JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – What lies ahead for the labor movement as we march into Labor Day? That was the question members of the AFL-CIO attempted to answer during a nationwide telephone town hall held on Wednesday evening with a million members of the organization.
The topics of discussion ranged across several issues facing labor organizations, from how to build energy among the younger generation to how to continue pushing forward in today’s political environment. But the leaders also spoke of their reason for growing hope.
“As we prepare to come together with our families and celebrate Labor Day this weekend, I’m as proud and hopeful about our movement as I’ve ever been. Something is happening in America, brothers and sisters. Workers are writing a comeback story unlike any I’ve seen in my 50 years in the labor movement,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “And here’s the truth: We’re not even close to done. 2018 is the year of the worker. We’re building a fairer economy and a more just society. We’re building a political system that listens to the voices of working people, instead of the whispers of a few CEOs.”
Robert Reich, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Administration, said the answer was to strengthen unions, that there is strength in numbers.
“We saw this in Missouri with the repeal of ‘right to work.’ We’ve seen it in the teacher strikes. We’re seeing it in the burst of union membership. We see it in public opinion, which is now solidly behind unions,” he said. “The nation is at a turning point. We just can’t go on with almost all of the economic gains going to a handful at the top and most workers getting very little. Our economy can’t survive this. Our politics can’t survive it. Our society and our ideals of freedom and equal opportunity can’t survive this, which is why you are so important—why unions are critical for the future.”
They touted data that showed unions raise wages up to 20 percent, and said that their fight was to continue pushing legislation forward to keep improving labor across the nation.
“Who better than us, as workers in the labor movement, to stand up and fight for workers’ rights?” Council member Teresa Mosqueda asked. “There is no one better than us. There is no one more qualified. We are ready, and we can win.”
When asked how to get the younger workforce to join unions, Trumka said it was important to make sure their voices were heard.
“We didn’t listen to them, we talked at them. We changed that, and asked them what they needed,” Trumka responded, saying that the AFL-CIO added more than 2,000 new members last year, 75% of which were under age of 35. “I’ve ever been more excited about young people.”
Ending the town hall, Trumka encouraged members to share their message, saying it was their time and duty to “reclaim America.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.