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2017 Maritime Trades Department Winter Meeting

Richard Trumka • March 10, 2017 • San Antonio, Texas

Thank you, Brother Mike [Sacco]. It’s great to be with you, and all the folks from the Maritime Trades.

Listen, these are challenging times for our labor movement and our nation. Pay is too low. Inequality is too high. Good jobs are few and far between. But over the past four or five years, something has changed. Working people are speaking out. We are shaping the debate. We want better. And we are making one thing abundantly clear: we do not work for any politician or political party. We will not be an ATM for the Democrats or a rubber stamp for the Republicans. We will lead with our issues and our values. We will put our members and families first. Political independence is the way forward. It will strengthen our credibility and effectiveness. And that’s how we build an America that works for working people.

Political independence allowed us to take on a Democratic president and defeat the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership. Political independence empowered us to stand up to a Republican president and defeat a no-good, wage-stealing, robot-loving nominee for Secretary of Labor. In both cases, we rallied in towns and cities across the country, flooded Congress with calls and e-mails and made our position clear. And we won. Remember that. We won.

Working people are leading the way. We’re building a political movement for good jobs and better lives. There is nothing more important in America right now. For decades, our economy has been tilted to favor the wealthy few at our expense. The vast majority of Americans want the rules of the economy to benefit us, not the rich, not the wealthy, not Wall Street. That’s what we are pushing for.

Good jobs and raising wages is how we will measure the Trump Administration. President Trump promised throughout his campaign to make life better for American workers. But talk is cheap. When the president does something good for working people and good for the economy, we’ll say so, and we’ll work for it. 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 health care, we will fight him every step of the way. President Trump gets to choose his path. In us, he will either have a constructive partner or an unrelenting, resourceful and tough opponent.

Brothers and sisters, the unions of the Maritime Trades show us all what solidarity looks like, and I want you to know that your priorities are my priorities. You’ve made a powerful statement by standing strong with the Bakery Workers who’ve lost jobs at Nabisco. You’re shoulder-to-shoulder with my union, the United Mine Workers, who are fighting to make sure America keeps its pension promises.

We are there for you, too, whether it’s protecting the Jones Act or getting the Export/Import Bank back up and running. We’ll stand with our Canadian sisters and brothers to win a stronger economy and a better tomorrow, and we thank you for your work blocking the bad trade agreement between Canada and Europe.

You know, a moment ago I mentioned our success fighting the TPP. I want to be clear about that. Never for a moment think America’s labor movement is flat-out against trade. It’s simply not true. We’re FOR good trade. We want to open new markets for American products made by American workers and businesses. Done right, trade can create jobs, lower costs and lift up working people. Done wrong, it can unleash a wave of economic devastation no family or community should ever have to endure. We’re for fair trade. We’re for pro-worker trade. Give us a seat at the table for the next trade agreement. We’ll make sure it works for working families. And then we’ll fight to pass it. But otherwise, forget it. The days of corporate-written trade deals are over.

We know firsthand how trade can produce good jobs with strong wages. Shipbuilders, longshoremen, seafarers, you name it, those are careers to be proud of. Union members in Philadelphia and San Diego are building new tankers and container ships. American workers right now are producing the world’s most modern ocean-going propulsion systems — liquefied natural gas. LNG power is cutting-edge, and it shows that North American labor and know-how remain the best in the world.

All we need is a chance.

In his speech last week to Congress, President Trump proposed a massive infrastructure investment — $1 trillion dollars. We’ve wanted that for years. It’s an ambitious proposal, and America needs it, but it had better come with Davis-Bacon and powerful Buy America provisions. We’ll gladly partner with President Trump for every single thing that working families need. But I had to wonder about all of those Congressional Republicans who stood up and cheered for investing in infrastructure. Where were they for the last 8 years when President Obama was proposing the very same thing? This is the type of partisan politics that drive our members crazy. So my message to Congress is this: Cut the crap. Pass a bill. Do it the right way. Put America to work.

Let me tell you something we don’t need: the so-called Cadillac Tax. This is a solidarity tax, plain and simple. We have given up wage increases time and time again to preserve our health care. We fought for it. We bargained for it. This tax was a bad idea when Democrats included it in the Affordable Care Act. And it’s a bad idea now that Republicans want it as part of their ill-advised repeal efforts. For more than a century, the labor movement has fought to make health care a right for every American. Congress should focus on improving and building on the Affordable Care Act, our current employment-based system, Medicare and Medicaid. Brothers and sisters, if you come after our health care, we will fight you tooth and nail.

We can, and we will, win a new set of rules for the American economy. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. And if for a minute you think it can’t be done, just consider that two years ago everybody and their brother thought the TPP was a done deal. And just a few weeks ago Andy Puzder looked like a slam dunk to be the next Secretary of Labor.

But working people had a different idea. We mobilized. We educated workers, and in the end, we came out on top. We learned a powerful lesson: nothing is inevitable. We saw activism work.

America wants more of that activism, not less. By a margin of two to one, registered voters want to increase Social Security benefits. By a margin of 3 to 1, folks want to tax companies on overseas profits and increase funding for public schools. People overwhelmingly support higher wages and more investments in infrastructure. And a growing number believe in unions! Make no mistake, momentum is on our side.

Brothers and sisters, America remains the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. We can support middle-class jobs and succeed. We can be pro-worker and pro-business. We can trade fairly and form unions freely. That’s what America is all about. But it will take hard work and solidarity.

Any economist will tell you consumer spending drives 70% of the American economy. When workers earn a living wage, we are more likely to buy a new washing machine, replace the tires on the car or take a long-overdue vacation. That’s why the best way to build a strong, sustainable economy is with wage-driven growth. When I help you up, it gives me a boost. When you help me up, the way gets easier for somebody else. It’s not easy. When it counts, solidarity is hard. We’ve got to stand together during the long night, when it’s cold, when the outcome is uncertain. That’s when it matters. Solidarity. Arms locked. Shoulder-to-shoulder. To win a better life!

That’s the American way. It’s the union way. It’s solidarity, and it works, brothers and sisters. You know how to win for America’s hard-working families. You’ve done it many, many times, and you’ll do it again tomorrow. When we stand together, we win together.

Thank you, God bless you and the work you do.

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