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Labor Leader Trumka's Speech on Financial Woes of Americans

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Labor Leader Trumka's Speech on Financial Woes of Americans
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Tnis article presents the full text of an important speech delivered on January 11, 2010 in which AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka described the financial woes of middle-class and working-class Americans, and in which he demanded "Now more than ever, we need the boldness and the clarity we saw in our president during the campaign in 2008, when he outlined the scope of the economic problems facing our nation."

(See Profile of Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President.)

President Trumka's bold statements in this speech include:

  • "... a generation of destructive, greed-driven economic policies has eroded that progress and now threatens our very identity as a nation."
  • "... it is bad economics and suicidal politics not to aggressively address the job crisis at a time of double-digit unemployment.
  • "Too many people in Washington seem to think that now that we have bailed out the banks, everything will be okay."
  • "A generation ago, our nation’s policymakers embarked on a campaign of radical deregulation and corporate empowerment – one that celebrated private greed over public service."
  • "These policies culminated in the worst economic decade in living memory—we suffered a net loss of jobs, the housing market collapsed, real wages fell and more children fell into poverty..."
Remarks by Richard L. Trumka, President, AFL-CIO
National Press Club, Washington, DC
January 11, 2010

Good morning and thank you, Donna. I am delighted to be here at the National Press Club. I want to thank the officers of the Press Club for the invitation to be with you today, especially President Lienwand and speakers’ committee member Bob Carden.

Ten days into the new decade, and one year into the Obama Administration, our nation remains poised between the failed policies of the past and our hopes for a better future. This is a moment that cries out for political courage – but it is not much in evidence.

I spent the first week of this year traveling on the west coast. In San Francisco, I was arrested with low-wage hotel workers fighting to protect their health care and pensions from leveraged buyouts gone bad. In Los Angeles and San Diego, I talked with working Americans moved to tears by foreclosure and unemployment, outsourcing and benefit cuts.

Everywhere I went, people asked me:

  • Why do so many of the people we elect seem to care only about Wall Street?
  • Why is helping banks a matter of urgency, but unemployment is something we just have to live with?
  • Why don’t we make anything in America anymore?
  • And why is it so hard to pass a health care bill that guarantees Americans healthy lives instead of guaranteeing insurance companies healthy profits?
As I travelled from city to city, I heard a new sense of resignation from middle class Americans, people laid off for the first time in their lives asking, “What did I do wrong?”

Destructive, Greed-driven Policies Threaten Our Nation

I came away shaken by the sense that the very things that make America great are in danger. What makes us unique among nations is this: In America, working people are the middle class. We built our middle class in the 20th century through hard work, struggle and visionary political leadership.

But a generation of destructive, greed-driven economic policies has eroded that progress and now threatens our very identity as a nation.

Today, on every coast and in between, working women and men are fighting to join the middle class and to protect and rebuild it. We crave political leadership ready to fight for the kind of America we want to leave to our children and against the forces of greed that brought us to this moment.

But instead we hear a resurgence of complacency and political paralysis. Too many people in Washington seem to think that now that we have bailed out the banks, everything will be okay.

In 2010, our elected leaders must choose between continuing the policies of the past or striking out on a new economic course for America—a course that will reverse the damaging trend toward greater inequality that is crippling our nation.

At this moment, the voices of America’s working women and men must be heard in Washington—not the voices of bankers and speculators for whom it always seems to be the best of times, but the voices of those for whom the New Year brings pink slips and givebacks, hollowed-out health care, foreclosures and pension freezes– the roll call of an economy that long ago stopped working for most of us.

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