Louis … No one knows how many men … women … and children were killed … and how many houses and businesses were burned.

The NAACP estimated up to 200 died … and 6,000 were left homeless … Eugene Debs … the founder of the National Railway Union … called the East St. Louis massacre—and I quote—“a foul blot on the American labor movement.”

It was one of the single most violent events … in the history of American racism … and it scarred this city … our labor movement … and our country.

When I think about an event like that … and there are plenty in our history… all over this great country… and not all of them so long ago… I wonder what those white workers would say … if they could stand where we stand today … What would they say … about the choices to embrace hatred and division … over unity and strength?

What would they say … about corporate bosses playing the race card … over and over and over again … in the years after 1917—breaking unions … crushing hopes and dreams … Yet remember … we are here today … because labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph … and Walter Reuther … showed us there was a better way … not just for our unions, but for our country.

But this not just about leaders of the past… and tragedies of yesterday.

If we in the labor movement truly want to act … as a positive force for change around issues of racism and classism … we have to acknowledge our own shortcomings.

We as a movement have not always done our best to support our brothers and sisters of color who face challenges both on and off the job—challenges that you don’t really understand unless you live them.

The test of our movement’s commitment to our legacy is not whether we post Dr. King’s picture in our union halls… it is do we take up his fight when the going gets tough … when the fight gets real against the evils that still exist today.

When a new immigrant gets mistreated by management because they don’t speak the language… that is our fight.

When an African American worker doesn’t get a promotion or fair pay because of the color of his or her skin… that is our fight. When women are paid less than men for the same work…. that is a fight for every single one of us.

We cannot afford to have “my issues” and “your issue” … we must ALL stand together… and mobilize around our issues.

You see … we have a choice … We can either live our history … Or we can change it.

Now as you may be able to tell … this matter is deeply personal with me … When I sit at my conference table … at the AFL-CIO … I look across the office at a picture of my dad … He’s gone now … but if you’ve lost a parent … you know they never stop talking to you.

My dad was a miner … he helped build the United Mine Workers … he bled for his union … and he went to war for our country in the Pacific … in World War II …

As I worked on this speech …. this is what my dad said to me…. He reminded me of something that happened … when I was maybe five or six … I come from a small coal-mining town … in southwest Pennsylvania called Nemacolin … My best friend back then … was a kid named Tom … and Tommy was African American … There was a park near us … called Shady Grove Park … with a swimming pool … where you had to pay to swim … And one day my dad drove us there to go swimming … We came up to the booth to pay … It was one of those places … where you pull up and pay … for everyone in the car … The guy looks in and sees Tommy in the car … and tells my dad … “That boy can’t swim in here …. You know he can’t.”

My dad never raised his voice … but he said, “You take out for him. We’re going swimming.”

The guy said, “He can’t swim here” … and my dad said … “We’re going swimming.”

Now, I don’t know whether he took out for Tommy or not … but we went in and me and Tommy went through the changing room … and jumped in the pool … It was a hot day … and the pool was packed. … We jumped in … and everywhere we went … it was like there was a circle of open water all around us … When we moved … the circle of clear water moved …Well, we swam until we got tired … and then we got out and dried off … and got something to eat … and that was that.

Later, I asked my dad about the man in the booth … I wanted to know why he didn’t like Tommy … My dad explained that it didn’t have anything to do with Tommy … but with the color of his skin … I protested … I said, that’s not fair. … My dad said … that’s the whole point….So let me come back to what’s happened … specifically in Ferguson … It isn’t fair … and that’s the whole point.

I have a son. He’s not so young anymore … but he’s not so old … I don’t worry about him … I don’t know … but I have a suspicion that … like many of you … and certainly like me at that age … he may not always obey the nation’s traffic laws … So I worry he might wrap himself around a Tree … But I never worry when he goes for a cross country road trip … or a night on the town … that he may be stopped … shot to death by a police officer.

But for millions of mothers and fathers … of young African American men and boys … men just like my son … and boys that were as young as me and my friend Tommy — kids with promising futures in America … it is a constant fear, a constant fear.

And if you don’t feel that fear yourself … I’d just ask you … for a moment … to think about what that.

Think about what it would be like … to watch your kid walk out the door and wonder… with good reason… if it’s the last time you’ll see him alive … Because you know it happens … If you haven’t had a close call yourself, you know people who have … friends … family … neighbors … and people you worship with.

And it doesn’t stop there … Unfortunately teenagers of all races … often experiment with drugs.

But only some of our sons and daughters … are suffering terribly long terms in prisons … for the same nonviolent petty crimes … which we all know many of us did as kids … And you can’t get around the fact … that those who fill our prisons … are disproportionately people of color. Continue reading AFL-CIO Pres. Trumka Speech on Labor and Race

Oct 18: PDA’s ‘Dinner and a Movie’

Join Us for

Dinner and a Movie



“Robert Reich Knows What He’s Talking About” – Daily Show

“Engaging and Passionate” – Wall St. Journal

“Smart, Funny and Articulate” – Los Angeles Times

Inequality for All is an entertaining and serious examination of the economic disparity in America today. President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor explains how the massive consolidation of wealth by a tiny minority threatens the viability of the American workforce and the foundation of democracy itself.

Saturday October 18, 2014

Cash Bar 5:30

Dinner 6:00

Movie 7:00 – 8:30

Serbian Club

2619 Brodhead Rd., Aliquippa, PA

Sponsored by:

PA 12th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Buffet Dinner with two meats, vegetables, coffee, dessert

Tickets $22

Call to purchase or reserve tickets: Tina Shannon 724-683-1925

Inequality Rising in USA

September 4, 2014 7:47 pm

Inequality rises in US despite recovery


Inequality in the US rose sharply in the past three years as a recovery in growth failed to turn around one of the defining trends of the modern economy.

According to one of the most definitive sources of data on inequality – the US Federal Reserve’s triennial survey of consumer finances – median family incomes fell 5 per cent from 2010 to 2013.

The boom in the stock market and a recovery in house prices fuelled large gains in the wealth of the richest, with the share held by the top 3 per cent of households rising from 51.8 per cent in 2007 to 54.4 per cent in 2013.

The release of the data is likely to reignite a furious political debate about rising inequality in the US, inflamed earlier this year by Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Based on in-depth interviews with more than 6,000 families, the SCF is one of the principle sources of data used by researchers on inequality.

According to the survey, real pre-tax incomes fell in every part of the income distribution except the very top, as income was redistributed upwards. Average incomes for the decile of households rose by 10 per cent from $361,500 to $397,500.

Families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013, continuing the trend observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys– Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve economists said that part of it was a bounce back from falling top incomes due to the financial crisis but not all.

“Families at the bottom of the income distribution saw continued substantial declines in average real incomes between 2010 and 2013, continuing the trend observed between the 2007 and 2010 surveys,” says the report. The survey does not look at after-tax income, which can be more equal because of redistribution.

For wealth, the Fed survey reported a slightly different trend than recent studies saying all gains have gone to the top one per cent – it finds that they are all going to the top three per cent instead.

From the start of the survey in 1989 until today, the share of wealth held by the top 3 per cent has risen from 44.8 per cent to 54.4 per cent; the share held by the next 7 per cent has changed very little; while the share held by the bottom 90 per cent has fallen from 33.2 per cent in 1989 to 24.7 per cent.

An important reason for the rising wealth share of the richest was the surge in asset prices that has seen the S&P 500 rally by more than 100 per cent from its trough to trade above 2,000.

But again, Fed economists said that is not the whole story, noting the falling share of families in the bottom half of the income distribution who own assets.

The Fed said that ownership rates of housing and businesses fell substantially between 2010 and 2013. For families in the bottom 50 per cent, participation in retirement plans kept falling, further reducing their asset ownership.


Pittsburgh Fast Food Workers Fight for $15


Moral Mondays fight for higher wages

Moral Mondays fight for higher wages, other issues


The activists who gathered on the steps of the Indiana Statehouse to announce their new coalition last month wanted their voices to be heard: A low minimum wage is bad for people and the economy.

Touting arguments common in the minimum wage debate — that inflation has outpaced wage growth and that public welfare programs drain taxpayer dollars — they criticize state legislators for inaction and challenge them to better understand the difficulties of living on $7.25 an hour.

“For those who don’t support increasing the minimum wage, I challenge you to live my life for a week,” said McDonald’s employee Destiny Martin, surrounded by about 40 other activists. “Then tell me if I deserve a substantial wage.”

It’s one of the focal issues for Indiana Moral Mondays, one of a dozen groups cropping up nationwide with the goal of rolling back what they call “extremist” state laws.

Higher wages, a fast food labor union, voting reforms, environmental sustainability, higher public school funding, fairer treatment for minorities in the criminal justice system. Indiana Moral Mondays wants it all.

The goal is to bring together allies in the fight for progressive policies, said Nancy Holle, a leader in the coalition. Among the groups involved are the NAACP, Holle’s Family Faith and Labor Coalition and Raise the Wage Indiana.

“It’s the biggest tent you can imagine,” said Holle. “We’re bringing everybody together who have always been kicked to the curb by extremists in our state legislature, and we’re going to stand together.”

The broad range of issues is what makes Indiana Moral Mondays strong, Holle said. It makes them harder to ignore.

Continue reading Moral Mondays fight for higher wages

Pres. Obama: America Deserves a Raise

Obama delivers Labor Day pep talk, renews push for raising minimum wage


President Barack Obama, seen here in Minneapolis in June, will  make a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee today. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE — President Barack Obama renewed his push for Congress to raise the minimum wage Monday in a buoyant accounting of the economy’s “revving” performance, delivered on behalf of Democrats opening their fall campaigns for the midterm congressional elections.

“America deserves a raise,” he told a union crowd in Milwaukee, vowing to keep a hard sell on Congress in much the way he once courted his wife. “I just wore her down,” he cracked.

“After all unions have done to build and protect working Americans, I know it’s frustrating when people have the gall to blame you for the problems facing working Americans. I know you’ve got some experience with that around here,” Mr. Obama told a raucous crowd. “But you know what? If I were looking for a good job that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union. If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union … And if I care about these things, I’d also want more Democrats looking out for me. I’m just saying.”

Timing his push to Labor Day, the traditional start of the autumn campaign, Obama aggressively drew attention to recent economic gains, setting aside past caution on that subject.

“By almost every measure the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office,” he said, rattling off a string of improving economic indicators even while acknowledging not all people are benefiting. “The engines,” he said, “are revving a little louder.”

It was, at least indirectly, a pep talk for Democrats facing tough races in a nation still gripped with economic anxieties.

The emphasis on the minimum wage is designed to draw campaign contrasts with Republicans, many of whom maintain that an increase would hurt small businesses and slow down hiring. No one expects Congress to act on it before the November elections.

Despite the absence of a federal increase, 13 states raised their minimum wages at the beginning of this year. Those states have added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not raise the wage, providing a counterpoint to a Congressional Budget Office report earlier this year that projected that a higher minimum wage of $10.10 an hour could cost the nation 500,000 jobs.

Continue reading Pres. Obama: America Deserves a Raise

America Needs a Raise


CWA – Communication Workers of America

America needs a raise. Productivity, profits, executive pay and the stock market keep going up, but the incomes of working and middle class families keep going down. The gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing, and that makes it harder for families to maintain a middle class standard of living.


From 2009-2012, 95 percent of income gains went to the 1 percent. So it’s not surprising that the 1 percent is fully recovered from the economic downturn. The rest of us, not so much. The incomes of the bottom 99 percent have barely started to recover.  This wage gap has widened in every state. You can check out your state at

The gap between workers’ wages and increases in productivity, now more than $500 a week,  is the widest it’s ever been. There won’t be a robust economic recovery unless the 99 percent start to make real gains in income.

[Source: Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley, September 2013. Inequality, the Great Recession, and Slow Recovery, Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari, Washington University, St. Louis, January 2014.]

What’s the Wage Gap in Your State?

How American Workers’ Wages Got Left Behind

Share of Total Income Growth Captured by Top 1%