By MARK GRUENBERG
PAI Staff Writer
Las Vegas (PAI) — In what turned out to be his final address to a union crowd, the late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared Organized Labor is fighting not just for itself, but for “democracy, which has been under siege.”
“Give us back our power, and we’ll pull our country back from the brink,” he declared.
Trumka used those phrases in a six-minute Aug. 4 Zoom address to convention delegates of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), meeting Aug. 4-6 in Las Vegas. He died the following day after suffering a heart attack.
“We need this Congress to pass the PRO Act, to rewrite years of laws that are hurting working people, not helping them,” Trumka said. The PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act, Labor’s top legislative priority, is the most pro-worker and wide-ranging Labor law reform bill since the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act.
The PRO Act legislation is currently stuck in the evenly divided Senate, subject to a GOP filibuster, along with other legislation Trumka cited before making his “under siege” comment.
“When you boil it all down, the fight we’re making today is the fight for democracy, which we all know has been under siege,” Trumka said.
“It’s no coincidence the opponents of democracy are also anti-worker politicians—politicians who have spent decades dividing and weakening working people, tearing us apart by race, weakening social protection programs and fighting our unions with everything they have.
“Our message to them is very, very simple: Your time is up.”
DEMOCRACY AT THE BALLOT BOX AND IN THE WORKPLACE
Trumka said the twin goals of passing the PRO Act and the For The People Act — a comprehensive voting rights and election reform bill Labor is also pushing — would ensure democracy at the ballot box and bring it to the workplace.
Victories for those two bills, he said, would help lead to “racial and gender equity and a rebalancing of power so we get a fair share of the wealth our work creates… Together we’re going to keep winning policies that work for every worker — no exclusions.”
That’s a key point for LCLAA, the AFL-CIO constituency group for Spanish-speaking/ named workers. Labor laws do not cover large groups of those workers, notably farm workers, home health care workers and domestic workers, due to racism against workers of color at the time the laws were passed during the New Deal era.
Ways and means of achieving those goals were a key theme of the convention.
ADVANCING WORKER RIGHTS
“We focused on advancing worker rights, celebrated the contributions and honored the sacrifices of this labor force, and reinforced the interconnected experiences in the new American reality of social, climate, and immigration justice and the advancement of Latinos and people of color,” LCLAA said in its convention roundup.
Delegates approved resolutions supporting “a fair and just Puerto Rico,” the PRO Act, the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Restoration Act and comprehensive immigration reform.
RICHARD TRUMKA LATINO FELLOWSHIP
Upon learning of Trumka’s death, delegates also voted to create the Richard Trumka Latino Fellowship, a year-long, paid program whose recipients can use it “to gain insights into the complex political, social, and economic forces that shape the operating environment of the Labor Movement” and “help build emerging Labor leaders and unionists,” LCLAA explained.
Other speakers at the convention included AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer (now acting president) Liz Shuler, Steelworkers Vice President Fred Redmond, Machinists President Robert Martinez and Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten.
(Trumka’s speech is posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efq8Rpt1uAk).