Were Done Playing Defense

The following is an excerpt from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s address to the United Steelworkers’ convention on August 17, 2011. Click here for the full transcript.

Brothers and sisters, most of us in this hall still have the good fortune to live a middle-class life, thanks to those who came before us, whose faith and hard work won for us the American Dream.

We may live under the constant threat of our jobs being exported and stolen, but our union contracts give us, and our members, a measure of stability, decent wages and benefits, and the hope of a secure retirement.

All around us, though, we can see the cynical flag-wavers, the false patriots who say the American Dream is too rich for us. These politicians and CEOs tell us we have to downgrade our expectations and downsize the American Dream. We can’t afford that dream any more, they say. No, we’ve got to give that dream up and make some tough choices.

Sisters and brothers, they haven’t just given up the dream. They’ve given up on America!

America isn’t broke-this country is wealthy as hell. But something in America sure is broken! Because for the last 20 years, 100 percent of all our income gains have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of us. There’s plenty of money-it’s just stuck in record-sized corporate bank accounts and CEO paychecks and not making its way into workers’ pockets.

So while our wages are flat or falling, and 25 million of us are looking for full-time jobs, politicians are stuck-focused on phony deficit crises instead of our real crisis — the jobs crisis.

And they’re telling us we need to accept shared sacrifice.

Brothers and sisters, when they talk about shared sacrifices and tough choices-I say that’s a bunch of bull! Working families-young workers, seniors, people of color, poor people and people with disabilities-we’ve been doing all the sacrificing — all of it! All the tough choices are being made for us and done to us.

Our governments, our schools, our police and fire departments are starving for money, while hedge fund billionaires get tax cuts, and Wall Street corporations still get tax incentives to export good jobs overseas!

It’s not just wrong, it’s shameful. It’s insane, and for the future of our country, it has to be stopped!

And it’s not going to be those false patriots who stop it. They’d rather force America to default on its debts than tell CEOs to pay their fair share in taxes so we can invest in our future, in our infrastructure, in good, green jobs, in top-notch education and training, in high-speed rail, like the countries we compete with are doing.

Hell, they got us into this mess in the first place!

But you and I, and the other 12 million of us in the AFL-CIO-we’re not ready to give up on America, are we?

We’re not going to stop believing in America. We’re not going to give up on our country, not today, not tomorrow, not ever!

I’ll tell you what else we’re not going to do. We’re not going to be content to fight defensively to preserve a little bit of the good life for a few of us, as we all get worse-off year by year.

No. We’re going to turn this broken economy around, with our energy and our ideas, our commitment, our sweat and our hard work.

We’re done playing defense after that debt-ceiling debacle on Capitol Hill and the battles in state capital after state capital. Right now, our offensive team is fired up and what we’re after is jobs — good jobs!

We’re fighting for jobs, brothers and sisters, and we’re not just talking about it!

I’m proud to say that the entire AFL-CIO has been hard at work on job-creating programs, because we believe in America. This summer our Building and Construction Trades Department and a coalition of public unions led partners from the worlds of government, investment and business to make a plan to channel billions of dollars into investments to create jobs, to make America more competitive and energy-efficient, and to train union workers for the future.

America wants to work!

This fall, we’re going to build a sustained jobs campaign with a National Week of Action to show that America wants to work! We’re going to shift the national debate away from deficits and toward good jobs and workers’ rights!

And you’re going to be at the center of this effort. Educating and mobilizing Steelworkers-educating and mobilizing your families, and your neighbors, and your congregations, and the Moose Lodge and the bowling league and the carpool, to fight with you for good jobs.

We all know that work is more than a job. It’s what puts food on our families’ tables, but it’s really more than that, isn’t it?

It’s pride. It’s our sense of ourselves. Along with our families and our faith, work is what gives meaning to everything we do. Work connects us all, whether we punch a clock in a factory or a laboratory, whether we take our lunch break at an auto parts assembly plant or an interstate overpass or a school cafeteria, whether our name is on the front door, or on the front of our shirt. Our jobs are interconnected, and so is our fate.

We rise together, or we fall alone.

And together, we know we don’t have to settle for 9 percent unemployment, stagnant wages, benefit give-backs, record inequality, destruction of our entire middle-class way of life.

Sisters and brothers, this is America. We can do better. We have to do better.

We have to fight for the future we know is possible-a future of long-term, broadly shared prosperity.

It’s out there, we just have to fight for it! We built it once for America, and we can do it again!

Brothers and sisters, we have a long way to go before we can fix our broken trade practices.

We have a long way to go before we can ensure that every working woman and man in America has the freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.

But I don’t care how steep the hill, how long the climb, or how hot the fire, we’ve got to start now! How else will we make America a country that makes things again? How else will we foster and keep enough good jobs to support our working families, our communities, our cities and our states?

Brothers and sisters, the future of working people and the essence of our American democracy is on the line.

We can only win this fight if we hold together. All of us. Private-sector with public-sector, conservatives with progressives.

We need to stand together for a future, when CEOs aren’t the only ones who can make ends meet.

A future when every single worker has the fundamental right to be treated with dignity, to put in a hard, honest day’s work and be rewarded fairly for it, to have the health care and retirement security we need and the opportunity to see our children a little better off than we are.

That’s the world we want, the world we deserve.

And we’ll work for it. We’ll stand for it. We’ll fight for it. Together.

Together, to bring out the best in America. Together, to bring out the best in ourselves and each other.

To take back America for the working men and working women who build it, and make it run.

And, we will never, ever, ever back down.