LOS ANGELES - "This is an America that's upside down," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka declared in his keynote speech at the federation's 2013 convention here today.
"The wage increases over the last 15 years went to the top 10 percent, while the incomes of working people went down. But it's time to turn America right side up, and to do that, we need a real working class movement!" Trumka's words sent the ecstatic crowd here at the AFL-CIO convention jumping to its feet and roaring its approval. (Story continues after video.)
However, Trumka said, "If that's going to happen, we have to do some things differently. We are 13 million strong. We are the biggest, strongest, best-organized force for economic justice in America. But we are a small part of the 150 million Americans who work for a living. We cannot win economic justice for union members alone. So we must ask ourselves - how must we reignite our movement? Not so we can have bigger unions, but so we can together make all working peoples' lives better.
"It's clear that something's changed. The people I talk to don't say, 'I'm middle class' so much anymore. They say, 'Middle class? That's what my parents were.' The working class is not the middle class anymore."
Trumka made clear that "what we've done yesterday cannot limit what we do tomorrow. We have to challenge ourselves. If we are going to move forward, we must make our movement and our leadership as diverse as the workforce we speak for. Politicians and employers want to divide us. We can't let them. We need a union culture shift that will turn the labor movement back into a movement that fights for the interest of all working people.
"Everything we do this week will be part of a strategy for winning broadly shared prosperity. There can be no shared prosperity while 11 million aspiring Americans have no rights, - the crowd jumped up again in standing ovation. "There can be no shared prosperity" while 20 million people look for work and can't find it."
Trumka told the delegates that the economy is not like the weather, that the power to change it is in the hands of the people but that there were impediments to shared prosperity that have to be overcome.
"There can be no shared prosperity while 11 million aspiring American have no rights," he declared. The convention rose to its feet in sustained applause.
"There can be no shared prosperity while 20 million people look for work and can't find it." Again the crowd rose in sustained applause.
"There can be no shared prosperity while politicians terrify our parents and grandparents with threats to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits - the economic security they earned." Again the convention was on its feet applauding.
"There can be no shared prosperity while millions of young men, disproportionately African American, labor in prisons instead of in school or at work." Again the delegates rose to applaud, this time for a full minute.
"But hear this," Trumka said: "Shared prosperity is nothing but a dream until we have democracy - the right to organize and bargain collectively with employers, the right to vote and have that vote counted. The right to govern together with our fellow citizens and be free of the power of concentrated wealth.
'"Together, we will turn America right side up! Together - like the taxi workers, the brave workers from the OUR Walmart campaign, the Dreamers who struggle for a fair immigration system, and young workers organizing for the hopes of a new generation - let's turn to action." Trumka concluded, to a still another chorus of loud applause, as Walmart workers, Dreamers, and cab drivers left their seats in the hall and ran up to the stage to greet him.