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Richard Trumka's Remarks at October 2009 JLC Dinner

I also want to add my congratulations to the honorees this evening:
My friend -- and a tremendous advocate for working people both within and outside her industry -- Roberta Reardon.
Morton Sloan -- an employer who's worked to create good, union jobs in the Bronx.
And, of course, the man who I have a special privilege of helping to honor"“ Jack Ahern.
I know there's no one here who needs me to tell them about Jack. You see him in action every day.
Now, as a lot of you know, this isn't the first time I've spoken at a JLC banquet -- and I hope it won't be the last.
Because when I'm with the JLC I know I'm not simply in the company of some terrific trade unionists.
You're more than that.
You're people I've known as long as I've been in the labor movement.
You're my brothers and sisters.
You're mishpucha!
But it's true.
Whether it's been behind the scenes -- or in the streets -- the Jewish Labor Committee is always there:
Building coalitions that make change happen.
Coalitions that are helping workers to form strong unions "¦ and helping strong unions to win good contracts.
To the men and women of the Jewish Labor Committee, solidarity has never been just a slogan; to you it's a way of life -- and I'm here to tell you the American labor movement is stronger for it!
But I didn't come up here this evening only to praise the JLC; I also came here to challenge you.
To challenge you to use your talent and your skill -- and your commitment -- so we can take advantage of the opportunity we have to make this labor's moment.
Our moment.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the term tikkun olam.
It's a Hebrew phrase.
Some interpret it to mean repairing the world, but there are some who say it really means perfecting it.
Well it's up to us to do both.
To not only clean up the wreckage of the Bush years; but to create something newer; something better in its place.
An America that's as just as it is wealthy.
Where no one's left on the outside looking in.
A new America where all of us have a seat at the table -- and where every family has their chance to step into the winner's circle.
That's always been our dream and, today, it is within our power to make it a living, breathing reality.
That's what restoring the right to organize is all about.
You know, today fewer than one of every three young workers makes enough money to pay their bills and put something aside -- and that is 22 percentage points worse than it was 10 years ago.
Nearly half of them worry about having more debt than they can handle.
One in three still lives at home with their parents.
Brothers and sisters, they don't need more training or tips on writing resumes; what they need is the strength and the security that can only come with a union contract -- and it's our job to see they have it!
The JLC's already done a lot to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and I am here to tell you that if we keep up the fight -- if we turn the heat all the way up -- there is no question that we are going to win!
But building that new America goes beyond passing the Employee Free Choice Act.
First, we need to win true health care reform.
Notice I said true health care reform.
I forgot who made this, well, less than kosher analogy, but I remember someone once said that "œyou can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."
Well, our message is that you can call a proposal anything you want, but unless it has a public option it's not health care reform!
Brothers and sisters, the Senate Democrats have a choice to make: they can do what the American people want "¦ or they can do what Olympia Snowe wants "¦ but they can't do both!
But, you know something? Ultimately, we're not just standing up for the right to organize or for the right to health care.
Those are just parts of something bigger: we're fighting to build a different kind of economy than the one we have today.
An economy that puts working families first.
An economy where paychecks matter as much as profits.
An economy that lets all of us go to sleep at night knowing that the America we'll leave to our kids will be a fairer, better nation than the one that was left to us.
In short, we don't want an economy that mocks our values; we want an economy that honors them!
Now, I wish I could say I'm the one who came up with those ideas, but the fact is that's the very same vision that gave birth to the American labor movement.
And I know I don't have to tell anyone at the JLC that there were few men and women as passionately devoted to that vision as leaders like:
Rose Schneiderman, and
Clara Lemlich, and
David Dubinsky, and
Pauline Newman, and
Sidney Hillman, and the tens of thousands of other Jewish workers who helped to inspire unions to be about something more than working hours and pay raises and sick leave.
They helped to teach us that we had to be more than that: that we had to be a movement -- a:
A movement to empower the American working class -- a
And that the only way that movement would ever succeed was if it brought all workers together.
I don't know how many of you remember the story of Jay Gould.
He was one of the robber barons of the 1800s.
He's actually the 9th richest man in all of U.S. history.
He once bragged: "œI can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."
For corporate America dividing workers wasn't simply a tactic; it was fundamental to its success.
And there were few better ways to divide workers than by exploiting their bigotries.
Those early Jewish trade unionists understood it, because they'd been victims of bigotry themselves.
They understood racism, because they grew up in the age of pogroms.
In 1905, in one year alone, 2,500 Jews were murdered in Odessa.
And it wasn't just Russia.
Or even Europe.
Jews were even being slaughtered in Argentina.
This was decades before the Holocaust.
To be a Jew was to take your life in your own hands. That's how it had always been.
And why Jewish trade unionists were out front demanding that the labor movement take a stand against lynching.
That's why the JLC helped take the lead organizing union support for the civil rights movement.
A lot of people don't know this, but it was the work of the JLC that actually laid the groundwork for what became the AFL's own civil rights program.
Now, given the traditions, the heritage, the commitment -- and given the values -- Jewish workers have always brought to the labor movement, I don't think it ought to come as any surprise that the Jewish community here -- and around the world -- has never had a stronger ally than the AFL-CIO!
And, tonight, let me tell you that, so long as I'm president, you will never have a stronger ally than the AFL-CIO!
That's why we're proud to stand with the JLC to oppose boycotting Israel!
Brothers and sisters, there is only one way we're going to stop the violence in the Middle East -- and it's not by bashing Israel -- it's by supporting President Obama's peace initiative!
And I ought to add, that's why we need to stand by President Obama on Iran, too!
But I think we ought to be clear that not every threat facing the Jewish people is in the Middle East.
We still have some problems right here at home.
In America, we sometimes think that anti-Semitism is part of the past, but the truth is that it's like a weed that can always grow back.
And that's especially true during hard times.
You know, sometimes it's couched as "œanti-Zionism."
Other times there's no effort to disguise it at all.
There's Ann Coulter saying Jews should be "œperfected" by becoming Christians.
There's Bill O'Reilly saying that if you're Jewish and you have a problem with public schools promoting Christmas then you ought to just pack up and move to Israel because as he puts it, "œAmerica is Christian."
And then there's Pat Buchanan "¦ and, well, what can you say about Pat Buchanan?
You don't have to Google him to find examples of his anti-Semitism "¦ all you have to do is wait for his lips to move!
Now, hard as it is to believe, but there actually are some people out there crazy enough to believe the Coulters, the O'Reillys, Buchanans, and all the others just like them.
Brothers and sisters, last June, not even a mile from the AFL-CIO, an armed gunman went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum with one goal: to kill Jews.
He managed to murder an African-American security guard.
Well, within days the killer was being hailed as a hero by white supremacists!
These days we're seeing a lot of hatred in this country.
One day President Obama.
The next day gays and lesbians.
Latinos, Asians.
Muslims "¦ and Jews.
Now, there's some people who might hear anti-Semitism and say, "œwell, it's the JLC's job to do something about it."
But, you know something? They're dead wrong.
Brothers and sisters, it's everyone's job to do something about it -- and that includes the labor movement!
This isn't Bill O'Reilly's America, or Anne Coulter's America -- and it sure as hell isn't Pat Buchanan's America -- this our America and it's time we took it back!
Now, I've always been a big believer that speeches ought to end on the same night they started.
But a few blocks from here there was another JLC gathering.
It was 72 years ago.
20,000 people packed Madison Square Garden in the largest anti-Nazi rally up to that time.
There were several speakers.
Fiorello LaGuardia and others.
But the who stirred the crowd the most was John L. Lewis.
He gave a detailed account of what had happened to German labor movement.
He talked about the trade unionists who'd been tortured and murdered.
He described Hitler's Germany as having become a medieval country where workers had been reduced to serfdom.
And of course he talked about what was happening to the Jews.
But that's not all he said.
He said that there was only one guarantee that America would never fall victim to fascism itself -- and that one guarantee was a strong, growing, labor movement.
A labor movement that didn't only focus only on winning at the bargaining table, but also creating what he called industrial democracy.
He said: "œI need hardly point out to you the union isn't only an instrument for improving workers' wages, hours and conditions of labor -- it is also an instrument for the expression of their social, political and economic aims."
That was 1937.
I doubt many of the people who were there that night are around anymore.
Of course, LaGuardia's gone -- and John L. Lewis died before some of us here were even born.
But the truth he said at that JLC rally that night endures today.
And it's up to us -- up to our generation of trade unionists -- to pick up where Lewis and his generation left off.
It's up to us to raise up their fallen standard and build the movement we need to create the America we want.
Tonight let's not only honor these three leaders -- tonight let's also pledge to honor the vision of the:
Lemlichs and the Dubinskys;
The Hillmans and the Schneidermans;
The Jerry Wurfs "¦ the Jack Sheinkmans "¦ the Moe Billers "¦ the Al Shankers "¦ the Sandy Feldmans
And every Jewish trade unionist who taught us that if we stand together,
if we march together,
if we fight together,
we are going to win together!
This is our moment to build a new America and, by God, we will not be denied!