We need to talk—about the future of workers and the union movement.
We’ve all seen the numbers: People are working harder (and have longer hours) and still can’t get ahead. Staggering inequality is on the rise and fewer workers have a voice on the job.
So we’re asking the tough questions:
What’s the future going to be for working people?
How can we build a real movement for broadly shared prosperity?
What should unions look like tomorrow?
That’s where you come in.
The AFL-CIO is calling on everyone: Affiliate unions, worker centers, community and faith groups, students and young workers, civil and human rights activists, DREAMers—everyone—to weigh in on these big questions.
On Monday, May 6, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will kick off the conversation with a Twitter chat around these questions. We hope you join us at 3:30 p.m. ET by following @RichardTrumka and the hashtag #1uFuture.
Starting on Monday and leading up to the AFL-CIO 2013 convention in September, we’re also gathering ideas from you on our new website, which will highlight specific questions about the future of work each week, facilitated by leading academics, reporters and innovative organizers.
In case you missed it over the weekend, check out C-SPAN’s Newsmakers segment with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka talking about creating a commonsense immigration process for aspiring Americans that benefits all workers.
We need to hold banks accountable for the fraudulent practices that brought about the worst economic crisis since the Depression. State Attorneys General have been investigating bank fraud, and these critical investigations must not be undermined by a premature and inadequate settlement. We call on the administration to reject any deal that insulates banks from full responsibility.
It is critical that the Department of Justice lead a comprehensive investigation together with the state Attorneys General to prevent banks from engaging in future unlawful and deceptive practices that could exploit homeowners and put the economy further at risk.
We commend state Attorneys General like New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden for their leadership and courage in calling for a real investigation and relief on a scale that helps the millions of homeowners who face a new wave of foreclosures.
The economy is currently weighed down by $750 billion in negative home equity, so relief on a massive scale is needed to lift home values and stimulate the economy by increasing consumer demand. A comprehensive settlement must force banks to write down underwater mortgages. A sum significantly larger than the rumored $25 billion is needed for the economy to grow and create jobs.
Specifically, the administration must stand strong against the big banks and insist on:
1) A full and thorough investigation into problems tied to the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market, and
2) A guaranteed minimum amount of money set aside for reducing the mortgage principal of “underwater” homeowners in key states impacted by the foreclosure crisis.
This is an opportunity for the administration to demonstrate leadership and show that it has the political will to do what’s right for homeowners and right for our economy.
At a White House event today featuring President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, AFT President Randi Weingarten represented labor leaders in joining university presidents and corporate executives in support of the presidential Better Buildings Challenge initiative.
President Obama announced that nearly $4 billion of investments have been committed already, including $2 billion by workers’ pension funds, CEOs, mayors and university presidents for energy-saving upgrades. The labor movement committed to work to invest $150 million in energy-efficient retrofit projects in the coming months.
The goal of the initiative, which builds on work begun by the AFL-CIO earlier this year with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), is to spur job creation by harnessing private sector investment in energy upgrades in commercial and industrial buildings.
Working with the AFT, a broad coalition of public-sector unions, and the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), the AFL-CIO has been part of a CGI initiative for the retrofitting of union buildings, and has already exceeded its initial commitment of working with existing real estate-focused investment funds to invest between $10 million and $20 million of additional capital in energy-efficient retrofits of commercial, industrial, institutional and public buildings over the next six months.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who has been pushing for infrastructure and green-jobs investment at all levels, said in a statement:
The Better Buildings initiative has all the right components to make a real difference—it will create profitable investment opportunities for worker pension funds, create badly needed good jobs, increase America’s competitiveness around energy savings, and address the dangers of climate change.
Today’s action builds on 14 private sector commitments announced at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in June, including the labor movement’s aim to invest $10 billion in pension fund assets in job-creating infrastructure projects over the next five years.
The AFT has been retrofitting its headquarters building in Washington, D.C., to become LEED Silver certified, and the AFL-CIO has committed to a Better Buildings Challenge retrofit of its headquarters, expected to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent. As Weingarten explains:
We not only are asking others to commit to energy-saving retrofits, but we’re also doing it ourselves.
It is a tremendous dishonor to America when the voices for the powerless are suppressed by the powerful – the top 1%. We are extremely alarmed by the increasing number of arrests of peaceful protestors across the country and call on elected leaders to stop ordering the police to make these arrests. The Occupy Wall Street movement has elevated the national conversation by shining overdue attention on the struggles of the 99% for whom the economy is broken. When people can’t raise their voices around pervasive inequality, there is a fundamental problem with how we’re functioning as a nation.
Mayor Bloomberg of New York City listened to reason from the community and did not forcibly disband the original Wall Street protestors at Zuccotti Park. We urge all elected leaders across the country to enable peaceful protestors to continue to exercise their most American of rights.
(The following is a statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on October 13, 2011)
Mayor Bloomberg runs the risk of standing on the wrong side of history tomorrow. It is clear that what is being threatened in Zuccotti Park is nothing but silencing the voices and stomping out the rights of Americans. Participants in Occupy Wall Street are now in their fourth week of declaring that “we are the 99 percent” because our system is desperately, decisively out of whack—the top one percent is pocketing massive profits and dominating our politics while everyone else struggles to make ends meet. It is shocking that Mayor Bloomberg feels like that’s a message that needs to be silenced. The AFL-CIO stands with Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent of Americans just trying to level the massively unequal playing field.
(The following is a statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Occupy Wall Street on October 5, 2011)
Occupy Wall Street has captured the imagination and passion of millions of Americans who have lost hope that our nation’s policymakers are speaking for them. We support the protesters in their determination to hold Wall Street accountable and create good jobs. We are proud that today on Wall Street, bus drivers, painters, nurses and utility workers are joining students and homeowners, the unemployed and the underemployed to call for fundamental change. Across America, working people are turning out with their friends and neighbors in parks, congregations and union halls to express their frustration – and anger — about our country’s staggering wealth gap, the lack of work for people who want to work and the corrupting of our politics by business and financial elites. The people who do the work to keep our great country running are being robbed not only of income, but of a voice. It is time for all of us—the 99 percent—to be heard.
As we did when we marched on Wall Street last year, working people call on corporations, big banks, and the financial industry to do their part to create good jobs, stop foreclosures and pay their fair share of taxes.
Wall Street and corporate America must invest in America: Big corporations should invest some of the $2 trillion in cash they have on hand, and use it to create good jobs. And the banks themselves should be making credit more accessible to small businesses, instead of parking almost $1 trillion at the Federal Reserve.
Stop foreclosures: Banks should write down the 14 million mortgages that are underwater and stop the more than 10 million pending foreclosures to stop the downward spiral of our housing markets and inject more than $70 billion into our economy.
Fund education and jobs by taxing financial speculation: A tiny tax on financial transactions could raise hundreds of billions in revenue that could fund education and create jobs rebuilding our country. And it would discourage speculation and encourage long term investment.
We will open our union halls and community centers as well as our arms and our hearts to those with the courage to stand up and demand a better America.
That’s the subject line of the email I just opened that links to this new video with the voices of American working people and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska is the lone Senate Democrat who has voted with Republicans to block unemployment benefit extensions. You can reach Sen. Nelson’s Omaha office at 402-391-3411. And for a list of Republican Senators to contact, see our post from yesterday: Who You Gonna Call?
Populist anger is playing a central role in our national conversation. Will that anger swing toward a progressive or right-wing economic vision?
If you just casually follow the news, you might conclude that the answer to that question is clear: The Tea Party gets a lot of attention and is widely portrayed as being made up of working-class people, ergo working people as a group are swinging right on economic issues. So if you think you know the answer, you might wonder why Working America and the AFL-CIO held a panel discussion addressing that question, featuring Congresswoman Donna Edwards, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Working America Executive Director Karen Nussbaum, Christopher Hayes of The Nation and Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal.
But in fact, populist anger goes well beyond the Tea Party; Working America organizers encounter it every day at thousands of doors across the country. Union members feel it. As Wallsten noted during the panel, “the anger of Tea Party movement is the same anger as Democrats feel.”
And for that matter, the Tea Party is, as Hayes accurately characterized it, “a movement of the American right,” not a happenstance gathering of previously apolitical people. (Or, as Trumka pungently followed up, “a fringe movement.”) Its reputation as a populist movement is also overblown. “Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class,” according to an April New York Times/CBS poll. And they are overwhelmingly Republicans, a majority of whom hold a favorable opinion of George W. Bush.
This is precisely why it’s important to take a deeper look at who’s angry and why and where real solutions lie. The answer is both easy to see and often ignored, and it leaves the angry people being ignored at a tipping point—seeing problems clearly and looking for solutions. The question is what solutions will be presented first or most powerfully: progressive ones, or right-wing ones.
It’s not hard to see why working people would be angry. According to Trumka, “Workers have paid at least three times now. They’ve paid with their jobs, with their mortgages, and with their taxes” and yet they continue to struggle.
Hayes pointed to the different experiences of people at the bottom and the top of the economic pyramid—while a minor offense can destroy the life chances of a young working-class person, executives at BP and AIG never really pay for doing immense harm to society. “At the bottom of the pyramid,” he said, “America is a ruthlessly punitive and accountability-obsessed society. At the top of the pyramid, it is endlessly forgiving. Before trust can be restored, accountability has to be established.”
But in addition to the economic injustices done to working people, the panelists also pointed to a campaign to destroy trust in the government. Congresswoman Edwards made this point, saying “It isn’t an accident that people don’t trust government. Government has been beaten up for years.” Hayes and Trumka both pointed to failures that happened because of government agencies and regulations weakened intentionally by the right—and which were then used by the right to argue that government agencies and regulations do not and cannot work.
So what can be done?
Karen Nussbaum argued that “the tipping point is an opportunity. We must provide a different outlook that isn’t reactionary.” She—joined by regional directors Jenn Jannon and Dan Heck—drew on the conversations Working America organizers have every night on the doorsteps of people across the country, in which they’ve found that, according to Jannon, “people don’t want us to tell them what the problem is. They want to hear solutions.” And solutions about jobs specifically.
Edwards, too, focused on jobs—and on the need to do something about jobs, not just talk about them. When the question of the deficit came up, and the fact that so often job creation and deficit reduction are presented as being in opposition to each other, she noted that on a recent electronic town hall, “I took questions and almost every single one was about jobs. And that’s in a district that isn’t facing double digit unemployment.” By contrast, her constituents were not asking about deficit reduction.
But where Edwards heard not only the question about jobs, but the silence on the deficit, other politicians don’t always really listen. Nussbaum cited Working America’s yearlong effort to get Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln to work for working people, and the outcome of her failure to do so. “One of the ways you turn around poll results is you organize…We sent 25,000 letters to Blanche Lincoln on jobs and health care and she was deaf to those letters. So we went back and organized against her, and I think she’s on her way out.”
The anger is real, and widespread, and not confined to one tiny-but-loud group. It’s hitting incumbent senators from both parties—not just Blanche Lincoln but Utah’s Bob Bennett. And the answers aren’t that hard. Jobs. Accountability for powerful people as much as for average working people. Jobs. Transparency, and legislation that makes sense, not legislation that’s been bargained into incomprehensible complexity. Also jobs.
These panelists demonstrated that many in the progressive movement are paying attention and thinking hard about the tipping point—about how to make a powerful case for progressive solutions to an unbalanced economy and the jobs crisis, rather than ceding the field to Glenn Beck and John Boehner.
(The Hill has also written about the event, with a focus on relationships between unions and the Democratic party in upcoming elections.)